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David Broadland

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  1. Focus Magazine is undertaking a multi-year project to determine whether local government initiatives to get passenger cars off the streets, like bicycle lanes, are having any effect. As the politics of “climate crisis” in Victoria becomes increasingly shouty and stressed, it strikes me that my community could benefit from something similar to the Keeling Curve to help guide it through the coming years of fractious debate about initiatives to reduce carbon emissions. What’s the Keeling Curve? According to Wikipedia it’s “a graph of the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere based on continuous measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory on the island of Hawaii from 1958 to the present day.” Scientist David Keeling’s first year of measurements averaged out to 318 parts per million (PPM). In early February 2019, the observatory was measuring 411 PPM. Because of its elevation and location far out in the Pacific, measurements of carbon dioxide at Mauna Loa are considered representative of global concentration. Thanks to the measurements Keeling started, we now know that the current rate of annual increase in carbon dioxide is about 2.75 PPM. We also know that increase is accelerating at the rate of about 0.5 PPM per decade. The arithmetic suggests that by 2060 it will have reached 550 parts per million, double that of the pre-industrial era. At that point, scientists tell us, the planet will be committed to a temperature rise of between 1.5° and 4.5° Celsius. The time frame over which that full temperature increase would occur could take hundreds of years to play out—perhaps more than a thousand—according to scientists. But they also say that by the time CO2 has doubled, average temperature will have increased between 1° and 2.5° Celsius. This increase will disrupt climate, diminish biodiversity, and raise sea level. That’s the “climate crisis” in a nutshell. Another effect of all that additional carbon is ocean acidification. So my idea is to create something like the Keeling Curve: a series of measurements made four times each year that, over a period of years, graphically indicate how well we are doing as a community at reducing our emissions. Globally, we’re not doing so well. After nearly 30 years of international talks and endless expression of good intentions about reducing emissions, the global account of emissions, itself likely a carefully massaged undercount of actual annual emissions, shows they rose to a record level in 2018. While many elected officials in Western democracies say they want to do something about reducing emissions, they’re all riding on the same global economic machine that runs almost entirely on fossil fuels and requires positive annual growth to remain “healthy.” That means higher emissions. The Keeling Curve tells us, at a glance, where carbon dioxide is at and where it’s going. Like a map, it’s simple and verifiable. Indirectly, it tells us whether humanity is succeeding or failing at reducing emissions. It serves as a measure of the effectiveness of the steps the global family has undertaken in response to the climate crisis. I’m not suggesting we need to measure carbon dioxide concentration in Victoria. What Focus is undertaking to measure is the change, from season to season and from year to year, in the use of automobiles on the streets of downtown Victoria and immediately adjacent neighbourhoods. The project Focus has begun will provide an annual measure of the number of cars, buses, pedestrians, cyclists and other forms of mobility passing through 14 City of Victoria intersections. Over time, these measurements will allow us to guage the effectiveness of the steps the City of Victoria and the CRD have undertaken to avert what they are now both calling a “climate crisis.” Our measurements will produce what we’re calling the City Auto Reduction Effectiveness Index—or the CARE Index. If we find enough funding—can media apply to the Gas Tax Fund?—we will extend this project to the region and call it the RARE Index (no pun intended). During January, Focus video-recorded everything that moved through 14 different Downtown intersections during "rush hour." Later, I’ll describe the project in a little more detail. But first, to illustrate why such an index would be useful, let’s consider a slice of the current state of local politics around the “climate crisis.” In February, City of Victoria council voted to explore taking legal action against fossil fuel companies for costs the City might incur as a result of impacts like sea level rise and climate change caused by increased carbon in the atmosphere. The motion was presented by Councillor Ben Isitt and follows up on a campaign started last year by West Coast Environmental Law. The only councillor to vote against the motion was Geoff Young. Young has called the initiative “ridiculous.” (Judith Lavoie has a story on page 20 that’s focussed on the proposed lawsuit.) If Isitt’s motion was intended to generate hostile media attention, he was successful. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley quickly issued a statement (covered by media across Canada) that noted: “The hypocrisy of this proposed lawsuit is astounding.” While Notley attacked Victoria for its ocean-based sewage treatment system—a system long endorsed by local marine scientists and public health officials—she could have chosen a more obvious target to demonstrate Victoria council’s “hypocrisy”: the City’s reliance on fossil fuels to conduct its own operations. While councillors were condemning fossil fuel companies, fossil fuel was keeping the councillors from freezing to death—City Hall is heated by a gas-fired boiler. Twenty-five major City-owned buildings and operational facilities are heated with natural gas, including: The Arcade Building, VicPD headquaters, Crystal Pool, the Victoria Conference Centre, Crystal Gardens, all three fire stations, four community centres, the City’s asphalt plant, Royal Athletic Park, the public works yard and several other facilities. As well, the City depends on a fleet of 125 fossil-fuelled cars and light trucks to conduct its operations. The apparently low level of emissions awareness demonstrated by the councillors who voted for the motion was highlighted by Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps’ subsequent announcement that she would be flying off to Calgary and then on to the oil sands projects in northern Alberta. Why? She told the Times Colonist: “I am really curious to know what are the innovative approaches that they are taking. What are the sustainability measures that they are putting in place? I think it’s important I know these things.” Helps might want to weigh the value of enlightenment at the hands of Alberta fossil-fuel-PR specialists against the emissions associated with her own air travel. Her round trip by fossil-fuelled airplanes will be at least 3,000 kilometres long. The emissions per passenger per kilometre for a commercial aircraft are similar to the emissions of the average passenger car. A Honda Fit with just a driver emits 168 grams per kilometre. A domestic long-distance flight (Calgary qualifies) averages 177 grams per kilometre per passenger. But because passenger flights emit climate-warming gases at high altitude, the impact associated with aviation emissions is, scientists say, about 2.7 times higher per kilometre per passenger than for those emitted at ground level by cars. So Helps’ flight to the oil sands will produce the equivalent emissions of a Honda Fit and its driver travelling 8,100 kilometres. The mayor’s desire to broaden her mind, as she put it, will result in more transportation-related emissions over a couple of days than many of us more careful, narrow-minded car drivers will produce in a couple of years. Meanwhile, back on the ground in Victoria, numerous council-approved developments over the past few years, including highrise housing, street-widening, sewage treatment and bicycle lanes, are all significant sources of new emissions and, controversially, the cause of a loss of hundreds of trees that store carbon and remove pollutants from the air. There is apprehension amongst the citizenry that the slow-progress, sylvan character of the City is under assault by green-washed construction projects even while politically-ambitious councillors spend their efforts attacking imaginary enemies and fast-tracking theoretical solutions to rising emissions. To many of us, councillors’ solutions feel more like another problem than a solution. That’s why we need the CARE Index for Victoria. On January 1, we began video recording traffic through the 14 selected intersections mentioned above. We made 22 recordings, all shot in 4K high-resolution format on a waterproof GoPro camera, covering the period between 3:45 and 5:30 pm—the so-called “rush hour” in Victoria. Our analysts then played the videos at normal speed on a large screen and counted every pedestrian, cyclist and automobile that transited the intersections. We are still processing the data obtained during our first round of counting. For the sake of transparency we have uploaded full length versions of each video to YouTube. YouTube’s 15-minute limit on video length meant we had to create, in effect, time lapse videos. Run at eight times normal speed, the videos visually demonstrate the enormous amount of energy being expended to transport people and goods through the city. You can view these videos here. In April, we will repeat this process at the same intersections and same time of day. We’ll do it all again in July and October. In 2020, we’ll do it all over again. And in 2021 and 2022. How will this help us measure the effectiveness of local government initiatives to reduce emissions? We will be able to report, with a high degree of certainty, whether, from year to year, there are more cars or less cars on the road in the Downtown core and surrounding neighbourhoods; more pedestrians or less pedestrians; more cyclists or less cyclists. Unless there’s a significant reduction in the number of cars on the road—and quickly, since there’s a “crisis”—the City’s and CRD’s efforts to accomplish that won’t have been effective. We’ll also be able to assess local governments’ claims about mode share. The CRD’s 2017 Origin-Destination Household Travel Survey, conducted once every five years, does not use direct observation to establish mode share. It uses voluntary surveys conducted in the fall of the survey year to project mode share, rather than measure it with on-the-ground observations. So it’s a guesstimate, and misses a large chunk of commercial traffic. As well, there’s virtually no public transparency with regards to who actually completes the surveys. The last study failed to acknowledge that a director of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, a special interest group that lobbies local governments for increased spending of public money for cycling infrastructure, had direct access to the survey’s data and provided analysis. Does anyone think a director of the New Car Dealers Association of British Columbia would be given access to the inner workings of the CRD’s survey? Thus we will be able to report whether any initiative that the City of Victoria or CRD dream up that’s intended to reduce transportation emissions is actually having the intended effect. Unfortunately, governments occasionally make blunders and produce unintended consequences. For example, the City of Victoria’s well-intentioned ban on plastic bags appears to have created an unintended consequence. A survey of garbage bins in my neighbourhood shows that many households are simply replacing the no-longer-available thin plastic bags their groceries were packed in with heavier, brand-new plastic garbage bags. In trying to eliminate single-use bags, the City appears to have eliminated two-use bags and replaced them with heavier, single-use bags. So far, in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the only significant target of CRD and City of Victoria initiatives has been the private passenger car. The governors want car drivers to move to either walking, biking or busing. While this policy is considered to be one of the low-hanging fruits in any jurisdiction’s broader plan to reduce carbon emissions, it seems doomed to be inconsequential in Canada. Passenger cars, according to Environment Canada, are responsible for only five percent of Canada’s total emissions. So local governments’ long-term plans for encouraging car drivers to move to walking, biking and busing will only address a tiny fraction of Canada’s total emissions. Yet these initiatives involve spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new infrastructure, all of which will itself have a significant carbon emissions burden associated with it. If the City and CRD build the infrastructure but few people use it, they will have made matters worse, not better. Why wouldn’t Victoria’s passenger car drivers get out of their vehicles and find a less carbon-intensive way to get from point A to point B? Besides all of the reasons that made private passenger cars such a successful form of transport in the first place, there’s the fact that the federal government has made it abundantly clear it has no credible plan for reducing national emissions. When Prime Minister Trudeau gave a green light to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project in 2016, he agreed to allow Alberta’s annual emissions to rise from 68 to 100 megatonnes. That 32-megatonne increase is roughly equivalent to the 36 megatonnes emitted annually by all passenger cars in our country, according to Environment Canada. So even if you and all other Canadians give up your fossil-fuelled passenger cars, the resulting emissions reduction will be cancelled out by Alberta bitumen producers exporting dilbit to the US and Asia so that drivers in those countries can put cheaper gas in their cars. Are Canadian car drivers really going to be that, uh…generous? By the way, the latest numbers from Alberta bitumen producers show their output will increase by 50 percent above 2016’s production level by 2027. The mining, transporting and refining of oil and gas already accounted for 26 percent of Canada’s emissions in 2015, but that share is rising rapidly. Source: https://www.aer.ca/providing-information/data-and-reports/statistical-reports/crude-bitumen-production So while Focus is going to great lengths to use a transparent and verifiable process for determining whether Victorians are actually reducing their use of passenger cars, we’re not kidding ourselves about what we’re likely to find. But we’re open to surprise. For those people who object to our recording their passage through a public intersection, objection noted. However, the act of an individual making a video recording in a public place is protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It applies equally to recording police officers at work and recording vehicles and people moving through an intersection. We exercise this right respectfully, believing it to be in the public interest to do so. What we have found so far is not surprising, but it is only the first reading of a moving number. We will provide a full analysis of our first year of counting cars, bicycles, buses and pedestrians in our January 2020 edition. At that point we will have established one point on the CARE Index. Unless our photographer gets run over by a car. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.
  2. An email unearthed by an FOI request raises questions about the Elsner investigation and the Lowe Report. So do all the deleted emails. POLICE COMPLAINT COMMISSIONER Stan Lowe’s September 2018 report on the investigations into former Victoria Police Department Chief Frank Elsner excoriated Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barbara Desjardins for the way they conducted an initial investigation of Elsner in 2015. Lowe asserted that the mayors “had predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.” He provided much evidence to support his contention, but the mayors disputed his conclusion. Both claimed they had been libelled and made veiled threats of legal action against Lowe. Lowe’s office invited the mayors to call for a public inquiry. Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods stated, “we have a considerable body of evidence we would be willing to provide at any public inquiry so the truth would certainly come out.” Did the mayors have any evidence that would support their claims? They weren’t offering any, so Focus filed an FOI for the communications between the two mayors during the three months of their investigation of Elsner. The Victoria Police Board released those records to us in mid-December (See link at the end of this story). That release contained only one email written by Mayor Helps to Mayor Desjardins during September, October and November 2015 when they conducted their investigation. Helps’ one email consisted of three words. On September 4, 2015, shortly after the mayors had been informed about salacious Twitter messages from Elsner to the wife of a subordinate VicPD officer, Desjardins copied Helps on an email to Elsner wherein she asked him for a meeting about “a personal matter requiring your assistance...” About five hours later, Helps emailed Desjardins and asked, “Did he respond?” Within an hour Desjardins wrote back to Helps: “Got auto response he is away unt [sic] the 8th have got a phone number and will call tomorrow.” And then, for the next three months, Helps was apparently silent, never communicating with Desjardins by email on this subject. By way of an explanation for the scarcity of records of the two mayors’ communications, VicPD’s Collette Thomson noted, “A limited number of records were accessible due to email retention schedules.” By that she seems to mean the emails the mayors exchanged were deleted. The scant record that remains appears to have survived only because paper copies of a few emails gathered for a previous FOI request—made by an unknown entity—were kept by the Township of Esquimalt. All of Helps’ emails related to the first three months of the internal investigation have been deleted, even though it took place just over three years ago. All of her emails go through mailboxes hosted on City of Victoria servers and retention of the mayor’s email records is the responsibility of the City of Victoria. If the mayor’s emails have been deleted, that means that in less time than the 4-year term of an elected City of Victoria mayor or counsellor, critical records of what they did while in office are being destroyed by the City. That’s what Thomson’s explanation implies. If you are thinking, “Well, that doesn’t seem right,” you’re correct. The City of Victoria’s “Records Retention and Disposition Authority” for the Mayor’s Office requires that both electronic and paper records that are created to “document the operations of the mayor” must be “retained for 10 years overall, and then transferred to Archives for selective retention.” The Police Board has no written policy regarding “email retention schedules,” and, in any case, the emails were never in its physical control or custody. They were in the physical control and custody of the City of Victoria. Regardless, according to Thomson, those records are gone. It’s difficult to imagine why any City employee other than the mayor herself would delete the mayor’s Elsner investigation emails from the City’s electronic document storage system. We are left with the presumption that the mayor may have deleted these emails before they could be put into long-term storage. To understand in a fundamental keep-democracy-healthy kind of way why the communications between Helps and Desjardins matter—and why they should have been preserved—consider what former BC Information and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham wrote in her investigative report Access Denied: Record Retention and Disposal Practices of the Government of BC. Denham conducted her investigation in response to a case in which a person in the BC Premier’s Office “triple-deleted” emails in order to hide his conduct from public scrutiny. Her report described in detail how emails could be triple-deleted. The commissioner noted that “In conducting this investigation, it has become clear that many employees falsely assume that emails are impermanent and transitory, and therefore of little value. What this investigation makes clear is that it is a record’s content and context that determines whether a record is transitory, rather than its form.” Ironically, Denham released this report on October 22, 2015, right at the time Helps and Desjardins were conducting their own investigation into Elsner. At that time, Denham wrote, “Democracy depends on accountable government. Citizens have the right to know how their government works and how decisions are made.” Our “right to know” translates into a right to access government records, such as Helps’ and Desjardins’ emails. But, Denham wrote, “Access to information rights can only exist when public bodies create the conditions for those rights to be exercised. Government must promote a culture of access, from executive leadership to front-line employees. If they fail to meet this obligation, the access to information process is rendered ineffective.” If Helps deleted 100 percent of her emails, which appears to be the case, then she rendered access to information 100 percent ineffective. According to Denham, that means there’s zero accountability. With no accountability, the City of Victoria resembles more an authoritarian regime than a democratic institution. Evidently, City Hall has some vital work to do to meet its legal obligations around information access. The Township of Esquimalt did preserve some records of the email conversations between Desjardins and Helps. One of those emails seems to challenge a claim Lowe made about the mayors and it topples a claim Helps made about the mayors’ investigation. In the analysis that follows, I’m going to focus on just one aspect of Lowe’s case against the mayors, the question of whether or not they buried allegations of harassment made against Elsner by two female VicPD members. The harassment allegations were made, we later learned, soon after the existence of Elsner’s sexually-charged tweets with the wife of a subordinate officer was made known to the mayors. Lowe’s description of what the mayors did with these allegations amounts to a claim that they hid them from his office in order to protect Elsner from any repercussions. But Helps told Focus last August that investigation of such allegations was outside the mandate of their investigation: “We were authorized to deal only with the issues of whether Elsner had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the wife of a VicPD member and whether Elsner had improperly used police social media accounts,” Helps wrote in an email. Lowe, though, has written, “It was my expectation that if the investigation revealed evidence of conduct that could constitute a disciplinary breach of public trust, the [mayors] would raise the matter with our office.” Lowe says they never did. His report shows that the mayors rushed to make a decision about how to discipline Elsner after they were informed the story would soon appear in the media. Lowe was given no information about the mayors’ decision, but requested details after both mayors made statements that attempted to mislead reporters on whether an investigation had taken place. The records the mayors turned over to Lowe contained no mention of the harassment allegations. Lowe learned about these additional allegations only after the Victoria City Police Union brought them to his attention. There is no doubt the two mayors emailed back and forth about these allegations. Lowe’s office secured some of those communications through its legislated power to obtain records. The full record of their back and forth communications would help us understand exactly what the mayors were thinking and whether or not Lowe’s assessment of their actions is correct. Indeed, what the Township of Esquimalt released shows the mayors did communicate by email, and I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, let’s consider whether the additional allegations were serious enough that it is reasonable to expect the mayors would have taken action, including informing Lowe, as soon as they had been made aware of the allegations. Three additional allegations were brought forward by two female VicPD employees. The descriptions below were included in the judgment made by retired Judge Ian H. Pitfield as part of the external investigation of Elsner’s conduct ordered by Lowe in December 2015. Release of Pitfield’s judgments had been delayed by Elsner’s legal maneuverings until September 2018, when Lowe released his report. Had the mayors followed up on these allegations themselves, presumably they would have come to a similar understanding as Pitfield did. Here are Pitfield’s descriptions: First allegation: “[Elsner] pressed his groin against her buttocks, and his chest against her back in what [Officer A] described as a ‘nuts to butts’ maneuver… She told investigators she was shocked that ‘my new Chief would stand behind me and from a female’s perspective it’s almost like an oppressive position in a, in a way, like just was very inappropriate, awkward.’” Second allegation: “Officer B said that the day of a police Mess Dinner in 2015, the former chief approached her in a hallway at the VicPD headquarters and held her by both arms with her back against or close to the wall for about a minute. She told investigators that she felt uncomfortable that the former chief was ‘in her space’ and holding her by the arms.” Judge Pitfield described the third allegation: “The third allegation also involved Officer B. It arose at a use-of-force training session in 2014 at which the former chief was paired up with Officer B to practice lateral neck restraints; that involved close body contact. Officer B said: ‘…when she applied the restraint to Mr Elsner, or him to her, he said things like you are so warm, don’t stop, or, I could do this all day, you’re so warm.’ She said the comments were made multiple times. She stated that while the comments were not overtly sexual, she felt they had a sexual tone as they were made at the time when their bodies are touching during the use of force scenarios.” In hearings before Pitfield, Elsner denied all of these allegations. But Pitfield made it clear that he believed the women, and found that “because Mr Elsner was the Chief Constable, the members were his subordinates, he stood in a position of power and responsibility vis-a-vis both members, and the three instances constituted breaches of VicPD workplace policy and the terms of his employment contract, I consider the misconduct to be well advanced on the seriousness scale.” So let’s circle back to the question of whether there’s evidence beyond that provided by Lowe’s report that the two mayors tried to bury these allegations. As mentioned earlier, the surviving record of email communications between the two mayors during September, October and November 2015 is sparse. The only surviving records were obtained from Esquimalt. From its records, one email stands out. For one thing, someone has run a black felt pen through two sections of text, hiding part of Desjardins’ message to Helps. This wasn’t an ordinary redaction permitted or required by BC’s privacy and information law. Rather, this was done by somebody trying to hide something. Even though the content of the email has obviously been tampered with and so is likely to be regarded with suspicion, it has still been brought forward. To me this suggests that someone wanted us to see the other part of the message—the part that isn’t blacked out. Mayor Desjardins appears to have wanted a second investigation into harassment allegations against Elsner. The part that’s still readable suggests that by October 15, 2015, just over a month into the investigation of Elsner’s salacious tweets, the mayors knew about the additional harassment and bullying allegations against Elsner. It suggests that Desjardins believed those allegations needed to be investigated. She wanted to ask “Pat” to take that on, but had someone else in mind if necessary. “Pat” is Patricia Gallivan, QC, the Vancouver lawyer who conducted the mayors’ investigation. Note how this seems to conflict with Lowe’s claim that the two mayors “had predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.” The readable part of the email seems to suggest that Desjardins was pushing to have the harassment allegations investigated. Of course, we don’t know if that’s an accurate interpretation of Desjardins’ intended meaning since part of her message has been blacked out. Len Statz, manager of investigative analysts for the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, told Focus in an email that Lowe’s office had not seen Desjardins’ email previously. Statz wrote: “In the Commissioner’s view, the email provided to Focus Magazine provides further support for his position that the Mayors were aware of the allegations of harassment, did not fulfill their duty to inform the Commissioner and, arguably, continued on a path that would see the former chief remain in his post. We note that the covering letter to Pat Gallivan’s preliminary report, dated November 16, 2015, summarized the allegations of harassment (including one of the allegations that was later substantiated by Discipline Authority Pitfield) and offered to investigate those allegations, indicating that investigation would take about a week. There is no documented action to take her up on that offer and there was no notification to our office.” (For the record, the email shown here was provided to the Police Board’s Collette Thomson by the Township of Esquimalt, according to Thomson. It had apparently been found as part of an earlier FOI search of Helps’ records, which were printed out in paper form and preserved by Esquimalt. Those records were originally gathered by City of Victoria employee Colleen Mycroft, which is why her name appears at the top of the email. Both Helps and Desjardins were asked to comment for this story. As of our deadline, neither had responded.) Six days after suggesting they should do a second investigation, Desjardins sent to Helps, without comment, VicPD’s policy papers on “Workplace Harassments & Improper Activity,” “Workplace Violence,” and “Code of Ethics.” Again, if there was a response from Helps, it has been deleted from the City’s records. The records provided to Focus don’t include any other communications between Desjardins and Helps for the rest of October or November 2015. But the records released by Lowe’s office show that on November 16, 2015, a full month after Desjardins suggested an investigation of the harassment allegations, Gallivan wrote in a letter to the mayors: “I understand that you are considering how to address those allegations. As previously stated, should you wish to expand our mandate to include an investigation of those matters, in light of my schedule and given the need to deal with these matters expeditiously, I would need to engage the assistance of one of my partners to complete the investigation. I have discussed this matter with my partner…and she advises she would be able to set aside a week to conduct the witness interviews.” To summarize, then, Desjardins apparently believed an independent investigation of the allegations should be done, she thought Gallivan should do it, Gallivan had been approached, and Gallivan had offered her company’s services to do it “expeditiously.” Yet the investigation never took place. Why? Again, Helps says now: “We were authorized to deal only with the issues of whether Elsner had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the wife of a VicPD member and whether Elsner had improperly used police social media accounts.” But it’s now evident that neither Desjardins nor Gallivan believed that to be the case. They were both ready to proceed with an investigation into the harassment allegations. Why did Helps resist this direction? We don’t know for certain because her emails have been deleted. But it’s evident that Helps weighed the allegations made by the two women against something she believed to be true about Elsner. Her position on Elsner is a matter of public record. On December 4, 2015, when Helps was asked on Global TV if there was “any truth to it that there’s an investigation going on with the chief,” Helps replied, “No. The board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.” So Helps weighed the allegations of the two women, plus the evidence of Elsner conducting “an inappropriate relationship” with the wife of a subordinate officer, against something else and decided in favour of Elsner. What outweighed the allegations of the women? Soon after the investigation of Elsner broke into public view in December 2015, there was talk on social media about the Twitter allegation against Elsner being a retaliation by VicPD personnel who opposed the new “community policing” direction in which he was taking the department. There was said to be opposition to Elsner’s shift away from some of the policies of former Police Chief Jamie Graham. That shift included, for example, a freeze on promotion of officers based on arrests and ticketing, and a move toward promotion based on community engagement and contact. Did this idea—that Elsner was being punished for being progressive—tip Helps’ judgment in favour of Elsner and against the women who accused him? Indeed, the two mayors had directed Gallivan to determine whether there was “misconduct by any other employee of [VicPD] or if there were any security issues with respect to [VicPD’s] information system.” The mayors apparently wanted to know if any improper action had led to Elsner’s tweets being brought to their attention. After investigating the matter, Gallivan reported, “I have no reason to believe that there was any misconduct” on the part of VicPD members. But even if it had been true—that Elsner was punished by VicPD members because he was progressive—it’s difficult to see how that would cancel out Elsner’s documented misconduct involving women. After Lowe’s report was released last September and many more details about what had happened during the mayors’ investigation circulated in the community during the civic election campaign, Helps and Desjardins both claimed they had been libelled by Lowe. To understand why Helps might not want to openly acknowledge that she had sided with an accused abuser and stood in the way of an expeditious investigation of the allegations of harassment, consider a statement made by Sonia Theroux, Helps’ campaign manager. Theroux made this comment on social media shortly before the election: “I’m a multi-time survivor; I’d never support a mayor who tried to protect an abuser. Full stop.” Theroux had apparently been told by Helps that a “second letter [was] on its way to the OPCC re new allegations when media intercepted,” back in December 2015. “There was no intention to ‘cover up’ the allegations,” Theroux wrote. Helps has never made any public statement about such a “second letter.” If such a letter had being contemplated, wouldn’t the mayors have secured a record of it in case it was ever necessary to prove they intended to pursue the harassment allegations? But Helps’ own words back in December 2015 make it clear how unlikely the existence of a “second letter” was. Again, recall her statement: “The Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing to happen to this town and Esquimalt for a long time.” How could Helps make that “best thing” claim while, at the same time, she was writing a “second letter” to Lowe to inform him that the mayors were going to begin an investigation of Elsner’s “nuts to butts” maneuver with his female staff. While Gallivan was investigating the salacious tweet allegation against Elsner, Elsner committed three additional acts of serious misconduct. He lied to Gallivan about what he had done, he attempted to obtain false testimony from a subordinate police officer, and he misled a fellow police officer. The first two of those actions were each judged to merit dismissal from policing; one of those was considered tantamount to an obstruction of justice by retired Judge Carol Baird Ellan. In other words, Elsner’s attempt to cover up the tweeting and “nuts to butts” maneuver were what made him forever unemployable as a police officer. One has to wonder whether Mayor Helps’ attempt to delete her way out of her own predicament will, in a similar fashion, eventually catch up with her employability as a politician. Focus has requested that the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner review the matter of the mayor’s missing emails. We will continue to report what we learn. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus. The Victoria Police Board's full response to Focus' request for communications between Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins: Victoria Police Board 181212 FOIPPA response package.pdf
  3. The City has always denied the new bridge has any problems, thus limiting its ability to assert itself in legal fights over the project. JUDGING BY THE LEGAL SUITS claiming damages that have been filed (but not yet served) by PCL Constructors against the City of Victoria and the engineering companies involved in designing the new Johnson Street Bridge, history is about to repeat itself. PCL launched a similar legal maneuver against its partners on the project back in 2015, and that led to the City agreeing to “release and forever discharge” PCL, MMM Group, and Hardesty & Hanover “from all debts, claims, demands, damages, expenses and costs (including without limitation, legal costs) of any nature or kind that are in any way related to the Project and either known or which ought to be known by the [City] as of [April 23, 2016].” PCL now claims “The design provided by the City to PCL was not prepared in accordance with the standard of professional care normally exercised by recognized professional engineers experienced in the performance of design work such as required for the design of the New Bridge, and was not accurate and complete but rather the design information contained errors, omissions and misrepresentations.” PCL’s filing makes similar design-focussed claims against Hardesty & Hanover and MMM Group/WSP, the two companies that did the actual design and engineering on the bridge. PCL’s contract with the City stated that the City was legally responsible to provide the design. PCL’s latest claims have forced the City back into mediation. The head of the one-person company the City contracted to provide public relations for the project, Jonathan Huggett, has characterized PCL’s filings as simply placeholders to meet BC’s Limitation Act requirement of filing civil claims within two years of a construction project’s completion date. But at the same time, Huggett admits the City is in a new round of legal mediation with PCL. My guess is that PCL is looking to obtain a similar agreement to the one it negotiated with the City in 2016. This time it will want to rid itself of any future liability for what occurred after April 2016. One of those liabilities arises from the execution of what the original construction contract between the City and PCL called “a complicated joint.” This is the six-surface connection between each ring and each truss. If you watched the bridge parts being erected, you will recall that each ring was lowered into place separately and later the two side trusses with the highway deck attached to them were added as a single piece. To join the trusses to the rings, twelve different surfaces needed to meet in almost perfect juxtaposition. The mating surfaces were then fastened with internal bolts. The long-term structural integrity of these joints is dependent on all of the parts never corroding, especially the bolts and the holes through which they pass. Yet it’s obvious that oxidation at these joints is already occurring. Worse, caulking intended to keep the joints dry is already cracking away from the joints. Nine months into service, the critical joint on the south-side truss has lost caulking intended to keep water out and corrosion at bay. The bridge opened only nine months ago, but by December a section of the seal over the upper joint on the south side of the bridge had fallen out and the joint appeared to be corroding freely (photo above). Hardesty & Hanover’s design depends heavily on the durability of epoxy grout in a number of critical areas on the structure, yet the trustworthiness of that design choice is already in question. Kiewit Construction’s exquisite competing bid design called for this to be a field-welded joint, not a bolted joint, so there are legitimate questions about Hardesty & Hanover’s choice of how to execute this “complicated joint.” The City’s apologists for the project will likely deny there’s any problem and will argue that critical joints freely corroding is standard fare on such engineering projects—thus undermining the City’s legal position vis-a-vis PCL. Recall the six-foot by six-foot bolted-on plates that were needed as a result of incomplete design information being included in shop drawings. Those weren’t a problem, either, according to Huggett, just a “fabrication challenge.” Huggett’s public claim that the plates were standard fare for such an infrastructure project single-handedly defeated any future case the City could make in a court of law. Such “fabrication challenges” are now evident all over the bridge. My personal Top Ten would include the top chord of the trusses. In the original conceptual design by Wilkinson Eyre’s Sebastien Ricard—the dreamy image used to get a “Yes” in the 2010 referendum—the graceful sweep of the top edge of the trusses, from the top of the rings to the far western toe of the trusses, contained exactly zero abrupt changes in direction. These lines were meant to be sweeping and graceful. Wilkinson Eyre-Sebastien Ricard conceptual design, conceived for the 2010 referendum on whether to replace the old bridge. In the bridge PCL built, this sweeping line has about seven changes in direction. These range from inexplicably abrupt to “fabrication challenge” wobbles. The wobbles in the line of that top edge result in a series of bulges and dents in the sides of the trusses where there should have been a predictably straight and flat surface. Anyone with an eye for good form will perceive these deformations as serious flaws. To my eye, this aspect of the new bridge is the best example of poor design and workmanship at play anywhere in Downtown Victoria. Wobbles and abrupt changes in direction in the trusses of the design created by Hardesty & Hanover and MMM Group. This was supposed to be an “architecturally significant” structure, a “signature” bridge. What else could justify its eventual $120-million cost? Yet not a single mention of the project can be found on any of the websites of the companies involved in designing, engineering, and constructing it. None of them wants to put their corporate signature on the hodgepodge of metal confusion. But Victoria is stuck with it, the engineers claim, for the next 100 years. There’s a lot more that’s already gone wrong with the structure, and I don’t mean intoxicated men falling overboard. Enter the cavernous machinery room, for example, which, it was hoped, visitors would find “iconic.” Check out the cracked and spalling concrete overhangs that are supposed to keep rain off the hydraulic motors. Below them, look closely and you’ll see duct tape crudely applied to makeshift sheet-metal covers intended to keep rainwater away from the pinion shafts. After only nine months of service, the City has resorted to using duct tape to solve problems. Below the duct tape, note the pool of hydraulic oil that’s leaking from the drive motors. $120 million bought a certain style of iconic, but it’s more like Trailer Park Boys than Wilkinson Eyre. Watch for duct tape to appear over those “complicated joints.” Nine months into service, hydraulic fluid is leaking and duct tape has been employed. These are just some of the reasons why PCL is now likely twisting the City’s arm to “release and forever discharge” it from all responsibility it might have for everything that has already gone wrong, and everything that will go wrong in the future. City councillors will be told by their consultant that this is “normal” for a big infrastructure project and councillors will accept PCL’s terms, just like they always have. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.
  4. Did Police Complaint Commissioner Stan Lowe defame Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins? Or did he pull his punches? POLICE COMPLAINT COMMISSIONER Stan Lowe’s recent report on the 2015 investigation of Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner made several damning assertions about the conduct of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. The mayors conducted an internal investigation under their authority as Co-chairs of the Victoria Police Board. Lowe issued his report less than a month before the October 20 civic elections in which both mayors were seeking to keep their jobs. Helps told a Times Colonist reporter that Lowe’s report “feels like character assassination.” “I’m going to have someone look at the report carefully and see if it’s defamatory. It feels defamatory,” she complained to the TC’s Louise Dickson. The Times Colonist’s coverage of Lowe’s report, in the weeks before the election, did not include any of the details of Lowe’s allegations against the mayors, but instead focussed on his general recommendation that BC’s Police Act should be amended to remove mayors as the designated disciplinary authority in cases where allegations are made against a police chief or a deputy police chief. Both Helps and Desjardins made a big show of their agreement with that one aspect of Lowe’s report, and that agreement was well-covered by the Times Colonist. But the paper’s focus on the mayors’ “agreement” with Lowe’s report had the effect of obscuring the stinging rebuke Lowe levelled at the mayors for several actions they took, or failed to take, during the 2015 investigation. The TC did include a short editorial before the election that noted the mayors had lied to journalists about whether Elsner had even been under investigation. But that was it. So in the absence of any responsible coverage coming from the Times Colonist, Focus will pursue this story over the coming months, starting with providing readers with the details in Lowe’s report that demand further explanation—especially from Helps and Desjardins. Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins in December, 2015. Below, I will outline several assertions about the mayors’ handling of the internal investigation that Lowe included. Together, they constitute what Lowe called a “strong arguable case” that the mayors “had predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.” I will also draw the reader’s attention to an event that occurred during the investigation—a potentially criminal obstruction of justice committed by Elsner. Lowe’s report provided little insight into whether the mayors may have abetted that obstruction. So let’s start at the beginning. In August 2015, Helps and Desjardins were informed that Twitter messages between Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner and the wife of a subordinate VicPD officer had been found. (Court documents show that the messages have been characterized as being “sexually charged.”) In late August, the mayors informed the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. The OPCC agreed to allow an internal investigation of the matter subject to certain preconditions under which the mayors committed to conduct their investigation. Taking the route of an internal investigation meant the mayors would have the authority to decide what disciplinary action, if any, would be taken following an investigation that was conducted by private lawyer Patricia Gallivan. The alternative to that course of action would have been a public trust investigation set up and monitored by OPCC. Under that arrangement the mayors would have had no control of the outcome. The mayors’ internal investigation seemed to go off the tracks at the first curve, in early September, 2015. One of Lowe’s preconditions for allowing the mayors to act as the disciplinary authority was that they would personally ensure that the affected VicPD officer (aka “the husband”) knew what had occurred between his wife and Elsner, and that once the officer had been fully informed, he would be asked whether he would prefer an internal or external investigation. But Lowe’s report notes: “In my review of the internal investigation it was evident to the mayors that the affected spouse, the husband, had been materially misinformed by [Elsner] regarding the matter, and they chose not to correct his misapprehension of the circumstance. They then confirmed [to OPCC] the husband’s decision to proceed with an internal process, without disclosing that the husband had been misinformed by [Elsner]. Furthermore, the mayors did not expand the investigation to include this apparent misconduct, nor report it to our office as required. This conduct by [Elsner] falls in the most serious range of misconduct and has resulted in his dismissal from policing by Retired Judge Baird Ellan.” Here we need to digress briefly from the timeline to draw your attention to an error made by Lowe in that paragraph. Lowe’s report notes elsewhere that Judge Carol Baird Ellan actually imposed “30 days’ suspension, demotion to the rank of constable and training on ethical standards,” on Elsner for misleading the husband, not “dismissal from policing.” Baird Ellan’s two verdicts of “dismissal from policing” came as a result of two other cases of misconduct by Elsner, both of which took place during Gallivan’s internal investigation. Lowe is oddly silent on these more serious cases of misconduct. Did Helps and Desjardins sweep that misconduct under the rug, too? We’ll come back to this question later. (In response to questions posed by Focus, OPCC quickly acknowledged the above error and have amended Lowe’s report.) So let’s go back to the timeline. We’ll include comments the mayors have made as we go along. Mayor Helps has previously provided Focus with her perspective on Lowe’s allegation about the mayors’ conduct as it related to Elsner’s misleading of the husband. She stated that the “false information” provided by Elsner was “completely beyond our control” and that the mayors had been given no mandate by OPCC to investigate this additional misconduct. We might ask ourselves, though, if the mayors were aware that Elsner had lied to his subordinate officer about his relationship with the officer’s wife, why wouldn’t the mayors have taken that information to Lowe’s office? Lowe has been adamant that his office instructed the mayors to bring such developments to his attention. Moreover, Lowe highlighted in his report an example that demonstrated “the mayors were aware of their discretion to expand the scope of the investigation.” Desjardins had asked Gallivan to investigate whether Elsner had retaliated against any other VicPD employee, which was an expansion of the investigation. So Helps’ excuse of “no mandate” seems doubly implausible. How, exactly, did Elsner mislead his subordinate officer? Court records show that Elsner told the officer on September 8, 2015 that “no inappropriate communication or contact of any sort” had taken place between Elsner and the officer’s wife. The private conversation between Elsner and the officer took place in an unidentified Victoria park, according to court records. As Gallivan’s internal investigation proceeded through that September and October, she became aware of additional allegations against Elsner: bullying, and harassment of female VicPD employees. In agreeing to allow the mayors to conduct an investigation into Elsner’s illicit Twitter communications, Lowe says “there was a clear understanding among all concerned that if, during the course of the investigation, any information came to light about conduct by any police officer that may constitute misconduct, our office was to be informed so that I could determine whether the conduct should be addressed as a public trust matter.” The record shows, however, that the mayors withheld from Lowe any hint about the bullying and harassment allegations until well after they had made their decision about how Elsner should be disciplined—a letter of reprimand on his file. Moreover, the mayors apparently tried to hide these allegations from Lowe even after he had asked for all their records. Let me take you through the details of that. In his report, Lowe recalls, “Based on my review of internal communications, notes and evidence summaries, it is apparent that by October 20, 2015, the internal investigator [Gallivan] had reported to the mayors that numerous witnesses had made allegations of bullying and harassment against the former chief. These witnesses included members and civilian staff; the nature of the harassment was characterized as ‘inappropriate comments and behaviour towards women,’ which included inappropriate physical contact. Despite receiving this information, the mayors chose not to expand the investigator’s mandate to include these allegations. On the contrary, the correspondence indicates that they instructed the investigator not to pursue those allegations or consider them in any respect in drafting the investigation report because they were ‘outside the scope of the investigator’s mandate.’” Mayor Desjardins published a response to Lowe’s allegations on her personal website. There she noted, “The Police Complaint Commissioner has taken defamatory liberty in respect to the honesty and integrity of Mayor Helps and I. He has found us guilty of misconduct that, if true, would be very serious indeed. He has done so from his position of high office and without giving us any opportunity to first answer his speculative accusations. The media has elected to repeat Commissioner Lowe’s highly defamatory comments.” Desjardins’ response focussed entirely on what happened after Lowe stripped Desjardins and Helps of their authority to discipline Elsner and launched a public trust investigation. She offered no response to the specific allegations Lowe made about what had occurred during the mayors’ investigation. Focus recently asked Mayor Helps’ for comment on a summary of Lowe’s numerous allegations about the mayors’ handling of the investigation. Helps wrote: “…there’s much I’d like to dispute and explain. I’m balancing my desire to fight back with the need for us to move on as a community.” Helps addressed only one of Lowe’s allegations, that the mayors instructed Gallivan not to investigate the allegations of Elsner’s bullying and harassment of women. This allegation is one of the most challenging and potentially damaging to the mayors’ political reputations. Helps told Focus she and Desjardins asked Gallivan “to document the allegations of bullying and harassment in a cover letter accompanying her final investigation report. This is what we did, with the intention that the cover letter and the final report would be handed to the OPCC for his consideration of the new allegations.” But Gallivan’s cover letter somehow went missing from the material sent to Lowe. Lowe’s report notes: “The first time my office learned of any allegations of bullying and workplace harassment was through the Victoria City Police Union, which provided information and materials to my office after the [December 3, 2015] disciplinary decision made by the mayors.” The implication here is that the mayors tried to hide the harassment and bullying allegations from Lowe’s office by not providing him with the only document that showed such allegations had been made—Gallivan’s cover letter. In her written response to our questions, Helps blamed a mistake made by an executive assistant for the circumstances that led to Gallivan’s letter not being included in the information the mayors provided to Lowe at his request. But, again, Helps’ explanation seems implausible, perhaps evasive. According to Lowe, Gallivan had reported these allegations to the mayors by October 20, 2015. Gallivan’s subsequent written report is dated November 16. The mayors wrote their discipline decision on December 3. So there was a 45-day period—between first being informed of these allegations and making their discipline decision—during which Helps and Desjardins knew about the allegations but did not notify Lowe’s office, as they had been directed to do if additional allegations arose. What had Gallivan reported to the mayors? The cover letter for her investigation report included “allegations” of “Yelling at senior colleagues and being insulting and demeaning,” and “Inappropriate comments and behaviour towards women including coming up behind a female colleague who was standing at a desk and with his body pinning her to the desk.” It seems clear enough that some action by the mayors would have been warranted. Gallivan’s cover letter went on to note, “I understand that you are now considering how to address those allegations.” She also offered her company’s services to investigate the allegations further. But, inexplicably, the mayors appear to have done nothing. What were they considering? Do they have written proof that they were considering anything other than sweeping the allegations under the rug? If they do, why haven’t the mayors provided that proof? By the way, the allegations against Elsner of bullying and harassment were eventually confirmed by an external investigation and warranted a finding of “Discreditable Conduct” by Judge (retired) Ian Pitfield. Most of Lowe’s allegations about the mayors’ conduct centre on events that occurred just before and just after Helps and Desjardins made their decision on December 3, 2015 on how Elsner would be disciplined. For example, Lowe alleges the mayors rushed to make a decision on December 3 once they were told by their own legal counsel, Marcia McNeil, that rumours about an investigation of Elsner were circulating and that reporters would soon be asking questions. It appears the mayors wanted to be able to deny that an investigation was underway—by concluding it that very same day. Indeed, each of them made statements to reporters within days that first denied an investigation had taken place, and then—when they were forced to acknowledge the investigation—mischaracterized it. On December 4, 2015, Mayor Helps was asked by a Global TV journalist whether Elsner was being investigated. Helps responded: “No. The [Police] Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.” Desjardins made a similarly misleading statement to Vancouver Sun reporter Rob Shaw and, a few days later, while acknowledging that an investigation had taken place, she mischaracterized the investigation to a CFAX reporter by claiming the investigation had found “there was no relationship” between Elsner and the wife of his subordinate officer. The investigation was instead, Desjardins said, about “an inappropriate use of social media.” In fact, the mayors’ investigator, Gallivan, had previously provided the mayors with a written report that (according to court records) concluded that Elsner “did not have a sexual relationship…but did exchange ‘tweets’ with her that were sexually charged and that the exchange constituted an inappropriate relationship.” Mayor Helps’ December 4, 2015 statement to the Global TV journalist is particularly worthy of attention considering what we now know she knew when she made that statement. Besides the fact that she lied to the journalist about the existence of an investigation, she added, without any prompting, “He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.” Think about that. Helps made this statement with the full knowledge that Elsner had lied to his subordinate officer about his involvement with the officer’s wife and had also been accused of multiple cases of bullying and harassment of female VicPD employees. When she made that statement, 45 days had passed during which she could have investigated—but didn’t—VicPD female employees’ claims of what some would consider to be sexual assault by Elsner. Gallavin had offered her company’s services to that end, but the mayors had declined. Helps also had 45 days during which she could have informed Lowe’s office and sought his advice, but didn’t. She’d had 45 days in which to think about whether to support the women who made the allegations. In the end, she sided with a powerful, deceitful man accused of physical and sexual harassment and characterized him as “the best thing that’s happened…in a long time.” Mayor Helps could now easily clear up any impression that she has acted improperly by providing written records showing, for example, that she and Desjardins were planning on doing something about those allegations besides sitting on them. Those records, if they exist, could be submitted to a public inquiry. Mayor Helps’ and Mayor Desjardins’ separate claims to media on December 4, 2015 of “no investigation” make it evident they were trying to protect Elsner and were willing to deceive the public to accomplish that. Lowe’s account of all the things the two mayors did to cover up Elsner’s misconduct needs to be considered in the light of that public deception. Rather than libelling the mayors, as Helps has claimed, Lowe appears to have been overly polite in describing their multi-layered cover-up as “navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.” The mayors appear to have attempted to deceive Lowe in several ways. All of these apparent deceptions amount to a perception of an obstruction of justice—not necessarily according to the Canadian Criminal Code definition of “obstruction of justice,” but certainly in the plain meaning of the words. Both Helps and Desjardins have complained about Lowe’s report, but neither has provided any evidence to counter Lowe’s very specific claims. Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods has encouraged Helps and Desjardins to request a public inquiry. “If they think they’ve been hard done by in any way in this report, we have a considerable body of evidence we would be willing to provide at any public inquiry so the truth would certainly come out,” Woods told The Canadian Press. So far, neither mayor has requested a public inquiry. Considering what was revealed in Lowe’s report, it’s unlikely that either mayor would want, or support, a public inquiry. But one aspect of the mayors’ conduct that’s missing from Lowe’s report reinforces the need for a public inquiry: Were the mayors provided with enough information by Gallivan’s investigation that they should have immediately dismissed Elsner for cause? Lowe’s report observes that Judge Baird Ellan determined Elsner should be dismissed from policing for each of two specific actions he took: First, Elsner lied to the mayors’ investigator, Patricia Gallivan, during the mayors’ internal investigation in 2015. Secondly, Elsner attempted to procure a false statement from another VicPD employee. This, too, occurred during Gallivan’s investigation. Indeed, Baird Ellan’s commentary on Elsner’s misleading of Gallivan, which Lowe included in his report, notes: “There is authority for the proposition that providing a false statement in an administrative investigation can be a criminal obstruction of justice...” Yet Lowe’s report sheds no light on whether or not Gallivan informed the mayors of this misconduct. If she had—in either case—the mayors would have been in a position to fire Elsner for cause back in the fall of 2015. That would have saved Victoria and Esquimalt taxpayers close to $1M in costs that were incurred as a consequence of the mayors’ handling of the matter. Focus asked OPCC if Gallivan had provided the mayors with information about Elsner’s attempt to mislead her and his attempt to procure a false statement. Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods acknowledged that the attempt to procure a false statement had occurred during Gallivan’s investigation, but told Focus “there is no evidence to suggest that the investigator was aware of this conduct.” What about Elsner’s attempt to mislead Gallivan, which earned him “dismissal from policing” and could be, as pointed out by Judge Baird Ellan, a case of “criminal obstruction of justice”? Did the mayors know about that? In a written statement, Woods noted that this deceptive conduct was identified after OPCC reviewed “the evidence summaries contained in Ms. Gallivan’s November 16, 2015 report to the mayors.” Woods added, “The investigator did not address this conduct as a specific allegation of misconduct in her report; it would be up to the co-chairs to determine based on all of the evidence, what if any misconduct has been proven.” In other words, the evidence that Elsner had attempted to mislead Gallivan was in her report to the mayors; it had been up to the mayors to decide whether that evidence warranted an additional charge of misconduct. Again, if the mayors had contacted OPCC and asked whether Elsner’s attempt to mislead Gallivan was misconduct, an early resolution of Elsner’s fate might have been had. But the mayors did not ask questions. Why not? Did the mayors not understand that Elsner was engaged in a cover-up? Later, Judge Baird Ellan determined that Elsner’s deception of Gallivan was the most serious case of misconduct, one that warranted dismissal from policing. While Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins have claimed that they were defamed by Lowe’s report, Commissioner Lowe appears to have pulled his most serious punch. During the civic election, supporters of Helps and Desjardins characterized Lowe’s report as being everything from a fascistic attack against community-based policing to the patriarchy attempting to put strong female leaders in their place. But it appears, based on the evidence available so far, that the mayors simply engaged in an expensive cover-up, and Lowe has called them on it. Is he right? A public inquiry would settle the matter. If the mayors don’t support such an inquiry, it’s reasonable to conclude that Lowe has called it correctly. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.
  5. Were Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins defamed by Police Complaint Commissioner Stan Lowe? Or did Lowe pull his punches? POLICE COMPLAINT COMMISSIONER STAN LOWE’S recent report on the 2015 investigation of Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner made several damning assertions about the conduct of Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins. The mayors conducted an internal investigation under their authority as Co-chairs of the Victoria Police Board. Lowe’s report, issued less than a month before the October 20 civic elections in which both mayors are seeking to keep their jobs, did nothing to help their re-election efforts. Helps told a Times Colonist reporter that Lowe’s report “feels like character assassination.” “I’m going to have someone look at the report carefully and see if it’s defamatory. It feels defamatory,” she complained to the TC’s Louise Dickson. The Times Colonist’s coverage of Lowe’s report has, to date, not included details of Lowe’s allegations against the mayors, but instead has focussed on his general recommendation that BC’s Police Act should be amended to remove mayors as the designated disciplinary authority in cases where allegations are made against a police chief or a deputy police chief. Both Helps and Desjardins have stated publicly that they agree with Lowe’s recommendation, and that has been well-covered by the Times Colonist. But the paper’s focus on the mayors’ acceptance of that one aspect of Lowe’s report has had the effect of obscuring the stinging rebuke Lowe levelled at the mayors for several actions they took, or failed to take, during the investigation. BC Police Complaint Commissioner Stan Lowe Below, I will outline several assertions about the mayors’ handling of the internal investigation that Lowe included in his report. Together, they constitute what Lowe called a “strong arguable case” that the mayors “had predetermined the outcome of the internal discipline process from the outset, and set about navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.” I will also draw the reader’s attention to what Lowe didn’t include in his report—whether the mayors may have also ignored a potentially criminal obstruction of justice committed by Elsner. In late August 2015, Helps and Desjardins were informed that Twitter messages between Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner and the wife of a subordinate VicPD officer had been found. The mayors informed the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner. The OPCC agreed to allow an internal investigation of the matter subject to certain preconditions under which the mayors committed to conduct their investigation. Taking the route of an internal investigation meant the mayors would have the authority to decide what disciplinary action, if any, would be taken following an investigation that was conducted by independent lawyer and investigator Patricia Gallivan. The alternative to that course of action would have been a public trust investigation set up and monitored by OPCC. Under that arrangement the mayors would have had no control of the outcome. So let’s go through Lowe’s specific allegations about the mayors’ conduct in the order that they occurred. This timeline begins in September, 2015 and runs through to the release of Lowe’s first report, issued on December 18, 2015, at which time Lowe stripped the mayors of their discipline authority and ordered an external investigation of Elsner’s conduct. The mayor’s internal investigation seemed to go off the tracks at the first curve, in early September. One of Lowe’s preconditions for allowing the mayors to act as the disciplinary authority was that they would personally ensure that the affected VicPD officer (aka “the husband”) knew what had occurred between his wife and Elsner, and that once the officer had been fully informed, he would be asked whether he would prefer an internal or external investigation. But Lowe’s report notes: “In my review of the internal investigation it was evident to the mayors that the affected spouse, the husband, had been materially misinformed by [Elsner] regarding the matter, and they chose not to correct his misapprehension of the circumstance. They then confirmed the husband’s decision to proceed with an internal process, without disclosing that the husband had been misinformed by [Elsner]. Furthermore, the mayors did not expand the investigation to include this apparent misconduct, nor report it to our office as required. This conduct by [Elsner] falls in the most serious range of misconduct and has resulted in his dismissal from policing by Retired Judge Baird Ellan.” Here I need to digress briefly from the timeline to draw your attention to an error made by Lowe in that paragraph. Lowe’s report notes elsewhere that Judge Baird Ellan actually imposed “30 days’ suspension, demotion to the rank of constable and training on ethical standards,” on Elsner for misleading the husband, not “dismissal from policing.” Baird Ellan’s two verdicts of “dismissal from policing” came as a result of two other cases of misconduct by Elsner, both of which took place during Gallivan’s internal investigation. Did Helps and Desjardins sweep that misconduct under the rug, too? I’ll come back to this question later. (In response to questions posed by Focus, OPCC quickly acknowledged the above error in Lowe’s commentary and has since amended the report.) So let’s go back to the timeline. I will include comments the mayors have made as we go along. Mayor Helps has previously provided Focus with her perspective on Lowe’s allegation about the mayors’ conduct as it related to Elsner’s misleading of the husband. She stated that the “false information” provided by Elsner was “completely beyond our control” and that the mayors had been given no mandate by OPCC to investigate this additional misconduct. We might ask ourselves, though, if the mayors were aware that Elner had lied to his subordinate officer about his relationship with the officer’s wife, why wouldn’t the mayors have taken that information to Lowe’s office? Lowe has been adamant that his office instructed the mayors to bring such developments to his attention. Moreover, Lowe highlighted in his report an example—Desjardins had asked Gallivan to determine whether Elsner had retaliated against any other VicPD employee—that showed, according to Lowe, “the mayors were aware of their discretion to expand the scope of the investigation.” So Helps’ claim of “no mandate” seems doubly implausible. How, exactly, did Elsner mislead his subordinate officer? Court records show that Elsner told the officer on September 8, 2015 that “no inappropriate communication or contact of any sort” had taken place between Elsner and the officer’s wife. Elsner met with the officer alone, in an unidentified park, according to court records. As Gallivan’s internal investigation proceeded through that September and October, she became aware of additional allegations against Elsner: bullying and harassment of female VicPD employees. In agreeing to allow the mayors to conduct an investigation into Elsner’s illicit Twitter communications, Lowe says “there was a clear understanding among all concerned that if, during the course of the investigation, any information came to light about conduct by any police officer that may constitute misconduct, our office was to be informed so that I could determine whether the conduct should be addressed as a public trust matter.” The record shows, however, that the mayors withheld from Lowe any hint about the bullying and harassment allegations until well after they had made their decision about how Elsner should be disciplined—a letter of reprimand on his file. Moreover, they apparently tried to hide these allegations from Lowe even after he had asked for all their records. Let me take you through the details of that. In his report, Lowe recalls, “Based on my review of internal communications, notes and evidence summaries, it is apparent that by October 20, 2015, the internal investigator [Gallivan] had reported to the mayors that numerous witnesses had made allegations of bullying and harassment against the former chief. These witnesses included members and civilian staff; the nature of the harassment was characterized as ‘inappropriate comments and behaviour towards women,’ which included inappropriate physical contact. Despite receiving this information, the mayors chose not to expand the investigator’s mandate to include these allegations. On the contrary, the correspondence indicates that they instructed the investigator not to pursue those allegations or consider them in any respect in drafting the investigation report because they were ‘outside the scope of the investigator’s mandate.’” Focus recently asked Mayor Helps’ for comment on a summary of Lowe’s numerous allegations about the mayors’ handling of the investigation. Helps said, “there’s much I’d like to dispute and explain. I’m balancing my desire to fight back with the need for us to move on as a community.” Helps addressed only one of Lowe’s allegations, that the mayors instructed Gallivan not to investigate the allegations of bullying and harassment of women. This allegation is one of the most challenging and potentially damaging to the mayors’ political aspirations, for obvious reasons. Helps told us she and Desjardins asked Gallivan “to document the allegations of bullying and harassment in a cover letter accompanying her final investigation report. This is what we did, with the intention that the cover letter and the final report would be handed to the OPCC for his consideration of the new allegations.” But Gallivan’s cover letter wasn’t sent to Lowe. Lowe’s report notes: “The first time my office learned of any allegations of bullying and workplace harassment was through the Victoria City Police Union, which provided information and materials to my office after the [December 3, 2015] disciplinary decision made by the mayors.” (Emphasis added by Focus.) The implication here is that the mayors tried to hide the harassment and bullying allegations from Lowe’s office by not providing him with the only document that showed such allegations had been made—Gallivan’s cover letter. In her response to our questions, Helps blamed a mistake made by an executive assistant for the circumstances that led to Gallivan’s letter not being included in the information the mayors provided to Lowe. By the way, those allegations against Elsner of bullying and harassment were eventually confirmed by an external investigation and warranted a finding of “Discreditable Conduct” by Judge (retired) Ian Pitfield. Most of Lowe’s allegations about the mayors’ conduct centre on events that occurred just before and just after Helps and Desjardins made their decision on December 3, 2015 on how Elsner would be disciplined. Lowe alleges the mayors rushed to make a decision on December 3 once they were told by their own legal counsel, Marcia McNeil, that rumours about an investigation of Elsner were circulating and that media reporters would soon be asking questions. It appears the mayors wanted to be able to deny that an investigation was underway—by concluding it that very day. Indeed, each of them made statements to reporters within days that first denied an investigation had taken place, and then—when they were forced to acknowledge the investigation—mischaracterized it. On December 4, 2015, Mayor Helps was asked by a Global TV journalist whether Elsner was being investigated. Helps responded: “No. The [Police] Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.” Desjardins made a similarly misleading statement to Vancouver Sun reporter Rob Shaw and, a few days later, while acknowledging that an investigation had taken place, she mischaracterized the investigation to a CFAX reporter by claiming the investigation had found “there was no relationship” between Elsner and the wife of his subordinate officer. The investigation was, instead, Desjardins said, about “an inappropriate use of social media.” In fact, the mayors’ investigator, Gallivan, had previously provided the mayors with a written report that concluded that Elsner’s actions “Do constitute an inappropriate relationship.” Mayor Helps’ December 4, 2015 statement to the Global TV journalist is particularly worthy of attention considering what we now know she knew when she made that statement. Besides the fact that she lied to the journalist about the existence of an investigation, she added, without any prompting, “He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.” Helps made this statement with the full knowledge that Elsner had lied to his subordinate officer and had also been accused of multiple cases of bullying and harassment of female employees of VicPD. The mayors’ missteps weren’t over. Following their denials that an investigation had taken place, Lowe asked them for an explanation of their false claims to media and requested a copy of the investigation report and the letter containing the mayors’ disciplinary decision. In their response to Lowe’s request, the mayors neglected to include Gallivan’s account of the allegations of bullying and harassment against Elsner—as mentioned above—but they also appear to have provided Lowe with “false and misleading” information. According to Lowe, “During the course of litigation in this matter it was revealed that two versions of the internal disciplinary letter existed. One version had been provided to our office by the mayors and the other version provided to the former chief. Both decisions were signed by both mayors, both dated the same date, and both addressed to [Elsner].” Lowe’s report carefully detailed how the two letters differed. The one Elsner received stated, in part: “You will meet with the affected officer within your chain of command with an appropriate third part[y] to speak to your actions and to take steps to address your working relationship with him.” The letter that OPCC received stated, in part: “We understand that you have met several times with the affected officer and have and are taking steps to address your working relationship with him.” Lowe noted,“The version provided to my office suggested that a reconciliation between the affected member and [Elsner] was well underway, with active steps being taken towards normalizing relations. Based on our consultations with the affected member following receipt of the letter, and through evidence provided by the external investigation, this information was false and misleading. During an interview of the former chief in the external investigation, he confirmed he was only aware of the existence of one version of the discipline decision, the one in his possession. Furthermore, he confirmed that this requirement, as stipulated in the discipline letter, was never acted upon nor enforced by the mayors or board.” Lowe, then, claims the mayors’ attempt to provide Elsner with cover went as far as creating different versions of the same letter. Court records show that the mayors have claimed that two versions of the disciplinary letter exist because after presenting Elsner with the first version he assured them that reconciliation with his subordinate officer had already begun and so they reflected that in the second version, the one they sent to Lowe’s office. But Lowe’s report contradicts the mayors’ claim. Mayor Helps’ and Mayor Desjardins’ separate claims to media on December 4, 2015 of “no investigation” make it clear they were trying to protect Elsner and were willing to deceive the public to accomplish that. Lowe’s account of all the things the two mayors did to cover up Elsner’s misconduct needs to be considered in the light of that public deception. Rather than libelling the mayors, as Helps has claimed, Lowe appears to have been overly polite in describing their multi-layered cover-up as “navigating a course to allow the former chief to remain in his post.” The mayors appear to have attempted to deceive Lowe in several ways. All of these apparent deceptions would, in fact, amount to a public perception of an obstruction of justice—not necessarily according to the Canadian Criminal Code definition of “obstruction of justice,” but certainly in the plain meaning of the words. Both Helps and Desjardins have complained about Lowe’s report, but neither has provided any evidence to counter Lowe’s very specific claims. Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods has encouraged Helps and Desjardins to request a public inquiry. “If they think they’ve been hard done by in any way in this report, we have a considerable body of evidence we would be willing to provide at any public inquiry so the truth would certainly come out,” Woods told The Canadian Press. So far, neither mayor has requested a public inquiry. Considering what was revealed in Lowe’s report, it’s unlikely that either mayor would want, or support, a public inquiry. But what’s missing from Lowe’s report suggests the need for a public inquiry. Lowe’s report reveals that Judge Baird Ellan determined Elsner should be dismissed from policing for each of two specific actions he took: First, Elsner lied to the mayors’ investigator, Patricia Gallivan, during the mayors’ internal investigation in 2015. Secondly, Elsner attempted to procure a false statement from another VicPD employee. This, too, occurred during Gallivan’s investigation. Lowe’s report sheds no light on whether or not Gallivan informed the mayors of this misconduct. Yet these were considered more serious than any of the other allegations against Elsner. Indeed, Baird Ellan’s commentary on Elsner’s misleading of Gallivan, which Lowe included in his report, notes: “There is authority for the proposition that providing a false statement in an administrative investigation can be a criminal obstruction of justice...” Did Gallivan report to the mayors either Elsner’s attempt to mislead her or his attempt to procure a false statement? If she had done either, the mayors would have been in a position to fire Elsner for cause back in the fall of 2015. That would have saved Victoria and Esquimalt taxpayers close to $1M in costs that were incurred after the fall of 2015. As I mentioned above, Lowe’s commentary on the mayors’ conduct didn’t address these two serious allegations against Elsner and whether Gallivan had provided them with substantiating evidence. Focus asked OPCC if Gallivan had provided the mayors with information about Elsner’s attempt to mislead her and his attempt to procure a false statement. Deputy Police Complaint Commissioner Rollie Woods acknowledged that the attempt to procure a false statement had occurred during Gallivan’s investigation, but told Focus “there is no evidence to suggest that the investigator was aware of this conduct.” We ought to assume, then, that the mayors could not have known about this misconduct. What about Elsner’s attempt to mislead Gallivan, which earned him “dismissal from policing” and could be, as pointed out by Judge Baird Ellan, a case of “criminal obstruction of justice”? Did the mayors know about that? Woods says that conduct was identified after OPCC reviewed “the evidence summaries contained in Ms. Gallivan’s November 16, 2015 report to the mayors.” Woods added, “The investigator did not address this conduct as a specific allegation of misconduct in her report, it would be up to the co-chairs to determine based on all of the evidence, what if any misconduct has been proven. This conduct was not addressed in the letter provided by the co-chairs to Frank Elsner.” In other words, the evidence that Elsner had attempted to mislead Gallivan was in her report to the mayors; it was up to the mayors to decide whether that evidence warranted an additional charge of misconduct. Obviously, they decided it didn’t. Later, Judge Baird Ellan determined that Elsner’s deception of Gallivan was the most serious case of misconduct, one that warranted dismissal from policing. Another case of the cover-up being worse than the original crime. In any case, it appears that the mayors could have saved City of Victoria and Esquimalt taxpayers close to $1M if they had sought advice from Lowe on the contents of Gallivan’s evidence summaries. If they had done that, Elsner could have been dismissed for cause. Instead, Helps declared Elsner was “the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.” While Helps has claimed that she has been defamed by Lowe’s report, Commissioner Lowe appears to have, in fact, pulled his most serious punch. A public inquiry would help determine which is the case. Focus has received a copy of a request from a local citizen to BC’s Lieutenant Governor to establish such an inquiry. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine Commissioner Lowe's September 26, 2018 report 2018-09-26-Elsner-Summary-Informational-Report-FINAL.pdf Related story: Landslide Lisa's record as mayor of Victoria
  6. Stephen, Thank you for your comment. Just to clarify, we learned you were running for a council seat the day this went to press. In any case, I wouldn't have contacted you for comment had I known earlier. Your 2014 interview with Lisa Helps speaks for itself. This story is about Mayor Helps' record, not yours. But I believe your interview of Helps could be useful to voters in terms of comparing what she said in 2014 compared with what she did. I would recommend to voters that they read your interview. That's why you were included. My apologies if there's any implication in my story that you interviewed Helps with the idea in mind that you might run for mayor, too, in 2014. That wasn't my intention. At the time, I knew you as a dedicated journalist and believed that would be your path into the future. When you announced you were running for mayor, I was as surprised as anybody. You fail to mention above that Focus' Judith Lavoie interviewed you and that your story was on an equal footing with our stories about the other mayoralty challengers. I agree with you that you raised questions about Gene Miller's writing following the 2014 election. We listened to you. To the extent that we agreed with you, we have taken a different course this time around. Thanks again for your comments, and I wish you the best at the polls. David Broadland
  7. For this reporter, three key moments defined Mayor Lisa Helps’ controversial first term. BACK IN OUR January 2014 edition, in a story titled “Tough questions for Lisa Helps,” freelance journalist Stephen Andrew played cat-and-mouse with then City of Victoria Councillor Lisa Helps over whether she was running for mayor. We had asked Andrew to interview Helps because we’d heard she was ready to declare. Andrew couldn’t get Helps to admit the obvious—and he gave no hint whatsoever that he was considering running too. Helps told Andrew that, as mayor, she would never go to China (on a trade mission). In the next four years she went twice. She told Andrew “things are very positive” that the new Johnson Street Bridge would “come in on time and on budget.” The bridge, then scheduled to be open to traffic in the fall of 2015, is still unfinished, its final price still unknown but likely to be over $115 million (voters approved a $77-million project). Helps told Andrew that Victoria couldn’t afford a new Crystal Pool; now she favours building a pool at a cost that’s pushing $80 million. In the election later that year, Helps did run for mayor. So did Stephen Andrew. Helps defeated incumbent Mayor Dean Fortin by 89 votes, earning her the moniker “Landslide Lisa.” Andrew came in fourth, trailing Ida Chong. (Andrew has announced he’s seeking a seat on council in the upcoming election.) Helps seems to have a clearer path to victory this time around. None of her announced competitors have the kind of name recognition she does, and that may be all it takes for her to hold on to her $104,000-per-year job for another four years. Below, I will take you through three issues Mayor Helps faced in her first term. The mayor agreed to answer questions submitted to her by email (A link to our questions and the mayor's full responses can be found at the end of this article.). Then-councillor Lisa Helps in 2014, before Sir John A. Macdonald's statue was an issue for her. (Photo by Tony Bounsall) LET'S START WITH THE HURRIED REMOVAL of the statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from the grounds of City Hall in August 2018. Helps’ public description of how this came about links the action back to the City’s commitment in 2015 to undertake the Calls to Action identified by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that were within municipal government authority. Yet, following Victoria’s removal of the statue, former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Murray Sinclair told The Canadian Press, “The problem I have with the overall approach to tearing down statues and buildings is that it is counterproductive to…reconciliation because it almost smacks of revenge or smacks of acts of anger, but in reality, what we are trying to do, is we are trying to create more balance in the relationship.” Revenge? Anger? How did Victoria suddenly become Canada’s poster child for how not to conduct reconciliation with First Nations? First, let’s place the issue in its proper context. The stated goals of the TRC were to “raise awareness of the history and impacts of the residential school system,” and to “enable a process of healing and reconciliation between those affected and non-Aboriginal governments, communities and individuals.” In 2012, as many as 3,000 people attended a TRC event in Victoria, many of them non-Aboriginal. The TRC set a high standard for openness and inclusion in order to create what Sinclair describes as “more balance in the relationship.” Sadly, the process that led to the removal of the Macdonald statue appears to have involved just three members of the non-Aboriginal community and had zero transparency. Mayor Helps played the lead role in the process that led to this “counterproductive” action. The extraordinary committee behind the removal of the statue was established at an in camera meeting of City council in June 2017. Creation of that committee was based on a seven-page recommendation authored by Helps and Councillor Marianne Alto. Part of their recommendation was that the activities of the committee, which they called “the City Family,” would only be reported to the public “at the discretion” of Helps. The document is striking for its lack of clearly defined objectives. None of the five recommendations of the TRC that were specific to governments were addressed. Instead, Helps and Alto requested a looser arrangement in which the Family would “take responsibility for doing that work with integrity, an open heart, and a willingness to work in diverse ways and take the time needed.” They declared: “Reconciliation is the way forward; it is the process, not the outcome. Reconciliation is how, not what.” Indeed, the only concrete action Helps and Alto foresaw, aside from paying First Nations members of the City Family for their participation, was their idea to “document the program on film, as a record of the work and for observation and use by other municipalities and/or organizations interested in a Reconciliation program.” Notably absent from the document was the signature of City Manager Jason Johnson, who, along with Helps and Alto, had met with local First Nations leaders as the process was developed. (Johnson was fired by City council soon afterwards. No explanation for his termination has ever been provided.) I asked Mayor Helps which of the five TRC “Calls to Action for Government” justified, in her view, removal of the Macdonald statue. “Not every act of reconciliation is specifically dictated by a single TRC Action,” Helps responded. “The entirety of the TRC Report suggests the complexities that will challenge government at every level as they strive to take actions that are meaningful and make a real difference in relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities.” Helps also quoted some of the opening lines of the TRC Report, which linked Macdonald to Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children. She also listed three of the principles of reconciliation developed by the TRC, but made no attempt to show how those principles were interpreted by the City Family to support removal of the statue—a conclusion Sinclair does not support. There is no record of the monthly City Family meetings, held in the mayor’s office, that’s available to the public, so we are unable to examine its decision-making process using the methods by which the actions of municipal governments are normally monitored. But one would think that if the City Family was intent on building on the foundation created by the TRC, there would be a record of the City moving to implement the specific recommendations of the TRC—the ones that don’t need any interpretation. The most specific of these was this: “We call upon federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments to provide education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations.” I asked Helps if the City of Victoria had acted on that specific call to action. “Staff are considering how best to provide this education in a formal programmatic way,” Helps said. So, three years after the City committed to adopt the TRC recommendations, it has done little more than “consider” the most specific of the TRC’s recommendations to government. In the City’s defence, Helps pointed to two events it held related to reconciliation: “Five employees from the Mayor/City Manager’s office attended a seven-hour learning event ‘Reconciliation—Journey of our Generation’ in April 2018 presented by Dialogue and Resolution Services. Many staff also attended a City Hall Lunch Time Lecture Series on December 4, 2017: Speaking our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation with Monique Gray Smith.” Helps also listed a number events involving local First Nations and the City of Victoria, but it’s clear from what’s missing in her response that the City has made little effort to create even the educational program for City employees called for by the TRC. Why, then, was a largely unaccountable committee that included three City councillors allowed to free-range around First Nations’ issues? As I mentioned above, Helps and Alto recommended to City council that any public reporting of the City Family process should be at Helps’ discretion. Had the mayor ever released any information about what the Family was considering? The only evidence Helps offered was an op-ed penned by her in the Times Colonist in September 2017. While her op-ed mentioned a debate on social media about Macdonald, Helps implied there would be no removal of the statue without first engaging with the larger community. Her op-ed noted: “It’s in this deeper context that we’ll be able to have a conversation about Macdonald’s future at the doors of city hall.” That conversation, of course, never happened. Helps’ Times Colonist op-ed raises questions about her own understanding of the role municipal governments have in First Nations issues. In it she conflated “reconciliation” with non-Aboriginal support for First Nations’ land claims. Helps wrote, “As part of the [reconciliation] process, we need to understand as a council and as a community what role city hall and local settlers played in removing the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations from their lands upon which the city was built… Once we understand the role of the city and local settlers in dispossession and decolonization [sic], we can acknowledge our wrongdoing, provide appropriate restitution and make an apology.” Helps no doubt meant “colonization,” not “decolonization.” But her stated intention of extending “reconciliation” to include consideration by Victoria City council of First Nations’ traditional territories and “restitution” is striking. Helps seems to be venturing well outside her area of responsibility as mayor of Victoria and intruding into the legal domain of the provincial and federal governments, which are responsible for making final treaties with First Nations. Ironically, after committing to the TRC’s principles of reconciliation in 2015, the first gesture the City made to the Esquimalt and Songhees people was the removal of the derelict Checkers Pavillion on top of Beacon Hill. That place has historic, cultural and sacred significance to First Nations. Chief Andy Thomas of Esquimalt Nation had openly requested that the City give back the small area occupied by the pavillion so the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations could build a longhouse on the site. The City agreed to the longhouse; however, it did not agree to transfer title of any land. The process of deciding to remove the pavillion was conducted in full public view as municipal governments are required to do. There was no uproar. When Helps was running for mayor in 2014, she told Focus one of the three main planks in her platform was greater public engagement. “I think there’s a real disconnection to City Hall right now because of the lack of meaningful public participation on a whole raft of issues, big and small,” she said then. The exclusion of the public from her consideration of the statue’s fate—which turned out to be a really “big” issue—brings into question the sincerity of Helps’ commitment to public engagement. What has the experience taught her? “I understand that this process didn’t feel good to the public and I wish we had known or thought to keep the public and council more in the loop about the work of the City Family, in a way that also feels true to the Family’s process,” she said. “That is the big lesson learned from this—the hunger the community has to participate in reconciliation and the feeling that this process somehow took that away from them.” But Helps’ “I wish we had known...” is at odds with a statement made to local media by Janice Simcoe, one of the First Nations members of the City Family. Simcoe told the Times Colonist: “We expected there would be opposition, uproar…I think it was the only process that could have taken place without all this coming to a screeching halt…I don’t have any regrets.” So Helps must have known, too, that she was short-circuiting public process. Yet that didn’t keep her from acting. The mayor’s timing on the removal—a little more than two months before the October 20 civic election—and her inability to explain how the City Family was building on the TRC’s recommendations warrant some skepticism about her leadership and motives. It’s noteworthy that Helps’ re-election campaign played up the predictable backlash on social media and sought donations for her campaign to fight against the “hatred” that was directed at her. According to an email circulated by Helps’ campaign, that backlash helped raise “thousands of dollars.” Let’s move on to another difficult moment in Helps’ first term. Then-Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner in 2015 ON DECEMBER 4, 2015, Mayor Helps was asked by a Global TV journalist whether Victoria Police Chief Frank Elsner was being investigated. Helps responded: “No. The [Police] Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.” But news reports over the following days quickly proved Helps (and Esquimalt Mayor Barb Desjardins) had misled journalists. An investigation of Elsner had been conducted under their disciplinary authority as co-chairs of the Victoria Police Board. Two weeks later, Police Complaint Commissioner Stan Lowe released a report on the mayors’ investigation of Elsner’s conduct. Lowe’s report confirmed that Elsner had been accused of exchanging “inappropriate” tweets with the wife of another member of the Victoria Police Department (that person is referred to below as “the Member”). But the real substance of his report was its examination of the conduct of Helps and Desjardins. Lowe’s report provided a step-by-step account of how an internal investigation into Elsner’s conduct was initiated, the ways in which the investigation was flawed, his rationale for stripping Helps and Desjardins of their authority to discipline Elsner, and an order for an external, public-trust investigation of Elsner’s conduct. Below, I’m going to focus on just one aspect of Lowe’s report, which was Helps’ and Desjardins’ failure to abide by two important preconditions that Lowe had stipulated before allowing them to do an internal investigation. An internal investigation meant Helps and Desjardins would make the determination as to whether or not Elsner would be disciplined. In order not to completely overtax the reader’s patience, I’ll consider the mayors’ failure to abide by just one of Lowe’s preconditions. Lowe had stipulated: “There had to be disclosure of the allegations to the Member serving under the command of Chief Constable Elsner, and the Co-Chairs should obtain the Member’s informed views as to whether he wished to initiate a complaint or request a public-trust investigation under the Police Act.” By that Lowe meant that the mayors had to accurately explain to the Member exactly what Elsner had done. Once they were sure he understood what had transpired, he was to be asked whether he wanted the mayors to proceed with an internal process or if he wanted the process turned over to Lowe’s office as a public-trust investigation. Lowe’s report states that Helps and Desjardins agreed to his preconditions in late August 2015. Lowe’s report picked up the story a few weeks later: “…our office was advised by counsel for the Co-Chairs… that the affected Member did not wish an investigation. On the understanding that my two conditions had been satisfied, I supported the decision to proceed with this matter as an internal discipline matter. It was my expectation that if the investigation revealed evidence of conduct that could constitute a disciplinary breach of public trust, the Co-Chairs would raise the matter with our office.” Lowe’s oversight of the Elsner investigation might have ended at that point had it not been for the aforementioned media reporting in early December 2015 in which Desjardins and Helps claimed there had been no investigation of Elsner. Prompted by Helps’ and Desjardins’ false claims, Lowe requested the records of the mayors’ investigation. In his report, Lowe made many highly critical observations. Here we will consider just one. About the mayors’ report, Lowe stated: “[T]he Member is described as advising the Co-Chairs of his meeting with Chief Constable Elsner and the information the Chief provided to the Member. It appears that the Co-Chairs did nothing to correct the Member’s misguided appreciation of the circumstances, despite the Co-Chairs knowing the information provided to the Member was false and misleading. In advising our office that the informational pre-condition had been met, no mention had been made that the Member had received false and misleading information from Chief Constable Elsner. Given the circumstances as contained in the report, it is clear that the Member’s decision was influenced by misleading information; therefore, the pre-condition had not been fulfilled.” Note in particular Lowe’s statement “…despite the Co-Chairs knowing the information provided to the Member was false and misleading…” Lowe is saying, in effect, Helps and Desjardins consciously omitted telling the Member the truth. That is, they lied. I asked Helps for her version of what took place. “We were instructed by our lawyer that the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner [OPCC] required us to do four things: meet with the Member whose wife was involved in the matter and advise him generally of the investigation, meet with the Chief and advise him that there was going to be an investigation, advise the Board of the matter and hire an independent investigator. Although we were most uncomfortable meeting with the Member who was impacted, we reluctantly agreed to meet with him after the OPCC insisted that we do so. After we had done each of the four things we were directed to do, the investigation proceeded without our interference.” Helps agreed that Elsner had added to his problems by not being forthright with the Member: “It has now been determined by another discipline authority in an external discipline process that former Chief Elsner provided false information to the Member whose wife was involved in the matter. That is very serious misconduct and worthy of significant discipline. The apparent providing of false information to the Member by former Chief Elsner was something completely beyond our control,” Helps asserted. “Further, it was not part of what the OPCC had authorized Mayor Desjardins and I to pursue through the internal discipline process. Our mandate, as authorized by the OPCC, was very limited. We were authorized to deal only with the issues of whether Elsner had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the wife of a VicPD member and whether Elsner had improperly used police social media accounts.” Helps’ version of events differs with Lowe’s in one significant way. Lowe concluded that Helps and Desjardins knew Elsner had provided the Member with false and misleading information and they did nothing about it. Who is a voter to believe? Let me return to where we started, on December 4, 2015, when Helps was asked by a journalist whether an investigation had taken place. Even though one had, Helps said: “No. The [Police] Board has full confidence in our chief. He’s the best thing that’s happened to this town and Esquimalt in a long time.” In trying to decide whether to believe Lowe or to believe Helps, it’s hard to get past the fact that the mayor lied in public to a journalist about the Elsner situation. It’s evident that Helps’ and Desjardins’ intention was to protect Elsner. If we believe Lowe, then they protected Elsner even though they knew he had provided false and misleading information to the Member. Helps now describes that as “very serious misconduct and worthy of significant discipline.” She was in a position to make that judgment back in 2015. Yet she participated in a cover-up of Elsner’s misconduct anyway (other allegations about Elsner surfaced latter). Helps allowed her enthusiasm for Elsner’s fresh approach to community policing to overwhelm her responsibility as an elected official to side with the truth. The OPCC’s public-trust investigation was completed in 2017. Legal maneuvers by Elsner (at City taxpayers’ expense) have prevented release of the report, but in April 2018 the BC Court of Appeal ruled that Lowe’s action to remove the mayors as the disciplinary authority and conduct a public-trust investigation had been a reasonable interpretation of the Police Act. Now it’s time for voters to make their ruling on the mayors’ conduct. (UPDATE, September 26, 2018: After this story went to print, Commissioner Lowe released a summary informational report: Review of the Investigations and Disciplinary Process Concerning Frank Elsner". Lowe's report recommended changes to the BC Police Act that would permanently remove mayors as the disciplinary authority for matters involving a police chief or a deputy police chief. Lowe's report is a stunning indictment of the judgment and actions of Mayor Helps and Mayor Desjardins. See story here.) 2018-09-26-Elsner-Summary-Informational-Report-FINAL.pdf One of two surprising repairs needed on the new $115M Johnson Street Bridge before it even opened. LASTLY, LET’S REVISIT HELPS’ RECORD on what the City has called “the largest infrastructure project in Victoria’s history.” You knew I would get there, didn’t you? In January I wrote about the surprising appearance of two six-foot by six-foot steel plates that had appeared on the steel work of the new bridge. There was one plate bolted onto the underside of each of the bridge’s signature rings, and they amounted to a physical defacement of what had been promised to be an architecturally significant structure. They seemed to me—and many others—to be an obvious insult to the design integrity of the bridge that the City promised would be “world class” and “iconic.” Naturally, I had questions that only the City could answer. The City’s official spokesperson, on everything, is the mayor. That policy is contained in the City’s written guidelines on how employees, including the mayor, should respond to media. So I emailed Mayor Helps a few questions—the first questions I had posed to her in the first three years of her term. Was she aware of the plates? When did she find out? Was the City given any options to consider? These were not difficult questions to answer, but the mayor didn’t respond to five emails. After my story was published, Helps issued a statement through her Facebook page. In that statement she claimed the article contained “a number of serious factual errors and inaccuracies,” but didn’t specify what those were. I sent the mayor more questions, including a request to make public what those “serious factual errors and inaccuracies were.” Normally, a public official that makes such a claim would have proactively provided that information without being asked. That’s the process: If we make a mistake, the subject tells us about the mistake we made, and if they are correct, we acknowledge our error and publish the correct information. So I requested that the mayor make those mistakes clear. Then something peculiar happened. Mayor Helps’ inadvertently copied me on a “proposed response” to my questions that she had meant to send only to acting City Manager Jocelyn Jenkins and private engineering consultant Jonathan Huggett. “Do you see any downfalls in this approach?” the mayor asked Huggett and Jenkins. Later, realizing what she had done, Helps emailed me: “David there you have my response. Sent before my morning meditation and copied to you inadvertently. But truth may walk through the world unarmed. So please feel free to use what I have said.” She had written: “I trust all of the reporters at the Times Colonist. I trust all of the reporters at Vic News. I trust all of the reporters at CBC and CFAX. I trust all of the reporters at CTV, CHEK, and GLOBAL. This trust has come through hard conversations, good reporting and relationship building. I do not trust you. As such I feel that however I answer your questions you will use the answers to suit your own needs, not to serve the public good.” Mayor Helps made no attempt to identify any errors or inaccuracies in my story. In almost 30 years of community reporting, I had never experienced such an evasive response from an elected official. It was very Trumpian: First, accuse the messenger of spreading fake news. Then lock him up in solitary confinement. Mayor Helps has still not provided those alleged “factual errors and inaccuracies.” And no wonder. Six months after I wrote about the plates, the City, in response to an FOI, handed over to Focus the communications between the various engineers involved in adding those steel slabs to the new bridge. The communications showed they had been judged necessary to beef up a structural weakness that had been built into the bridge. The engineers had decided the juxtaposition of four “weld-access holes” in each of the rings could lead to fatigue cracks forming in the fracture-critical steel of the rings. The shape and nature of the holes should have been controlled during fabrication by properly executed fabrication drawings, but detailing in the drawings was inadequate. Ensuring that those details were adequate was ultimately the responsibility of the Engineer of Record on the project. The problematic holes had been created over a year before any effort was made by the project engineers to find a solution to the potential fatigue problem. The records obtained by Focus showed engineers had misled the City about when the problem was discovered, who was involved in considering options, and who was ultimately responsible for creating the problem in the first place. The engineers’ explanation that “schedule” had figured into their decision to add the plates neglected to include the fact that they had done nothing about the problem for over a year, and during that year, additional work on the rings had made it more difficult and costly to properly address the problem. Those communications also answered all the questions I posed to Helps. Nobody at City Hall had been informed. Helps first learned about the plates when I sent her my first set of questions. Moreover, the records obtained from the City showed Helps had been misled by the very engineers who had told her our story was inaccurate. For this article, the one you are reading now, I pointed out to Helps that the engineers she had trusted had actually misled her on important facts about the story. Would the City lodge a complaint with the engineers’ professional association? Her response was confusing. She misremembered how one of the engineers had come to be employed by the City and concluded that the only thing that mattered was that the Engineer of Record had signed off on the project. The Engineer of Record was one of the engineers that had misled the City. What does this story say about Mayor Helps’ record? It shows that she learns from experience. When confronted by a journalist about whether or not Elsner’s conduct was the subject of an investigation, Helps chose to lie in order to protect Elsner, whom she clearly admired for his enlightened approach to community policing. But when Helps was presented with my questions about the bridge, there was no denying the existence of those six-foot by six-foot, 1500-pound plates. She wisely clammed up and let someone else do the lying for her. And her trusted engineers—whom she no doubt admired for their project management expertise and powers of persuasion— obliged. By publicly accepting their misrepresentations, she protected them, too. We might also conclude from her record on the bridge, on Elsner, and on the Macdonald statue that Mayor Helps doesn’t trust ordinary people in the community, and what they have to say about these issues, unless they share her own point of view or those of her advisers. Genuine dialogue might have brought movement in the direction she wanted to go—in each case—to a screeching halt. THIS IS FAR FROM A COMPREHENSIVE examination of Mayor Helps’ first-term record. She played a prominent role in many other issues for both the City of Victoria and the CRD. But as thin a slice as this is, what should be evident to readers is the immense complexity and pressures facing any would-be mayor of Victoria these days. Helps has taken on that complexity with enthusiasm and energy, and the three examples above barely capture the extent to which she has had to spread her efforts. Had she tried to do less, it’s possible she wouldn’t have made the misjudgements I’ve outlined here. But her enthusiasm for participating in government, and her definite position on contentious issues, has driven her to be fully engaged. That has had both costs and benefits for the City. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine. Questions Focus asked and Mayor Helps' full responses: Questions Focus asked and Mayor Helps' full responses.pdf
  8. The distance travelled in autos each day by CRD residents continues to grow, but there is a surge in the uptake of all-electric cars. THE REGION'S LATEST EXAMINATION of how people here currently choose to get from point A to point B as they go about their daily lives has been released by the CRD. And, no surprise, the Origin Destination Travel Survey, based on the participation of 7,159 households last fall, shows that about 84 percent of the total distance travelled by CRD residents takes place in private automobiles. And, in 2017, we collectively drove—or were driven—an additional 50,000 kilometres each day in private autos, compared with 2011. Victorians’ overwhelming preference to travel by automobile isn’t much different from, say, residents of London, Ontario, the Canadian city closest to ours in population. There, 88 percent of the total distance travelled each day is done in private automobiles. Victoria’s slightly lower level of auto reliance is made up for by a higher rate of transit usage. One of the most interesting findings in the CRD’s $330,000 survey was a 19-fold increase—since the last survey in 2011—in the number of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) in our region. You read that correctly: a 19-fold increase. My neighbour, who now drives a Nissan Leaf, is part of a growing trend. My neighbour’s Nissan Leaf. The 2018 version can travel about 150 miles on a full charge. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this trend is that it wasn’t highlighted in any way by the CRD. Why is that intriguing? Think about it. The dominant preference for travel in our region is by private automobile, and that preference is essentially stable. At the same time, there is an accelerating uptake of all-electric private automobiles. Our strong preference to get from A to B in our cars, along with the growth in electric vehicle ownership, suggests an obvious pathway the CRD could encourage to reduce transportation-related carbon emissions. Yet the CRD chose not to highlight this emerging pathway in its own analysis of the survey’s results. Why? I’ll address that question later. First let me outline why lack of leadership from the CRD on the electrification of regional transportation could slow down the uptake of electric vehicles—the most obvious pathway for reducing transportation emissions. It’s well known that the shift from gasoline-fuelled automobiles to BEVs is being driven by public policies that assist that shift. Financial incentives to purchase BEVs have made a significant difference in those jurisdictions where the shift to BEVs is advancing—like Norway. In BC, the Province has financial incentives in place—currently up to $5,000 against the purchase price of a BEV. But other incentives make a difference, too, like allowing BEVs to travel in HOV lanes, and free parking. Public charging infrastructure will be required, and unless local governments move quickly and visibly to provide that, they are telegraphing hesitation and doubt to potential early adopters. That infrastructure needs to be out on the streets, funded with public money. If the 19-fold increase in BEVs measured by the CRD’s latest survey holds up for the next five years, there could be as many as 30,000 BEVs in use by then. That would knock a significant hole in the region’s daily emissions. If the CRD’s analysis of its survey didn’t promote the surge in electric vehicle use, what did it emphasize? That’s best illustrated in a June 26 article in the Times-Colonist headlined “More people in capital travelling by bus, bike and on foot.” The paper quotes Oak Bay Mayor Nils Jensen, chair of the CRD’s Transportation Committee: “As we see the trend—slowly we’re moving toward more people walking, biking and busing…So I think it’s very positive.” The most attention-worthy word in Jensen’s statement is “slowly.” After all, the CRD’s survey shows that the distance travelled in autos each day by CRD residents has actually increased since the last survey. In other words, the single largest source of emissions produced locally—travel in fossil-fuel-powered automobiles—is getting larger. Why, when there is an urgent need to reduce emissions, would any politician describe the trend of increasing emissions as “very positive”? Perhaps the reason is that the CRD’s official transportation plan focuses on increasing the level of “active” modes of transportation, like cycling and walking—and running to catch the bus. As long as some increase in those modes can be detected—no matter how small their contribution is to overall travel—politicians like Jensen can claim that the CRD is meeting its objective. Don’t worry, we’re on it. Let me push your be-very-worried button for a moment. Last year, climate scientists at Scripps Institute of Oceanography published a study in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study found a five-percent probability that there will be a three-degree-celsius increase in average global temperature (above the pre-industrial era average) by 2050. That level of increase would lead to what the scientists termed a “high impact” on human and natural systems. They reckoned such a scenario could lead to “catastrophic” effects on human civilization. Five percent? Why worry? On that question, one of the study’s authors, Dr Veerabhadran Ramanathanb, noted, “When we say a five-percent-probability high-impact event, people may dismiss it as small but it is equivalent to a 1-in-20 chance the plane you are about to board will crash. We would never get on that plane with a 1-in-20 chance of it coming down but we are willing to send our children and grandchildren on that plane.” Humanity has, sort of, collectively decided not to get on that plane. Canada gave up its boarding pass when it signed on to the Paris climate agreement. As a consequence, the federal government has set a target of 150 megatonnes for total emissions by 2050—just over 30 years from now. But Canada’s transportation sector alone accounts for 173 megatonnes right now. Here’s how hard that’s going to be to meet: Victoria drivers of fossil-fuelled cars would have needed to reduce the total distance they travelled each day by 15 percent since the last CRD travel survey in 2011. Instead, the distance we travelled went up. Moreover, the CRD’s travel survey misses a significant portion of vehicle use by residents of the region. Commercial truck use and trips made for commercial or business purposes are not included in its survey. Given these undercounts, it’s prudent to assume that the effort and money spent on moving more people toward walking, biking and busing has not significantly impacted regional transportation emissions. By the way, if you are hoping that increases in fuel efficiency for internal combustion engines will allow us to keep buying gasoline-powered vehicles, consider this: A 2015 study by the University of Michigan showed that between 1991 and 2015, US vehicle fleet fuel economy increased by only 6 percent. Let’s go back to the question of why the CRD didn’t bother to emphasize that 19-fold increase in the use of BEVs. I asked John Hicks, the CRD’s transportation planner in charge of the survey, why that shift hadn’t been highlighted. Hicks said, “the number of BEVs themselves are still very small and the 19-fold increase came off of a very low base of only 100 in 2011. It is therefore not possible to identify any concrete trends based on the limited data that we have available.” Hicks is right about the danger of using small numbers to predict trends, but shouldn’t that apply to changes in the use of, say, bicycles, too. In 2011, CRD residents used bicycles for 1.7 percent of the total distance they travelled each day. By 2017 that had risen to 3.0 percent. That 1.3 percent increase over 6 years is a small number too, about 0.2 percent per year. But that hasn’t prevented Jensen and others from assessing it as a “very positive” trend. Besides, the CRD needs to pay attention to what’s happening in other progressive places—like Norway—as the number of manufacturers and the driving range of electric vehicles grows, and lower-cost models become available. In the last month for which data is available (April 2018), BEVs accounted for 37 percent of new car sales in Norway. Why is that happening? Norway’s federal transportation plan calls for all new passenger cars and vans sold in 2025 to be zero-emission vehicles. That’s where we are headed. The CRD can either facilitate that, or dither over whether it’s really happening. As it turns out, the CRD is waking up. Last June it quietly (no local media covered it) sought public input for its “brand new Electric Vehicle and Electric Bicycle Infrastructure Planning Project.” The survey sought “to better understand regional interest in—and opportunities for—new charging infrastructure across the region.” The CRD’s Nikki Elliott told Focus that nearly 700 responses were received. Results were not available at the time of our inquiry. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine.
  9. FOIed emails show engineers forgot about a serious flaw until it was too late to fix properly. They then forgot that they had forgotten. AFTER STALLING FOR SIX MONTHS, the City of Victoria finally released documents that provide details about why the lifting section of the new Johnson Street Bridge had to be repaired before it was even installed. “Repair,” by the way, is the word used by the engineers involved. The records the City released include emails from Ryan Andrews, PCL’s project manager, to private consultant Jonathan Huggett, whom the City has been paying about $300,000 a year to watch over Victoria taxpayers’ interests on the project. PCL is the Edmonton-headquartered company the City contracted to build the bridge in 2013. The released records show Huggett and another engineer misled public officials about the circumstances that led to the need for the premature repair. In turn, those public officials, including Mayor Lisa Helps, misled the public. As you may recall, our January story pointed out that a one-metre by one-metre steel plate had been bolted to the underside of each of the new bridge’s 50-foot-diameter rings at the 12 o’clock position. The plates were not part of the intended design, and appeared to be a last-minute addition needed to reinforce some structural weakness in the rings. For our story we contacted Huggett and Helps for information about what had necessitated the plates. A close-up of the large bolted-on plates that made a last-minute and unexpected appearance on Victoria's brand-new $115-million bridge Huggett’s response to our questions at the time produced little factual information. Mayor Helps ignored our questions about whether she and council had been advised about the plates. Following publication of our story, Helps issued a statement through facebook claiming our story “contained serious factual errors and inaccuracies.” Her statement had apparently been created by then acting City Manager Jocelyn Jenkins, with Huggett’s guidance. Keith Griesing, a professional engineer with Hardesty & Hanover, the company that engineered the lifting section of the bridge, wrote a letter to the City explaining how the problem that led to the repair had been discovered. Griesing denied any responsibility for the circumstances that led to the bolted-on plates and blamed the Chinese fabricator. In the six months since then, Helps and the City were unable to provide any examples of “factual errors and inaccuracies” in our original story. However, after receiving the records we requested by FOI, I am able to report that I did make a factual error. The size of the plates are actually six feet by six feet—almost four times as large as we reported. But the emails from Andrews to Huggett paint a rather different story than that told by Huggett, Helps, and Griesing. In two emails from Andrews to Huggett, Andrews appealed to Huggett to intervene with Hardesty & Hanover to hasten resolution of a serious issue that became known as “NCR 155.” That referred to four weld access holes in each ring described in a non-conformance report (NCR) by Atema dated January 4, 2017. Atema was the company performing PCL’s quality-control inspections at the steel fabrication facility in China where the lifting section was built. Atema’s report recorded that the weld access holes were “discovered” on December 9, 2016. The concern about the small holes, not openly stated in the Atema report, was that their location and physical nature would concentrate stress and could eventually lead to the formation of fatigue cracks in the rings. Such fatigue cracks could threaten the structural integrity of the bridge’s superstructure. In Andrews’ first email to Huggett about the issue, which he sent on March 31, 2017 following a meeting with Hardesty & Hanover that day, Andrews wrote: “For a brief recap, you heard H&H mention this has been a known issue for over a year, yet it wasn’t communicated to PCL…until December 2016 at which point the NCR was initiated…” I’ve added the italicization in that sentence to draw your attention to that point. It shows that Andrews told Huggett on March 31, 2017 that the problem created by the weld access holes “had been a known issue for over a year.” That would mean the problem had been evident to Hardesty & Hanover before March 31, 2016. Both Huggett and Griesing have, in their separate public explanations of the issue, implied that the problem was discovered in December 2016 as a result of Atema’s diligent inspection and quality control. So what’s the big deal about the eight months missing from both Huggett’s and Griesing’s explanations? During those eight months, as well as during the four months between rediscovery of the problem and the date when Andrews emailed Huggett, work had continued on the rings. That year of work made it more difficult to fix the problem properly. Neither Huggett nor Griesing responded to requests for an explanation of why those eight months had disappeared from their public accounts of what happened. Perhaps there is no reasonable explanation for why the problem wasn’t addressed as soon as it was first identified. It appears the problem was simply forgotten. Did someone then wake up in the middle of a dark, December night and have an OMG! moment? How embarrassing this must be for those involved: Engineers forgetting that they forgot. But that’s not the full extent to which Huggett and Griesing misled the City and the public. Andrews’ March 31, 2017 email to Huggett continued: “Now it also needs to be noted that this so called ‘non-conforming’ condition has no design details and no comments were made on the shop drawings. We have not raised issue of this prior due to our interest in just getting it repaired and over with, but being that it continues to linger it now has significant impacts for both PCL and the City—those being time and money.” Andrews, then, disputed that the weld access holes were the fault of the fabricator. He believed they were a result of design details and comments not being provided by the designer—Hardesty & Hanover. Indeed, Atema’s NCR 155 included notations that pointed out the lack of clarity in the shop drawings for the weld access holes. Ultimate responsibility for approving those shop drawings lay with Griesing. Martin Bache, a 40-year veteran of the heavy steel fabrication industry in Canada, described the proper procedure required for approval of weld access holes: “Weld access holes in fracture-critical members must be designed by the Engineer of Record [Griesing]. Competent detail draftspersons would be expected, during preparation of the shop drawings, to identify closed chambers where the Engineer of Record may have forgotten to show on his plans weld access holes without which the required welding cannot be performed. They would then issue an RFI [request for information] pointing this out, and asking the Engineer of Record how they should proceed.” According to Bache, then, Griesing would ultimately be responsible for the completeness of the design of every weld access hole that was required, since every steel member in the rings was designated “fracture-critical.” But in January 2018, after publication of our original story, Griesing wrote the City of Victoria and stated, “There was no ‘design flaw’ by Hardesty & Hanover nor any other of the City consultants involved; it was assembly by the fabricator that did not conform to the design plan requirements nor to the applicable detailing and fabrication standards required in the specifications.” Andrews’ email to Huggett calls that claim into question. And now we come to the nub of why Victoria got a new bridge delivered with such highly visible repairs. Andrews’ email to Huggett continued: “I’m requesting your support by having a separate conversation with H&H/MMM on this subject and resolution thereof. Having to remove the cover plate to do these repairs should be the item challenged as this is what will create the delay expressed above. Or in other words, give me a repair that requires no removal of the cover plate.” There were three general approaches that could have been taken to address the potential for fatigue caused by the weld access holes. PCL’s fabricator proposed a welded repair limited to the weld access holes themselves, but Hardesty & Hanover rejected that approach. A second approach was to add steel to the outside of the rings, and that’s the approach that was eventually taken. The third approach would have been to remove steel plate (“the cover plate”) from the rings in the area around the access holes and rework the problematic area. That would have preserved the intended design. But Andrews lobbied Huggett to steer away from this latter course. Removing the cover plate at that point in the project could have created a problem that he outlined to Huggett in a second email a few days later: “[T]he whole reason the [cover] plate was installed was [because] it was continually discussed between all parties that all welding needed to be complete before proceeding [in March 2017] to vertical assembly due to concerns of the heat induced from welding causing the shape of the rings to change.” The implication was that if the choice was made to remove plating and rebuild the problematic area of the ring, the fit between the rings and the other major bridge components—obtained during the month-long trial vertical assembly that had just been completed—couldn’t be counted on. Andrews estimated that taking the route of removal of plate and doing an internal fix would add a “week or more” to the schedule. Compare that “week or more” to the year that had passed between the time the issue first became known and the point when trial vertical assembly had been completed. In that context, Griesing’s explanation to City council that “impact to schedule” was an important factor in the choice of bolted-on plates is…laughable. Remarkably, the record of Huggett’s communications released by the City doesn’t include any communications coming from Huggett. He appears not to have responded to Andrews’ emails and not to have consulted with Hardesty & Hanover or with MMM as per Andrews’ request. Neither did he inform anyone at the City of Victoria about the issue or the options. It’s clear that an alternative to bolted-on plates was possible and would, by Andrews’ estimate, have added only a “week or more” to the schedule. But, according to the records released by the City, Huggett didn’t advocate for any outcome with anyone. Let’s reflect on the absence of any emails from Huggett in response to Andrews’ appeals. Huggett is not a City of Victoria employee. He operates what appears to be a one-man project management business in the Vancouver area. His contract with the City does not require him to use the City’s email server, which automatically backs up all City employee emails and preserves them for the purpose, among others, of being available for access-to-information requests. When Focus requested Huggett’s communications on this issue, the City had to ask him to go through his emails and find relevant records. In other words, the City created a situation where a private contractor could, in effect, decide what emails to provide. The problem here should be obvious. The City has no way of knowing what interactions took place between Huggett and employees of Hardesty and Hanover, PCL or MMM. The product these companies delivered was seriously defective, yet Huggett, when questioned about the bolted-on plates, provided little more than an airbrushed account of why that had occurred. From what I understand, the City has now entered into a similar arrangement with Huggett regarding the City’s plan to build a new $75 million swimming pool. What is that definition of “insanity” again? Does the City have any legal recourse to seek compensation as a result of the delivery of a defective bridge? As I noted in my story in our May/June edition, in April 2016 the City agreed to “release and forever discharge” PCL, MMM and H&H “from all debts, claims, demands, damages, expenses and costs (including without limitation, legal costs) of any nature or kind that are in any way related to the Project and either known or which ought to be known by the [City] as of [April 23, 2016].” According to PCL’s Ryan Andrews, the defects that necessitated the bolted-on plates were a “known issue” at the time the City signed away its right to seek legal recourse for anything related to known issues. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus. The City of Victoria's full release of documents related to the bolted-on plates can be downloaded here. (9.1 MB file size) Related stories: Bridge design flaw hidden for a year, then given quick-and-dirty repair Victoria City Hall continues cover-up of bridge design flaw Why are Victoria City councillors accepting a world-class bodge? The Wounded White Elephant
  10. Is Fisheries & Oceans Canada ignoring Washington State research on chemical contamination from sewage treatment plants? ARE THREE LARGE SEWAGE TREATMENT PLANTS located on the Fraser River estuary contributing to the decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population? Between them they discharge 1.1 billion litres of effluent every day of the year into the estuary and nearshore marine waters. The largest, Iona Island, provides only primary treatment and has been permitted by Fisheries and Oceans Canada to continue at that level until 2030. We now know that the reproductive health of the orca population depends heavily on the availability of Fraser River chinook salmon, but, according to fisheries scientists, chinook runs on the Fraser are now only 25 percent of historic numbers. Recent research in Washington has found a strong link between the survival rate of juvenile chinook salmon and chemical contamination of their natal estuary. Is the survival rate of Fraser River juvenile chinook being similarly impacted by contamination from the Annacis Island, Lulu Island and Iona Island wastewater treatment plants? Currently, these three plants provide treatment for over 1.8 million people, and that population is not declining. Vancouver’s three largest sewage treatment plants all discharge into critical chinook salmon habitat. The physical processes involved in this chinook-sewage-orca death spiral have become better understood in recent years thanks to research by Dr James Meador, an environmental toxicologist with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, and Dr Samuel Wasser, a research professor of conservation biology at the University of Washington. Since 2013, Meador and his team of researchers have published three studies that considered the impact of chemical contamination on juvenile chinook salmon during the period they reside in their natal estuary. Meador’s first study found that the survival rate of juvenile chinook that smolted in contaminated estuaries of rivers flowing into Puget Sound was cut in half compared with juveniles coming from a relatively uncontaminated natal estuary. Let me repeat that: Survival rate is cut in half. In his second study, Meador analyzed the discharge from secondary sewage treatment plants, located upstream from chinook estuaries, for the occurrence of 150 “chemicals of emerging concern,” or CECs. These are chemicals associated with pharmaceutical and personal care products, as well as industrial compounds. Many are known endocrine disruptors, which can affect hormonal balance and result in developmental and reproductive abnormalities. The researchers also analyzed the tissue of juvenile chinook and resident sculpin in the estuary for the presence of the selected CECs. That study became widely publicized in 2016 because cocaine and antidepressants—and many other chemicals—were found in both the treatment plants’ discharge and in fish tissue. Indeed, Meador’s team found unexpectedly high levels of certain CECs in the treated effluent. The study’s findings suggested that chinook juveniles have a significant vulnerability to bioaccumulation of CECs. Many contaminants that were found in juvenile chinook tissue were at concentrations below detection limits in the estuary waters. The scientists also observed higher levels of contaminants in juvenile chinook than in resident sculpin, even though the latter were permanent residents of the estuary. Meador’s team observed that the contaminants found in chinook tissue, although present in sub-lethal concentrations on a chemical-by-chemical basis, were, in some cases, present at levels that would be expected to cause detrimental physiological effects. The scientists noted the potential for a drug-cocktail effect: “The fact that we observed multiple pharmaceuticals capable of interacting with a variety of molecular targets in our two fish species, leads to the potential for mixture interactions on critical physiological processes. These interactions can be additive, synergistic, or inhibitory.” Meador noted that these effects could be responsible for the two-fold reduction in survival rate found in his earlier study. In a third study (click link below to download), released this past April, Meador’s team found that the contaminants were also causing metabolic dysfunction, which “may result in early mortality or an impaired ability to compete for limited resources.” Again, Meador noted that metabolic dysfunction induced by CEC contamination could contribute to the two-fold reduction in the survival rate of these juvenile chinook, compared with chinook migrating from the uncontaminated estuaries, that he had found in his first study. Adverse metabolic effects in fish exposed to contaminants of emerging concern in the field and laboratory.pdf The US EPA has listed Puget Sound chinook as a “threatened” species, and the decline of those runs has been even more profound than the Fraser decline. Historically, according to Jim Myers of the Northwest Fisheries Science Centre in Seattle, Puget Sound’s chinook runs were about 25 percent greater than the Fraser River’s. But by 2010, Puget Sound chinook returns had collapsed to only six percent of the size of the greatly-reduced Fraser River returns. Although the link between the abundance of chinook salmon in the Salish Sea and the physical health of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population has been known for some time, Wasser’s seven-year-long study, published in 2017, provided the first confirmation that low availability of chinook is suppressing the population’s birth rate and endangering the health of reproductive female orca. Wasser’s team collected orca poop and analyzed it for hormone measures of pregnancy occurrence and health. The scientists also looked for chemical indicators of nutritional and disturbance stress in the poop. By making the same measurements over time, they were able to distinguish between nutritional stress caused by low availability of chinook salmon, and disturbance stress caused by the presence of nearby boats. Wasser’s team correlated periods of nutritional stress with the timing and strength of the two main chinook runs that are keeping the southern orca alive: the Columbia River early spring run and the Fraser River summer and fall runs. They found that—depending on the timing of those runs, and how many fish were in them—the southern resident orca experienced more or less intense famines through the winter months and between the spring and summer runs. The scientists observed: “Low availability of chinook salmon appears to be an important stressor among these fish-eating whales as well as a significant cause of late pregnancy failure, including unobserved perinatal loss.” The scientists surmised that “release of lipophilic toxicants during fat metabolism in the nutritionally deprived animals may also provide a contributor to these cumulative effects.” Not only are the orca being periodically starved, but when a starved, pregnant orca begins burning off her fat reserves in response to the lack of food, toxins bioaccumulated in her fat reserves—such as PCBs and PBDEs—begin to have more of an impact on her health, such as a reduced ability to fight infections. This could contribute to the demise of the fetus and increase the risk to the mother’s life. As a consequence of these conditions, the study noted, “the 31 potentially reproductive females in the Southern Resident Killer Whale population should have had 48 births between 2008–2015. Yet, only 28 births were recorded during that period. The 7 adult females in K pod have not had a birth since 2011, and just two births since 2007. The 24 females in the remaining two pods (J and L) have averaged less than 1 birth per pod since 2011, with no births in 2013, but had 7 births in 2015. One of the two offspring born in 2014 died.” As of this writing, with the presumed death of “Crewser,” the population has dwindled to 75 whales. As recently as 1996 there were 98 orca in the 3 pods. Wasser noted, “Results of the Southern Resident Killer Whale study strongly suggest that recovering Fraser River and Columbia River chinook runs should be among the highest priorities for managers aiming to recover this endangered population of killer whales.” Let’s make the obvious connection between Meador’s and Wasser’s findings. Meador’s research strongly suggests that the chemical contamination in Puget Sound rivers that’s quickly bioaccumulating in juvenile chinook is coming from sewage treatment plants discharging into their natal estuary. Removing that contamination could double the number of chinook returning to those rivers as adults. Wasser’s study shows the Southern Resident Killer Whale population’s decline is strongly correlated with the availability of chinook and he recommends, for one thing, that managers of the Fraser River fishery make chinook recovery amongst their highest priorities. A rational conclusion, based on the two groups of scientists’ extensive research, would be that Fraser River fisheries managers should be determining whether the impacts Meador measured in Washington estuaries are at play in the Fraser estuary. But that’s not happening. DFO recently published “A science based review of recovery actions for three at-risk whale populations” that listed 98 specific actions. DFO acknowledges that only 2 of the 98 measures are “specifically directed toward recovery of chinook salmon stocks in Canada.” None of those 98 actions include examination, let alone reduction, of the impacts of chemical contaminants on chinook juveniles in the Fraser River estuary. DFO paper on SRKW recovery efforts.pdf DFO has been caught flat-footed on chemical contamination of the Fraser River estuary in the past. The Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River produced a technical report in 2011 that stated: “There is a strong possibility that exposure to contaminants of concern, endocrine disrupting chemicals, and/or contaminants of emerging concern has contributed to the decline of sockeye salmon abundance in the Fraser River.” Despite that, the technical report noted, “Due to limitations on the availability of exposure data and/or toxicity thresholds” it could provide only a “qualitative evaluation.” Cohen Comm report on chemical contaminants re sockeye decline.pdf That was in 2011 and the information gap was related to sockeye. With chinook runs on the verge of collapse, you would think that Meador’s published research on chinook estuary contamination, only 200 kilometres away, would have prompted DFO to narrow the gap in their knowledge. We contacted DFO, but as of our press deadline a spokesperson had been unable to confirm whether or not any DFO-affiliated scientist was investigating the impact of the Fraser River estuary wastewater treatment plants, or other sources of chemical contaminants, on the survival rate of juvenile chinook. The presumption may be that because sewage effluent is being discharged into the Fraser River estuary through outfalls that achieve legally required dilution ratios, no further consideration is required. But the rivers Meador considered in Puget Sound are meeting similar if not higher requirements, and he found chinook survival rate is being cut in half. Meador has said it’s unlikely these contaminants can be effectively filtered out of the huge volume of wastewater that’s being flushed into Puget Sound. In the case of the Fraser River it seems possible that the three plants could be connected to a super outfall that diverts the discharge away from the estuary and into deeper marine waters. But without any examination of chemical loading of Fraser chinook juveniles being conducted by DFO, there will be no public pressure mounted for such a measure. Mr Floatie ought to find a new costume (Cocaine Man?) and relocate to Vancouver. Victoria’s deepwater marine outfalls, by the way, are located about 70 kilometres away from the nearest chinook estuary. While DFO wasn’t certain about what research is being done, it’s more certain about the magnitude of the chinook decline. In its 2018 outlook for the six different populations of chinook in the Fraser Basin, fisheries managers found that only one was at a level considered necessary to maintain a healthy population. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus. Related stories: The orca famine and Puget Sound's poisoned rivers Washington's phony sewage war with Victoria
  11. We should call the new bridge what it is. VICTORIA'S NEW BRIDGE—variously dubbed “The Blew Budget Bridge,” “Fortin’s Folly,” and “The White Elephant”—opened on March 31, 2018. Notably absent from the group of officials presiding over the occasion were any of the former high-level City officials who lost their jobs as a consequence of the project’s long history of miscalculation and misrepresentation. The bridge’s original designer, Sebastien Ricard of Wilkinson Eyre Architects, who ended his connection with the project back in 2012, was nowhere to be seen. Nor was Joost Meyboom, the private engineer who first advised the City to fix the old bridge rather than build a new one, back in 2008, but then went on to become the City’s prime consultant on the new bridge project. Meyboom’s employer—formerly MMM Group, which changed its name to WSP—launched a legal suit against the City over the project earlier this year. Opening of Victoria's new bridge No wonder all these folks skipped Mayor Lisa Helps’ $42,000 opening-day celebration. Back in April 2009, when City council voted to replace the existing “historically-significant” double-bascule bridge, those officials assured Victorians a new bridge would cost $41 million and take 18 months to build. Nine years later, costs have almost tripled while major elements of the project remain unestimated, unfunded and unfinished. Millions in costs directly attributable to the project have been hidden. The project’s record of underestimation and miscalculation, though, may be just a prelude to greater embarrassment to come. Certain aspects of the new bridge’s design and construction are so at odds with engineers’ warnings that, although the new bridge can, at this moment, open for marine traffic just like the old bridge, it’s highly doubtful whether it will come anywhere near to matching the old bridge’s 95-year record of reliable operation and minimal ongoing expense. While “The Blew Budget Bridge” does capture the huge miscalculation in cost, and “Fortin’s Folly” makes it clear that good people made bad decisions, only “The White Elephant”—which signifies over-the-top original cost and unjustifiable ongoing expense—provides a fulsome enough characterization of the so-far nameless new bridge. But even that needs updating. Here’s why I am leaning toward “The Wounded White Elephant.” The new bridge 's opening span provides the same navigational channel width as the old bridge did, but at huge costs and with hundreds of "nonconformities" welded into its superstructure. The most eye-catching feature of the new bridge is its 50-foot-diameter steel rings. The counterweight lobes attached to the rings do happen to resemble an elephant’s ears, but that’s not the reason why this bridge should be named “The White Elephant.” You won’t find anything like those rings—or the gigantic machinery below them needed to support and rotate them—on any bridge anywhere else on Earth. Unfortunately, designing a bridge that required 1700 tonnes of structural steel in its moveable superstructure and hundreds of tonnes of machinery to support that—just to span a 41-metre-wide opening—is not the direction planet Earth needs to go. (Worse, largely unacknowledged by the project is the fact that the first attempt to fabricate the superstructure was scrapped and as much as 1700 tonnes of steelwork wasted; more on this later.) Good, common-sense arguments were made against building Ricard’s design by engineers, and it’s because all the decision makers over the years ignored those arguments that the bridge cost three times what it should have and took 108 months to complete instead of 18. Because of those officials’ dismal performance, the bridge promises to be an ongoing source of expense to City of Victoria ratepayers and hence deserving of “The White Elephant” moniker. Below, I’ll highlight just a fraction of what happened. To start with, though, let’s recall why Ricard put those rings into his design. This is key to understanding why the project flubbed. Just before the November 2010 referendum in which the City won elector approval to build a new bridge, Ricard explained those rings at a public presentation. He told a handful of people that the underlying design challenge, for him, was to create a moveable bridge that easily communicated to an observer how it worked. That’s it. That’s the entire argument for the rings. The rings were all about appearance and not about any substantive proven need particular to a crossing of Victoria’s harbour. Ricard wasn’t trying to reduce seismic vulnerability or to create a bridge less likely to be hit by a barge full of gravel and survive the blow if one did. Nor was he trying to reduce life-cycle costs or use scarce public resources more efficiently. No, it was enough for Ricard that a tourist from Iowa, standing on the Laurel Point walkway, would be able to gaze across the Inner Harbour and understand how the bridge lifted, at a glance. Perhaps there’s a similar, whimsical rationale at the foundation of every white elephant construction project, and maybe Victorians are no better or worse than any other community at sniffing out ideas that don’t have much merit. I don’t know. But what I have learned, after following Victoria’s project closely for 9 long years, is that there were real-life consequences that flowed from the project’s ill-considered underpinnings. Ricard’s whimsical central motivation radiated outward through the project with force, inflating engineering and construction costs, laying waste to political and public service careers, substantially increasing carbon emissions, straining the City’s coffers, and dividing the community. Ricard’s imagination even put a well-established Chinese company out of business. How did all this happen? Let me sketch in some details. Let’s start with a fundamental physical fact about the bridge that resulted directly from Ricard’s rings. Because of a quirk in Ricard’s design, every time the bridge opens, it has to lift and hold the span a full 2.5 storeys higher than it needed to. Indeed, people have observed that, when it is lifted, the new bridge is “so much higher” than the old bridge. Yet the new bridge provides the same navigational channel width as the old bridge. That extra height might be dramatic to observe—like a hopping car—but it’s otherwise pointless and that little moment of drama has come with a lot of negative long-term consequences. The mechanical design of the new bridge results in it lifting the weight of the superstructure 2.5 storeys higher than necessary, an engineering feat almost as pointless as a hopping car. For example, every part of the bridge that moves had to be stronger than it would have needed to be in a bridge that used a fixed central axle with conventional bearings located as close to the edge of the channel as possible. That extra strength was obtained by using far more steel for the bridge—in the rings and trusses—than would have been necessary in a more conventional approach. Extra steel in the trusses meant more lead and steel were needed in the counterweights to balance that extra weight. All that extra weight in the superstructure meant the machinery that supports and rotates it needed to be immense compared to the shaft, bearings and machinery needed to rotate a more conventional moveable bridge. The higher lift of the span also meant that it would experience greater pressure during strong winds, and so that force, too, had to be offset with more steel and heavier support equipment, all costing more than a conventional approach. All of these additional weights and costs affected the approach bridges, too. It meant that for a given budget, less money could be spent on the approach bridges. Originally, to satisfy high seismic performance requirements, they were going to be built of steel. Instead, because of the inflating cost of the lifting span, there was only enough budget to use less costly reinforced concrete. But in order to include the use of concrete approach bridges, City officials had to secretly agree, during the procurement process, to place a rider in the construction contract that specified much lower levels of seismic performance than had been recommended to the City. The rider clearly states that its stipulations of (lower) performance take precedence over the seismic performance requirements of any of North America’s highway bridge building codes. This loss of one of the fundamental objectives of the project—a legally enforceable contractual assurance of a high level of seismic performance by the bridge if Victoria is struck by a large earthquake, can be traced directly to Ricard’s choice of rings in the lifting mechanism and the extent to which they inflated the cost of the project. City officials, the ones who later lost their jobs, were well-warned by engineers about the risk of Ricard’s open-ring design inflating costs. For example, during bidding for the contract to build the bridge, participating companies were required to provide a critical review of the design MMM had developed with Ricard, and they were invited to “optimize” that design so that it could be built within the City’s $66-million “affordability ceiling.” The winning bid by PCL was the only proposal that utilized Ricard’s open-ring concept. The only other serious bid proposal received by the City, from Kiewit Infrastructure, rejected the axleless design and predicted what would happen if the City went ahead with Ricard’s design. Specifically, Kiewit told City managers it had contacted “a number of steel and machinery fabricators, who are experienced in movable bridge design and/or construction. All expressed the opinion that there were likely more cost effective mechanical concepts for a bascule bridge” than the open-ring design used by Ricard and MMM. Kiewit advised the City that “unknowns and/or unexpected costs” of Ricard’s “unconventional design” would “conflict with the City’s mandate to remain near or below the indicated Affordability Ceiling…Kiewit is of the view that the [design] may represent a fundamentally high risk and expensive design approach.” The company’s engineers noted that the counterweight in Ricard’s design was attached to the truss rings in a way that “would load the truss ring eccentrically, which could distort the ring—a highly undesirable condition.” The bridge proposed by PCL had the same eccentric loading of the rings that concerned Kiewit, but was going to have an added complication: In order for its bid to be within the City’s affordability ceiling, fabrication of the moveable part of the bridge would have to take place in China. In hindsight, it’s easy to see that the City listened to the wrong engineers, chose the wrong company to build a bridge, and built the wrong bridge. City officials were warned they were in danger of buying a White Elephant. Instead of heeding the warnings they insisted on having one as quickly as possible—and this meant hiding the critical reviews (which cost the City $150,000) from the public—and so Ricard’s whim rolled forward into the next phase. AS YOU MAY RECALL, the City of Victoria awarded a construction contract to PCL in late 2012 to build the bridge under a $63.2-million “fixed-price” contract. PCL made it clear it planned to have the moveable part of the bridge fabricated in China. This, apparently, raised no red flags at City Hall. At the time PCL won the construction contract, MMM Group were contracted to provide engineering, and it in turn subcontracted Hardesty & Hanover to provide engineering and design for the lifting span and the machinery used to raise that span. When PCL began construction in late 2013, the City of Victoria assured its ratepayers that the cost of the bridge could not rise since PCL had agreed to a “fixed-price” contract. But, by early 2014, PCL started to pepper the City with demands for more money. Those demands began soon after fabrication of the rings and trusses had started in China in March 2014. By September of that year, work in China had been halted. In January 2015, the City’s Project Director Jonathan Huggett reported that fabrication problems were so bad that “one of the rings is being replaced while the other is being repaired. The north truss steel will be replaced.” The first attempt to build Ricard's bridge at ZTSS's plant. Shown above are fabrication of the bridge's rings, trusses and deck components in July 2014. All of the steelwork done up to January 2015 was scrapped. Notably absent from Huggett’s reports from this era is any acknowledgment that the thing the Chinese welders were screwing up was actually very difficult to build. Neither did Huggett tell councillors that the City had been warned by Kiewit engineers that this was likely to happen if the City attempted to build Ricard’s design. Instead, Huggett persuaded the City that simply increasing quality control would produce rings and trusses with adequate strength and structural integrity. In spite of such hopes, fabrication problems in China continued to accumulate in the bridge components. Recently, Huggett admitted: “We rejected an entire bridge at one point.” The City’s project director seemed to see the scrapping of “an entire bridge” as a good thing, a sign that people were doing their jobs properly, that quality assurance procedures were working, and that Victorians could be confident that the project wouldn’t accept crap for a bridge. But think about that: An entire bridge wasted. If we take Huggett at his word, about 1700 metric tonnes of steel were scrapped. That’s the weight of structural steel for the superstructure specified in the City’s contract with PCL. (The City did not respond to repeated requests for confirmation of the amount of steel that was scrapped.) But we should add to that heavy burden all the human effort and other costs—including associated environmental damage—that went with throwing away the warm-up bridge. Who was going to pay for that waste? As it turned out, it wasn’t going to be PCL. The City had acknowledged PCL’s first demand for more money—$7.9 million in early 2014—but then demurred from providing information about subsequent demands. In early 2015, about the time “an entire bridge” was rejected, the City admitted it had entered a “legal mediation process” with the companies building the bridge. The second attempt to build Ricard's bridge, in March 2016 at ZTSS's plant near Shanghai. It wasn’t until April 2016, at the conclusion of the mediation, that the City acknowledged that PCL, MMM and H&H had demanded $27 million in additional costs. The details of that $27 million claim were never made public, but it is believed PCL’s share was about $25 million. After out-competing two other companies for the contract and assuring the City Ricard’s bridge could be built for $63 million, what circumstance could possibly have justified PCL’s demand for over 40 percent more money? The timing of the start of PCL’s demands, you may have noticed, coincided with the beginning of fabrication in China. As major components of the bridge were rejected, PCL’s claims against the City increased. The company may have realized that the lifting span being (badly) fabricated in China could carry a huge risk of future legal claims by the City. By demanding more money and halting work in China, PCL may have simply been creating the conditions for dumping all of that risk back on the City. And that’s exactly what happened. The City settled the $27 million in claims by agreeing to pay an additional $2.4 million and making changes to the terms of the contract. In a news report at the time, Mayor Helps claimed: “I think it’s better news than anyone could have hoped for.” But an FOI filed by johnsonstreetbridge.org revealed the City agreed to “release and forever discharge” PCL, MMM and H&H “from all debts, claims, demands, damages, expenses and costs (including without limitation, legal costs) of any nature or kind that are in any way related to the Project and either known or which ought to be known by the [City] as of [April 23, 2016].” This was hardly “better news than anyone could have hoped for.” Whatever problems have been built into the bridge by PCL, MMM and H&H are now City taxpayers’ problems. One of those problems was brought to the public’s attention in the last two editions of Focus (stories posted here, here, and here). And this is where the “wounded” part of “ Wounded White Elephant” comes into our story. MANY of the risks PCL adroitly shifted back onto the City arose directly from the bridge’s open-ring design. That such risks would have actual physical consequences became clear shortly after the rings were erected at the bridge site last December and Focus pointed out that the rings had already been repaired with metre-square bolted-on plates, apparently required because of a structural weakness in both rings. The bolted-on plates definitely eliminated any chance of the bridge winning any awards for excellence in engineering or construction. But much worse, they may signify a more pervasive problem with the lifting span. The City has refused to provide a full explanation for the plates, but we have since found a photograph taken during an open house at Point Hope Maritime’s shipyard last October that unintentionally captured details of the repair. The repair was made in Victoria after the rings had been shipped from China. The photograph (see the close-up below), taken before the bolted-on plates were added, reveals not only the make-shift nature of the repair but also at least two holes cut into the “fracture critical” steel with a cutting torch. That damage may have created the need for the plates, at least in part. This photograph shows the repair that was made to the north ring at Point Hope Maritime’s shipyard in October. The lines of small holes were drilled in China and would later allow the bolted-on plates to be attached. The trapezoidal-shaped opening cut into the ring was made at Point Hope. The holes circled with yellow are believed to be “rat holes” cut into the rings by an unknown welder in China. These rat holes may be part of the reason why bolted-on plates were added to both rings. The City’s Project Director Jonathan Huggett has acknowledged that the bridge has hundreds of such “non-conformances.” I emailed the photograph to Martin Bache, a 40-year veteran of the heavy steel fabrication industry in Canada, most recently with Canron as a project supervisor. About the burned-in holes that seem to have created the need for the bolted-on plates, Bache commented, “The cuts are similar to what are termed ‘rat holes’ in steel fabrication. These allow continuous welding of two members to take place through the member with the hole. But, I have never seen two rat holes coming together in two planes as these appear to be. A welder in China may have just taken a torch and cut out two large rat holes to make life easier for himself, but damaged the structural integrity in the process. But that would not seem to require such large bolted-on plates to correct, so I really don’t know what the real story is.” Around the time the photograph was taken at Point Hope Shipyard, someone had removed a trapezoidal-shaped section from the ring and had added some light steel supports for two edges of the bolted-on plates. Of the repair that was done in Victoria, Bache observed, “Not only this bizarre rat hole but also the other pieces of steel in the photo appear to be butchered to an astounding extent. No competent steel fabricator works this way. So, what the hell is going on here?” The steel members of the bridge that were cut into by both the Chinese welder and the workers at Point Hope are considered “fracture critical.” That designation, according to the US Federal Highway Administration, applies to “any steel member in tension, or with a tension element, whose failure would probably cause a portion of or the entire bridge to collapse.” Given the apparent low quality of the repair evident in the photograph, Bache is concerned the repair has not been executed properly. “Any modifications or repairs done to fracture critical bridge components must be performed to detailed procedures approved by the Engineer of Record (EOR) and must be inspected by the EOR or his agent to confirm 100 percent compliance with the procedures. It seems inconceivable that Hardesty & Hanover are accepting all of this butchery,” Bache wrote. Butchery. Wounded. Get it? Bache added, “With all due respect to shipyards, they are not generally expected to work to the same standards of quality and accuracy as bridge fabricators. I would have needed a lot of evidence to persuade me that a shipyard could handle modifications to a fracture critical bridge. Which party approved Point Hope as capable of doing this?” Bache had difficulty understanding who was/is looking out for the City’s interests: “Regarding third-party inspectors, they range from highly competent individuals with substantial levels of practical experience on fabrication shop floors, all the way down to people with absolutely no knowledge of steel and no ability to read drawings but are tasked only with receiving paper reports such as steel mill certificates and weld test reports prepared by others. In 40 years of fabrication I never heard of Atema, so I googled them. They appear to sell inspection equipment and offer to train others in how to run quality control programmes. They make no mention of having vast hands-on, shop-floor experience which would be necessary for confirming that complex fabrications are being made exactly to approved drawings and specifications. So, I don’t know how good a job Atema did in China but I have reason to be very suspicious. I know PCL very well and its hard to believe they would not have hired top level practical inspectors to go to China, but who knows? I wonder at what stage MMM ceased to be of real practical help to the City, including fabrication monitoring. After that its doubtful that [the City’s] interests were being handled by anybody.” Unfortunately, Focus can’t provide the answers to any of Bache’s concerns. The City has dismissed any such concerns about this repair, explaining only that it was the result of a “fabrication challenge.” This is just one of over 150 similar “non-conformities” recorded by the project, according to Huggett. The City’s idea of providing the public with information about the issue has been, in effect: “Why worry us about that one problem? The bridge contains hundreds of them.” The City continues to refuse to release records related to this one repair that were requested by Focus back in mid-December through BC’s access to information legislation. Until the City provides the basic communications about the issue between the City and the engineers who were responsible for resolving the issue, we will keep insisting on seeing those records. Martin Bache’s final comment was this: “What an absolute disaster that this bridge was not made in BC.” This raises an interesting point. PCL based its 2012 bid on a quote from a Chinese fabricator and that allowed it to sneak under the City’s affordability ceiling. That miracle required everyone involved to pretend that a 4 percent contingency would cover any errors in cost estimation and that Chinese labour really was “lower-cost.” If a few people had been smarter, Ricard’s rings would never have been built. Instead, Victoria got a disaster. Ironically, ZTSS did even worse. That company suffered significant financial losses during the time it was building Victoria’s bridge. (It was a publicly-traded company, so its financial performance is a matter of public record.) The cost of having to build the bridge twice, along with bad international publicity about “cracked welds,” no doubt harmed ZTSS’s ability to get new work. By November 2016, trading of the company’s shares had been halted. In August 2017, as Ricard’s wounded rings were finally arriving in Victoria and being readied for repairs at Point Hope, ZTSS announced it planned to sell the operation that had fabricated Victoria’s bridge. By January 2018 the company had undergone a corporate name change and was transformed into Beijing-Kaiwen Education Technology Co., Ltd. With a such a history, it’s unlikely that anyone would want their name on Victoria’s new bridge. What it deserves is a nickname that truthfully reflects its troubled 9-year-long birth. I respectfully propose “The Wounded White Elephant.” David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.
  12. The City is refusing to provide records that would show who knew what, and when they knew it. FOLLOWING OUR STORY LAST EDITION about the surprise appearance of bolt-on plates on the new bridge that Victorians had been promised would be “world-class” and “iconic,” the reaction from ordinary people who don’t receive a regular cheque from the City of Victoria was consistently forthright. An English bridge designer, who has written about such projects all over the world for the past 10 years noted: “The latest reports from Focus cover issues with the bridge’s steel fabrication. They highlight the discovery of a problem with the steelwork, which appears to have been covered over with a truly awful-looking bolted plate, a real bodge if ever you see one…Focus is quite right to criticize the detail. It’s clear from the photographs that nothing this awful should be considered acceptable as part of the finished structure.” Controversial bolt-on plates on Victoria's brand-new $115-million bridge. The larger photo above shows the plate on the south-side ring. On Vibrant Victoria, a local online discussion forum, “jonny” noted: “I am absolutely gobsmacked that our NINE FIGURE shiny new bridge has two, seemingly haphazard and last minute, bolted-on steel plates that look like they were envisaged and put together by a 9th grade metalworking student.” “G-Man” responded, “Couldn’t agree more. It makes me want to puke. I could not care less whether or not an engineer says it’s okay. The brand new bridge should not have this. It is unbelievable. I am embarrassed as a Victorian.” Several days later, G-Man posted a photograph of the bolt-on plate on the north ring. Somehow a bolt had worked its way free from somewhere inside the ring and was trying to escape through a large gap between the ring and the bolt-on plate. A rusty bolt caught in the opening between the bolt-on plate and the defective north-side ring. Photo by G-Man. Martin Bache, a 40-year veteran of Canada’s structural steel fabrication industry, and a project supervisor with Canron in Vancouver before retiring to Victoria, wrote to Focus and commented: “I have never seen such an appalling patch.” Bache agreed that the plates would “promote corrosion” in the structure. He had contacted EGBC, BC’s association of professional engineers, which confirmed that the association’s bylaws require a third party independent review of the patches since they are on fracture-critical steel. No such review has been brought forward, or even mentioned, by either the City or the bridge’s American designers, Hardesty & Hanover. I covered the initial response from City Hall in a second story posted at focusonvictoria.ca. To put that response as succinctly as possible, the City claimed our story contained “serious factual errors and inaccuracies,” but was unwilling—or unable, to say what those errors and inaccuracies were. On January 25, Project Director Jonathan Huggett gave council his quarterly update on the troubled project. Huggett commented on the bolt-on plates: “There has been this inference by some that somebody found a piece of scrap steel, slapped it on as an afterthought, and put a few bolts in place. Whoever makes those statements clearly has no experience in engineering. As engineers we take great pride in our work. Nothing happens quickly or suddenly, and without due process and proper sign-off.” Huggett also told the CBC our story was "an attempt to scare people unnecessarily." Presumably Huggett meant that there was an implication in our story that the plates were a public safety issue. We didn't, in fact, say or imply any such thing. The issue we raised is whether or not the plates represent a significant decline in value to taxpayers. Will the plates promote corrosion and therefore increase maintenance costs? Will they reduce the useful life of the bridge and thereby increase lifecycle cost? Do the plates not make a sham of the City's claim to a "world-class" or "iconic" bridge and raise questions about the huge amount of money wasted in pursuit of that futile endeavour? The bridge engineers themselves may have metal fatigue concerns—that's why they added the plates—but Focus raised no red flags on that point other than to mention the project's own concern about fatigue. Huggett's claim of "an attempt to scare people unnecessarily" is simply deflecting attention away from the real issues. The “pride” Huggett claims has gone into this project is hard to see when you examine closely the two patches on the new bridge. And, if they are any indication of the pride with which the rest of the bridge has been built, Victorians could be in for more embarrassment. But it’s Huggett’s claim that “nothing happens…without due process” that is the focus of my attention this time. What has become evident is that Huggett may not have informed anyone at City Hall about the problem that led to the bolt-on plates, thus making it impossible to consider options that would have prevented the delivery of a defective bridge. With Mayor Helps and Huggett refusing to respond to our questions, Focus requested relevant records under access to information law. So far, Huggett and the City have been uncooperative and Focus has filed a complaint with the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. In my initial story I raised these questions: Were City councillors informed about the situation that led to the bolt-on plates? If so, were they given any options? It’s vital to have answers to these questions. The plates reflect an unacceptable diminishment of the expected quality of the bridge. According to Huggett, people are comparing the bridge to scrap metal. The plates also reflect a lower-cost solution to the problem they were intended to address than a proper refabrication, but the parties building the bridge would have been responsible for any additional cost. Someone’s choice to overlook the public interest and accept a defective bridge has saved the companies building the bridge a lot of money, perhaps millions of dollars. Are councillors responsible for this bad decision? Or were they kept in the dark by Project Director Huggett? Thus far, the only indication of what happened that led to the bolt-on plates has been the minimal response from Huggett that I reported in my first story, and a letter from Hardesty & Hanover’s Keith Griesing sent to the City on January 8, shortly after our story was published. After reading our story, Griesing “felt it would be helpful if I gave you a brief summary of why those plates are there and how their use came to be.” Griesing is the project’s engineer of record. Griesing disagreed with our characterization of the circumstance that led to the bolt-on plates as a “design flaw.” His letter stated: “There was no ‘design flaw’ by Hardesty & Hanover nor any other of the City consultants involved; it was assembly by the fabricator that did not conform to the design plan requirements nor to the applicable detailing and fabrication standards required in the specifications” that led to the need for the bolt-on plates. Griesing’s need to make a distinction between a “design flaw” and “assembly by the fabricator” is understandably important to Hardesty & Hanover. If the bolt-on plates resulted from some error made by Hardesty & Hanover, they could become defendants in a legal suit if City councillors realize a world-class bodge has been foisted on City taxpayers. If the cause was solely attributable to an error made by the fabricator, then the company the City contracted to build the bridge—PCL—would be the defendant. But Hardesty & Hanover’s concern is not equal to the public interest. Just because Griesing claims Hardesty & Hanover aren’t responsible for the weakness in the rings that required the plates doesn’t mean the City hasn’t received a defective bridge. City councillors ought to be focussed on which companies the City should consider suing, rather than resorting to talking points designed to relieve them of any responsibility for their failure to protect the public interest. And just because Huggett tells City councillors there was “no design error” doesn’t mean his apparent concealment of the issue isn’t an issue. Councillors need to examine carefully the role Huggett played in the delivery of a world-class bodge. An examination of what information has been provided by the project shows none of the questions about who did what—and when and why they did it—have been answered. The bridge builders seem to have the support of Victoria City council in avoiding any financial or professional accountability for providing a defective bridge. Why? In his letter to councillors, Griesing attributes the need for the bolt-on plates to errors made by the Chinese company ZTSS, hired by PCL to fabricate the moveable part of the bridge. Griesing states: “In the course of our routine quality inspections in the steel fabrication plant in China, [PCL’s] quality control team [Atema] discovered a violation of fabrication and welding standards in the particular area in question. This determination was confirmed by the City’s Quality Oversight consultant.” According to Huggett, this discovery was made on December 9, 2016. What was found? Huggett provided Focus with a single sentence from Atema’s report. It stated: “Weld access holes in MW1 and MW3 to MF1 and TF1 at MW2 were unnecessary, not clearly detailed and may not have been evaluated to proper fatigue design category, and not fabricated to code requirements”. That’s largely incomprehensible to most of us, but here’s the essential part: Atema found “unnecessary” weld access holes in steel parts close to where the bolt-on plates were eventually added. Weld access holes are openings into otherwise closed chambers inside the rings that allow welders to complete welds within those closed chambers. Why would ZTSS cut “unnecessary” holes if it didn’t need them? With Huggett refusing to provide any information, I sought insight from the aforementioned Martin Bache, who has 40 years of experience in heavy steel fabrication. Bache described the process that would have been used for determining where such holes are needed: “Weld access holes in fracture-critical members must be designed by the Engineer of Record [Griesing]. Competent detail draftspersons would be expected, during preparation of the shop drawings, to identify closed chambers where the EOR may have forgotten to show on his plans weld access holes without which the required welding cannot be performed. They would then issue an RFI [request for information] pointing this out, and asking the EOR how they should proceed.” According to Bache, then, Griesing would ultimately be responsible for the design of every weld access hole that was required, since every steel member in the rings was designated “fracture-critical.” Griesing has told the City that the fabricator was responsible for the weld access hole violations. In that case, the bad holes wouldn’t have appeared on the shop drawings Griesing was required to approve. That means they should have been discovered quickly by any robust quality assurance (QA) program. If found quickly, those holes would still be accessible and could be fixed immediately. Bache noted: “Under what we must imagine would be rigorous QA on this second attempt to fabricate a bridge, we would expect an error to be spotted very soon after the occurrence.” But according to Griesing, “Because of its location in a critical area of the structure, this non-conformance was particularly difficult to correct.” Why, exactly? If the QA teams were as diligent as Huggett claimed in his quarterly reports, why would “unnecessary” access holes just cut by fabricators end up being “particularly difficult to correct.” From what Huggett has told Focus, we know that Hardesty & Hanover’s decision on how to address these unnecessary holes was delayed for six to seven months. During that time, fabrication of the bridge continued. It appears that Hardesty & Hanover dithered on fixing the unnecessary weld access holes, which were made inaccessible by subsequent work and couldn’t be fixed. Did Griesing forget to tell someone to do something? Bache wrote: “What amazes me is the tremendous time gap between the Atema non-compliance report and the attempted fixes. It sounds as though no one at Hardesty & Hanover could decide what to do, but the work continued and the bridge was shipped anyway to try to keep to a schedule.” Griesing’s explanation to the City noted: “The design team and fabrication team designed and reviewed numerous mitigation options. We even consulted two internationally known experts in fabrication and welding for their input. After reviewing all options, the project team unanimously agreed that the bolted plates were the best option, all factors considered.” Griesing, obviously, did not factor in jonny or G-Man. Maybe he should have. G-Man and jonny seem to represent the values and priorities of ordinary Victorians better than either Huggett or Helps. It wasn’t until after the rings had arrived in Victoria, late last summer, that large holes were chopped in the rings and plates bolted over the holes. That work was done at Point Hope Shipyard in Victoria. The need for these large holes is unclear. Were they needed to allow someone to get inside the rings so bolts could be inserted from the inside and tightened? If so, what happened to the tightener? Hey, we just want to know. Griesing’s letter provided no explanation for why a fix wasn’t made immediately in December 2016 when the unnecessary access holes would still have been accessible. So while Huggett and Griesing have successfully focussed the City on shooting the messenger, more important questions that need to be answered are being ignored. Let me, just for the sake of thoroughness, offer an alternative story to that being told by Huggett, Griesing and Helps. Let’s start with Atema’s report. Although we’ve been provided with only one sentence from that report, let’s presume that sentence is the whole report and that Atema did find weld access holes that were unnecessary and that those unnecessary holes are the entire reason bolt-on plates were required. All of those assumptions are leaps of faith, but let’s jump. In that case, PCL would have been responsible for the cost of any refabrication necessary to meet the City’s agreed-upon specifications defined in the contract. If the City had been given all the facts about this when it happened, the City would surely have insisted on refabrication rather than accepting a bridge that would forever wear “truly awful-looking” bolt-on plates. But wait. According to Griesing, the City did know about the issue. In his letter, Griesing wrote, “City Staff was fully involved in arriving at the best solution, particularly with respect to public safety, cost and schedule impacts.” The “was” in that sentence suggests a single person from the City was involved, but we don’t know for sure. Who did Griesing mean by “City Staff”? Did he mean just Huggett? Or did he mean Huggett and other people at City Hall? Again, we don’t know the answer to this yet, because Huggett has refused to respond to a legal request for his records on the issue, and Helps won’t respond to questions. But this is vital to understand because if Huggett didn’t inform anyone else at the City of Victoria, we would have to ask why he kept that information from his client. Until we see Huggett’s record of communication on the plates, no judgement can be made as to his conduct. But at this point, with Huggett appearing to have not properly informed his client, the City may need to seek advice about the implications of the plates from someone not involved in the project. Griesing’s claim that it wasn’t a “design flaw” that led to the bolt-on plates is an open question until detailed information about what Atema found, and why it took six or seven months for Griesing to act, is released. But there is a broader issue that deserves comment. In one sense there is no question that the bolt-on plates are the direct consequence of a design flaw. The design flaw was the open rings themselves. The choice of that particular design approach to creating a movable bridge made the structure unnecessarily complex, difficult to build and overly expensive. Of the three companies originally bidding for the project, two rejected the open-ring design and based their bids on designs that had proven track records. Kiewit’s engineers had concluded that the open rings posed “a fundamentally high risk and expensive design approach.” Bizarrely, the City’s scoring of the bid proposals actually penalized Kiewit and Walsh for not using the risky design. As part of PCL’s bid, Hardesty & Hanover embraced this risky design. Victoria taxpayers have been paying the costs ever since. For example: two additional years of construction are attributable to difficulty in fabricating the open rings and fitting them to the trusses. Those extra two years of construction have made people in Victoria frustrated. That sense of frustration, especially in an election year, is not something politicians like Helps and her councillors want to aggravate with further delays. Their public promise to deliver the bridge by such-and-such a date meant that if any problem arose that would cause further delay, councillors were going to favour whatever solution was quickest. They telegraphed that to Huggett and Griesing. So that’s what councillors got, but in spades. So when Griesing tells councillors that the bolt-on plates are not the result of a design flaw, he’s overlooking his company’s responsibility for promoting a design that other engineers warned the City not to build. Hardesty & Hanover’s risky and hard-to-build design created a whole chain of connected events that led inevitably to the bolt-on plates. Don’t take my word for it. Huggett has already confirmed that the City's hired technical advisors have given it bad advice on the project. Last summer, in a rare moment of self-reflection in which councillors had an opportunity to openly consider why the project had encountered such difficulties, Councillor Pam Madoff offered the following: “I remember very specifically having this conversation [with the bridge’s designers and engineers] about the mechanics, you know, the—in simplistic terms—the cogs, the wheels, how it was going to lift. I remember at the time saying, ‘Is this basically just a larger version of the Meccano sets that we played with as kids, in terms of its actual mechanical operation?’ And, again, that was the assurance. To me it comes down to: how far does one have to go? We felt like we asked the right questions at the time. It turns out they may not have been the right answers.” In response, Huggett told councillors: “You were not given good advice.” A question councillors might ask themselves right now: Why are we still accepting bad advice? Perhaps a sloppily-executed sign with those words on it could be hung from each of the bolt-on plates. With or without such signs, though, each time the bridge lifts and the bolt-on plates descend to the level of pedestrians waiting for the bridge to reopen, those present will be reminded of the bridge’s dubious origins. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus. Hardesty & Hanover's letter to the City of Victoria with its explanation of the bolt-on plates:
  13. Did Mayor Helps conceal a serious bridge design flaw from other councillors and the public at a critical moment? Only the expeditious public release of pertinent records will show what happened. TWO BOLT-ON PLATES DEFACING THE FRACTURE-CRITICAL RINGS of the new Johnson Street Bridge aren’t a problem, according to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps. The real problem, Helps stated in a Facebook post, were “a number of serious factual errors and inaccuracies” made by me in my story about the issue in the January/February edition of Focus. Below her Facebook statement Helps endorsed comments posted anonymously on the social media site reddit. On reddit, anyone can call themselves an “engineer” by providing an email address to a computerized registration system. Helps’ and her Facebook fans were moved by the assurances of reddit “engineers” HollywoodTK and thisguy86 that there was nothing unusual about a new $115-million bridge sporting repair patches before it even opened. My own article on the issue, on the other hand, even though it is likely subject to the careful scrutiny of libel lawyers working for the companies and professionals named in the article, is, according to Helps, untrustworthy. I will come back to Mayor Helps’ role in the City’s response to the issue, but first let me report on information that came in after publication of my original story. Firstly, City of Victoria Councillor Jeremy Loveday confirmed that he had not been informed about the issue before he read our story. Loveday’s statement seems to suggest that Project Director Jonathan Huggett, a professional engineer, did not properly inform his client—the City of Victoria—about a significant structural issue that had arisen during construction of the rings in China. However, it’s also possible that Loveday is the only person at City Hall that wasn’t told. Secondly, photos taken in Victoria show the work of cutting steel out of the rings and then adding the bolt-on plates took place at Point Hope Shipyard in Victoria in October. Thirdly, engineers and experts in steel fabrication have expressed concern that the bolt-on steel plates will likely create a corrosion problem that could increase maintenance costs and shorten the useful life of the bridge. While social media comments have focussed on the way in which the steel plates diminish the structure’s aesthetic value, the plates may end up costing City of Victoria taxpayers tens of millions of dollars as a result of premature loss of use. Professional engineers and steel fabrication experts that have contacted Focus have confirmed that the concerns we identified in our story are reasonable. Even with only one sentence of the Atema report that first identified a weakness in the rings during construction in China, engineers confirmed that at least partial responsibility for the issue likely lies with the rings’ designers, Hardesty & Hanover. Until the full Atema report is released, the full extent of Hardesty & Hanover’s responsibility for the weakness in the rings is unknown. If the City had insisted on rings that did not have bolt-on plates, whatever additional costs were incurred would have been borne by the various parties to the extent they were responsible for the weakness in the rings. The extent of blame assigned to each of the parties involved is unknown. What we do know is that Hardesty & Hanover’s Engineer of Record for the project was able to sign off on a cheap, bolted-on plate solution even though he was the Engineer of Record at least partly responsible for the structural weakness that needed to be addressed. The record of how all this played out needs to be made public since there seems to be an inherent conflict of interest at work in what occurred, with City of Victoria taxpayers coming out on the losing end. Following publication of our story, a concerned steel fabrication expert asked Engineers and Geoscientists of BC (EGBC) to confirm that the addition of bolt-on plates to the fracture-critical rings needed to be approved by an engineer other than the Engineer of Record. The EGBC confirmed that such an approval would have been required and directed the expert to Hardesty & Hanover’s Keith Griesing, the Engineer of Record, for Griesing’s confirmation that such a review took place. In response to advice from one professional engineer, we checked EGBC’s online membership directory to confirm that Griesing is a registered professional engineer in BC. The EGBC did not confirm his membership. Griesing has not yet responded to a request for information from Focus. The expert in steel fabrication told Focus, “I believe it is not necessary for the Engineer of Record to be registered as a member of EGBC provided that he is registered as an Engineer in a jurisdiction acceptable to EGBC.” Lastly, we have learned that the public statements issued separately by Helps and Loveday—the same statements, word-for-word—were provided to them by City Manager Jocelyn Jenkins. Since Jenkins is not an engineer, the claim Loveday and Helps made that what we reported in our story as a “design flaw” should have been called a “fabrication challenge” had to come from Huggett. (Loveday has since apologized for not making it clear that his statement was copied from a briefing note. Mayor Helps’ has made no such clarification.) The entire attempt to build architect Sebastien Ricard’s unproven design has definitely been a “fabrication challenge,” but the specific way in which a structural weakness had been engineered into the rings remains a design flaw until further, more complete information proves otherwise. Aside from the important issues of safety, lowered life expectancy and diminished aesthetic value, there are other questions involving professional and political conduct that need to be examined. If it isn’t clear to you already, let me outline why the City’s characterization of our story as “a number of serious factual errors and inaccuracies” ought to be seen as obfuscation—a non-denial denial, as I predicted in my initial story. The weakness in the rings was first identified on December 9, 2016 in China. At the time, the rings were still being fabricated. Reinforcing the problematic section of the rings in a way that would not create long-term corrosion problems or diminish the aesthetic value of the bridge was still possible. Since the cost of that refabrication would have been the responsibility of those companies whose work had contributed to the structural weakness in the rings, the best interests of the City of Victoria would have been served by refabrication. But that didn’t happen. Why not? On the surface, it appears that no one in Victoria was told, so there was no opportunity for the City to consider its options. If the City had been told, and it had insisted on refabrication—and why wouldn’t it?—who would have had to pay? Hardesty & Hanover and/or PCL. Somehow, Victoria got a defective bridge and PCL and Hardesty & Hanover got a free pass. What happened? Huggett should have been informed about the Atema report’s findings shortly after December 9, 2016. If he was, it’s not clear whether he even notified the City. The evidence that he didn’t tell his client, so far, is the absence of any mention of the issue in his public reports, and Councillor Loveday’s public statement that our story was the first he had heard of the issue. So let’s pursue—cautiously—the hypothetical case in which Huggett told no one at City Hall. What would be the implications of that? Keep in mind that Huggett is paid approximately $300,000 each year by taxpayers to watch over the City’s interests on the project. If Huggett had told no one, the main beneficiary of such a concealment would have been Hardesty & Hanover and/or PCL. But Huggett’s client is the City of Victoria. If this was how things happened—Huggett telling no one—how would we expect a sensible mayor to act when the existence of the design flaw was publicized by Focus? A sensible mayor would see that if Huggett had kept the City in the dark, that would have allowed Hardesty & Hanover and/or PCL to avoid the higher cost of refabrication as compared with bolt-on plates. A sensible, cautious mayor would, on first hearing of this issue, understand that Huggett’s apparent failure to inform her would require the immediate production of all the records that could show exactly what took place during the nearly eight months between the Atema report and shipment of the rings to Victoria. Otherwise, public trust in civic government would plummet. A sensible mayor would demand: “Release the records.” But that didn’t happen. Rather than acting swiftly to push for release of those records, Helps parrotted Huggett’s statement, assuring the public that the real problems plaguing the bridge project were serious factual errors and inaccuracies in the observations of the guy who first noticed the bolt-on plates. So, given that Helps is a reasonably sensible mayor who is perfectly capable of sniffing out corruption, we can likely reject the hypothesis that Huggett didn’t tell anyone at City Hall. That leads us, inevitably, to the only other reasonable hypothetical possibility—that Huggett informed one or more officials at City Hall, and that between them they decided that the best course of action was to keep the issue concealed from Loveday (and probably other councillors) and settle for a quick, cheap fix that kept the bridge on schedule for completion well before next November’s civic election, bolt-on plates and all. Let’s cautiously explore this possibility. As a reporter, I’ve found that when public officials won’t answer direct questions, they are usually trying to avoid public embarrassment. It’s awful to be publicly embarrassed, but public embarrassment is a powerful and legitimate tool that has been traditionally used to hold people accountable for their actions when they screw up some decision they had to make. In preparation for my initial story, after Huggett declined to say whether he had informed the City, I emailed questions to Mayor Helps, including whether she had been filled in by Huggett on the issue. The questions were simple and could have been answered with a “Yes” or a “No.” I also asked her for important dates when things might have happened. The mayor did not respond to any of five emails sent over a one-week period. Then, following Helps’ release of the Huggett-Jenkins statement on her Facebook page and her implicit endorsement of the anonymous reddit engineers, I emailed her a request to itemize the “serious factual errors and inaccuracies” she had referenced in her statement. Normally, a public official that makes such a claim would have proactively provided that information without being asked. That’s the process: We make a mistake, the official tells us about the mistake we made, and if they are correct we acknowledge our error. So I asked the mayor to make those mistakes clear. Then something peculiar happened. Mayor Helps’ inadvertently copied me on a “proposed response” to my questions that she had meant to send only to Jenkins and Huggett and one other City staffer. “Do you see any downfalls in this approach?” the mayor asked Huggett and Jenkins. Later, realizing what she had done, Helps emailed me: “David there you have my response. Sent before my morning meditation and copied to you inadvertently. But truth may walk through the world unarmed. So please feel free to use what I have said.” She had written: “I trust all of the reporters at the Times Colonist. I trust all of the reporters at Vic News. I trust all of the reporters at CBC and CFAX. I trust all of the reporters at CTV, CHEK, and GLOBAL. This trust has come through hard conversations, good reporting and relationship building. I do not trust you. As such I feel that however I answer your questions you will use the answers to suit your own needs, not to serve the public good.” Mayor Helps made no attempt to point out even a single error or inaccuracy. The mayor’s insistence that Focus needs to negotiate stories with her before she will provide factual information is an interesting issue all by itself, but it’s not the issue at hand so let’s not be diverted by it. Why wouldn’t the mayor respond in a straightforward manner and provide the “serious factual errors and inaccuracies”? Added to her failure to answer questions for the first story, my reporter’s nose tells me Mayor Helps is hiding something. Here’s what now appears to me to be the most likely chain of events: Atema issued its report in December 2016. Huggett informed then-City Manager Jason Johnson. Johnson informed Helps and perhaps City engineering staff. Between them they decided to accept the quickest fix to the weak-rings problem and to conceal the issue from the other councillors and the public, perhaps thinking that no one would notice the bolt-on plates. Now the City is busily trying to hide their miscalculations and errors in judgement to avoid embarrassment. If I’m wrong, and neither Helps nor Huggett have anything to hide, all they need to do to prove that is to release the full Atema report, the record of all Huggett’s communications about that report and the bolt-on plates, and the required independent third-party review of the proposed fix, if that was done. Then all local media can share that information with the public, which will then be better able to gauge whether the public interest—or a corporate, political or personal interest—was served by the actions of whoever was involved. Sunshine is the best disinfectant. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine. He has been, reluctantly, following the bridge issue for about nine years.
  14. The latest cover-up on the $115-million project raises the question: What needs to change at Victoria City Hall? LIKE MANY VICTORIANS, I visited the Johnson Street Bridge construction site in early December to check out the newly-erected rings. My attention was immediately drawn to two large, heavily-bolted plates attached to the underside of each of the rings at the 12-o’clock position. Uh-oh. As you may know, I have been watching this project closely, for nine years. No such plates had ever appeared in any of the detailed construction drawings or project photographs that I had seen over the past five years of construction. I snapped a few photographs. At home, blown up, the photos showed that the welded steel rings—which took three years to fabricate in China—had recently been cut open. Steel plates, angle steel and hundreds of bolts had then been placed over the openings. This assemblage had a “quick-and-dirty” appearance, the kind of short-term repair you might expect to see on a bridge deemed to be near the end of its useful life—not at the start. As a result of a flaw in its structural design, the signature feature of the new bridge—the rings—required the addition of external bolt-on plates (inset). I sent my photos to Project Director Jonathan Huggett and asked him for an explanation. Over Huggett’s nearly four years on the job, I’ve sent him questions several times. Before this, he hadn’t answered a single question. In his last non-response, he had explained, “I am very busy trying to deal with a multitude of issues right now.” I didn’t expect to hear from him this time, either, but he surprised me. In an email, Huggett revealed that Atema—the quality-control company hired by the City of Victoria to monitor fabrication in China of the large steel parts of the bridge—had issued a “non-compliance report” (NCR) on December 9, 2016 after an inspection of the rings. Atema’s report indicated the structure contained a design flaw that could leave the rings vulnerable to metal fatigue. In response to discovery of the design flaw, Huggett says, “Lengthy discussions occurred in China and North America during the first half of 2017 and a number of different options to remedy the comments in the NCR were presented and reviewed. After discussions involving many experts in steel fabrication, the Engineer of Record agreed to design a bolt-on steel plate to ensure that the rings had not only the required strength, but also met the fatigue design requirements for the opening and closing of the bridge. This amended design was carried out and signed off by the Engineer of Record.” Wow. That’s a dramatically understated admission that the project had gone dangerously off the rails. After three years of fabrication, the rings had to be hacked into with cutting torches and hastily repaired. Yet not one of Huggett’s public reports to City councillors even hinted at such a problem. Huggett apparently had no intention of publicly acknowledging the design flaw, or the repair, unless someone else brought it up. Were those his instructions from the City? One question that immediately occurred to me: Is this the structure’s only design flaw? Huggett, a private engineering consultant, was appointed project director in 2014 by the City of Victoria after a report he authored condemned the project for its lack of leadership. He billed the City about $300,000 for his services, including expenses, in 2017. When pressed for more information, including the date he had informed City of Victoria officials about the design flaw, Huggett simply responded: “We have no additional information to provide.” If Huggett had informed anyone at City Hall about the design flaw, it most likely would have been City Manager Jason Johnson, who hired Huggett in 2014. But Johnson was fired by City council shortly after the rings arrived in Victoria, so I was unable to confirm whether Huggett told Johnson about the design flaw and repair. Five emails to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps asking her to confirm whether or not Huggett had informed City councillors all went unanswered. I’ll come back to the question of why City Hall is reluctant to acknowledge what has happened, but first let me describe more exactly what was done to the rings after the design flaw was discovered. (If some readers have a hard time wading through this account, my apologies. I am hoping that an engineer with bridge design and/or bridge construction experience will come forward to comment on the repair that has been done to the new bridge.) I provided Huggett with a written description of what appears to be a hastily-executed repair that has been made to both rings and asked him to correct any part of my description so that it would accurately reflect the “amended design” for the public record. Huggett provided no correction. Sometime after the trial fit-up of all the major parts of the bridge in China in March 2017, significant, identical alterations were made to each ring. This included cutting out a section of steel plate from the inside flange of each ring. Steel appears to have been removed from the centre of each ring right out to their outer edge. This removal included about one metre of steel along the edge of the rings, including the weld. This project photo of the south ring in March, 2017 shows the intended design. Despite having known about the design flaw for over three months, the project then proceeded in such a way as to make it impossible to back-track and properly address the issue. Later, a large section of steel (in the area indicated by the yellow circle) was cut away from both rings and then covered over with bolt-on plates. These cutouts in the rings would have allowed access to the interior of the ring. Work may have been done inside the rings to address the fatigue issue identified by Atema. A photograph of the rings taken during their fabrication (see below) shows an abrupt narrowing of the structural steel in the same area where, later, the bolt-on plates were installed. This abrupt transition in the structure, along with an internal access port, may have prompted Atema’s report. The south ring during fabrication in China in July 2016. The yellow circle indicates the area of the ring later red-lined by Atema’s non-compliance report. Whether or not any steel was then added to the internal structure of the rings is unknown. If not, the next step would have involved attaching the external plates, which are about two metres by two metres in size. That required drilling 180 approximately three-quarter-inch-diameter holes into each ring, with matching holes in the plates. The plates are bolted along the edge of each ring to a steel angle that protrudes from the gap cut in the rings. The angles are bolted to the inside of the rings’ side webs. Filler pieces roughly support the plates at their forward edges where the plates span an uneven surface. The plates appear to be deformed (bent) across this uneven surface. One question that arises: Wouldn’t drilling a large number of holes, in a small area that had already been identified as having a weakness, further weaken the rings? The rings are considered “fracture-critical,” which implies their failure could lead to collapse of the bridge. As well, gaps and joints between the rings’ original steel and the bolted-on steel parts, evident in photographs, seem to make it possible for moisture to get between the steel surfaces and from there into the bolt holes. If that happens, corrosion would occur. The plates, angle steel and bolts introduce the need for careful, ongoing inspection, additional maintenance and future repair that would not have been required if a properly fabricated structure had been delivered. While many questions require answers from the City, what is known seems straightforward and damning: The design flaw was pointed out by a company whose actual job was to certify the grade of steel being used, monitor the quality of the welding, and ensure fabrication proceeded according to drawings that originated with Hardesty & Hanover, the company that engineered the steel lifting section of the bridge. Its drawings were supposed to be checked and approved by the City’s project manager, MMM Group, which has billed the City for close to $20 million for its services on the project since 2009. Fabrication of the lifting section began in China in early 2014. So it took nearly three years before anyone noticed this flaw in Hardesty & Hanover’s design, and then it was discovered by someone not responsible for the engineering of the structure. The structural integrity of this part of the bridge was judged to be so far below standard that an extraordinary intervention was required. It then took, according to Huggett, another six or seven months before a decision was made about how to address the flaw. Part of that decision included choosing to conceal the problem from the public. Another part of the decision was to do a quick-and-dirty repair. Is that because the rings had already been shipped to Victoria, precluding a proper repair at the steel fabrication plant in China? So many questions with no answers. While the Engineer of Record may have “signed off” on the bolt-on plates, the Engineer of Record works for the same company—Hardesty & Hanover—that engineered the structural flaw into the design in the first place. As engineers, their work is now suspect and their stamp of approval on their solution to a problem they created seems fraught with potential for conflict of interest. Wouldn’t City of Victoria councillors have wanted to obtain an independent, disinterested assessment of the proposed fix? Did they? If councillors had been made aware of this flaw and its proposed remedy, and agreed to accept a substandard bridge anyway, they have a lot to answer for—public oversight of the project appears to have failed. Until the City of Victoria makes it clear whether or not Huggett informed City officials of the circumstances related to the design flaw, it ought to be assumed that he did. If that’s the case, City councillors will need to explain the basis for their decision to accept a bridge that needed to be repaired. At the very least, they ought to provide public answers to the following: 1. When were City councillors informed about the design flaw? 2. When were they informed about the proposed fix? 3. Did the City of Victoria obtain an opinion from an independent professional engineer—one with no previous involvement with any of the parties undertaking the project—as to whether the City should agree to the proposed fix? 4. In return for accepting a substandard bridge, has the City of Victoria obtained a long-term guarantee from the builder (PCL), beyond the limited two-year warranty previously agreed to, that the damaged rings will be replaced by the builder if the repair shows any sign of deterioration or failure over the expected life of the bridge? 5. Were councillors planning on informing the public of the design flaw and repair before the coming civic election? It has taken 9 years and, if we’re honest, about $115 million to build a 156-metre-long bridge that needed to be repaired before it could be opened.Why has this happened to our city? Long before this particular design flaw emerged and its cover-up commenced, the project had repeatedly reduced the value of the bridge being built, each time concealing that fact from the public. Focus has documented this sad history, right from the project’s origins in 2008. This seems an appropriate moment to recount why this troubled project has turned out the way it has. THE LONG RECORD OF CONCEALMENT OF PROBLEMS with the bridge’s design and construction seems to be a natural consequence of the project’s controversial origins, and the haste with which a conceptual design was chosen. The project was born at the height of the world financial crisis in late 2008 and early 2009, when governments around the planet rushed forward with gigantic plans for infrastructure spending to stimulate the global economy. In Victoria, the possibility of a big federal-provincial grant appeared just after the City had received an engineering assessment of the condition of the 86-year-old Johnson Street Bridge. This unfortunate coincidence determined the fundamental nature of the project that followed: It was hurried, and therefore ill-conceived. To justify going after a big grant, whose application deadline was only weeks away, City officials had to quickly manufacture a plausible rationale for replacing the Johnson Street Bridge. They did that by abruptly announcing that the Johnson Street Bridge had a serious seismic vulnerability. On top of that, the City claimed that repairing the bridge would require lengthy closure—at great economic cost to Downtown businesses. Since that repair would be only marginally less expensive than building a new bridge at $40 million, the City argued, building a new bridge was the best choice. But before the City took that position, it had been advised, unequivocally, by two professional engineers on two separate occasions, to repair the double bridge rather than replace it. The first engineer to provide that direction, Joost Meyboom, told the City in 2008 that an adequate repair, including seismic upgrading, would cost $8.6 million. The second engineer, Mark Mulvihill, gave the same advice in 2009. Mulvihill based his recommendation on the structure’s “high and significant” heritage values. But Meyboom’s and Mulvihill’s professional recommendations were concealed by the City, and were only revealed through FOIs filed well after City council had committed to a new bridge. That’s how the project started. Founded on a fundamentally deceptive approach to providing information about the project, City managers went on to repeat—for the next nine years—that same pattern of misrepresentation and concealment in response to every major challenge that came along. Instead of following Meyboom’s and Mulvihill’s recommendations, the City placed its bet on a back-of-the-envelope concept created by Sebastien Ricard at the British architectural firm Wilkinson Eyre. Inexplicably, Ricard’s design depended on a novel open-ring (no axle) lifting mechanism that had previously been used for only two small bridges in the Canary Wharf development in London. Just a few years old, the bridges had almost no record of performance or durability. Nor was there any proof that the open-ring design could be successfully scaled up to the size proposed for Victoria. By July 2009 the City was estimating the project would cost $63 million. When it tried to proceed without electors’ consent, a counter-petition—mounted in the middle of a cold winter by indignant Victoria citizens—successfully forced the City to put its plan to a referendum. The City’s response to that setback, in preparation for a vote, was to spend heavily on creating the perception that building a new bridge would be less expensive than repairing the existing structure, and that Ricard’s design would allow a number of highly desirable features: dedicated bicycle lanes, rail, a high level of seismic protection, a wider navigational channel and a “signature” structure with high-level architectural qualities that would make the bridge “world class” and “iconic.” Sebastien Ricard’s glamorous, but hastily-conceived, 2010 design was approved by voters in a borrowing referendum. Critics of the project, like Ross Crockford, a director of the watchdog organization that had forced the City to hold a referendum, pointed to the unproven, experimental nature of the design. To Crockford— who, unlike the City, had sought out the advice of bridge engineers not involved in the project—the design presented an unnecessary financial risk to City taxpayers. The design flaw discovered by Atema is exactly the kind of risk critics like Crockford warned the City about, before and after the referendum. The City ignored those warnings, and so did the majority of City voters. In the November 2010 referendum, electors approved the City’s now-$77-million-plan. Soon after the referendum had been won, project engineers and City staff quietly began stripping away most of the promised elements of the project’s scope, even as the project’s cost continued to climb. The first things to go were rail and a wider navigational channel. Ricard’s renderings of the bridge from 2010 all show a bridge wide enough to accommodate rail and long enough to allow a navigational channel 47 metres wide. But records obtained by Focus showed that project engineers suspected Ricard’s open-ring design couldn’t actually accommodate either. By early 2011, MMM engineers were gathering evidence to help convince City managers, behind closed doors, that the City should build a much smaller bridge. By mid-2011 the City had signed a design contract with MMM that, contrary to promises made before the referendum, eliminated rail, reduced the opening span from 47 to 41 metres, and reduced the required life expectancy of the approach bridges from 100 years to 75 years. There was no proactive disclosure of these latter two reductions in quality and scope. They only became known to councillors and the public later, through FOIs filed by Focus. The shortage of truthfulness wasn’t confined to the engineers. Just before the civic election in 2011, City Manager Gail Stephens announced that the project “continues to be within the budget of $77 million and the March 2016 timeline.” But, as we learned much later, she was hiding the truth from both councillors and the public. An FOI filed in 2012 showed Stephens had been warned months before by City staff that the project was definitely over budget. Those staff advised her that councillors should be informed. Stephens failed to do so. As for her claim of being on schedule for completion by March 2016, the truth of that is now evident. In mid-2012, while the City was working with three companies short-listed to bid on the bridge’s construction contract, two significant changes were made to the project’s scope. Each of these changes was made to lower the cost of the project after the three companies bidding on the contract made it clear the City’s recently-expanded $93-million budget would not cover the cost of even the shrunken bridge it wanted them to build. The first of these changes was a decision to leave the support piers of the existing bridge in place. That would eliminate the cost of removing and disposing of the piers, but this also resulted in losing one of the primary objectives of the project: a wider navigational channel under the bridge. The width of the channel was limited by the existing piers which were 39 metres apart. Leaving them in place meant the navigational clearance would be virtually the same, with no reduction in the risk of marine traffic hitting the bridge. Project managers hid this change, too, from councillors, who were left to learn about it from the pages of Focus. At the same time, in mid-2012, City managers secretly accepted a lower standard of seismic performance for the bridge. While no engineer can, with great certainty, guarantee that a bridge will be accessible to traffic after a large earthquake, MMM engineer Joost Meyboom had convinced the City that it should buy the highest level of seismic protection possible. Meyboom put the cost of that protection at $10 million and, during the 2010 referendum, electors were told the bridge would include that high level of protection. However, after it had been established (in secret) by the three companies bidding for the construction contract that MMM’s estimate of cost was too low, MMM introduced a document into the procurement process that accepted a much lower level of seismic performance than Meyboom had previously advised the City to accept. This document’s reduced seismic design criteria allowed for the replacement of the planned all-steel approach bridges with more economical—but more seismically vulnerable— concrete structures. Again, councillors were left in the dark. I’ll come back to the lowered seismic design criteria in a moment, because the way this issue was manipulated by the City when it was made public in these pages is a good indicator of how the City will respond publicly to the design flaw issue. But first, let me refresh your memory about the warnings about the design that were provided by the companies in their bids for the construction contract. Two of the bid proposals rejected Ricard’s open-ring design outright as too risky in terms of cost, reliability, and repairability. The third bid, from PCL, rejected a part of Ricard’s design and altered what remained in a way that allowed PCL to meet the City’s price ceiling. But that alteration also resulted in material changes that PCL expected would reduce the life of the bridge before major repairs would be needed. PCL admitted its proposal would result in a bridge in which parts that were “subject to wear” would last only 30 years. Senior City managers kept all these warnings out of sight of elected officials. Records obtained by Focus show that at a critical in camera meeting soon after the bids were received—a moment in which councillors could have been fully apprised of the companies’ warnings before committing to Ricard’s design—City staff didn’t even mention them. In light of the design flaw discovered by Atema and its warning of the risk of metal fatigue, it now seems possible that one of those parts “subject to wear” is the entire section of the bridge built in China. LET'S GO BACK AND PICK UP THE THREAD about the project’s reduced seismic design criteria. The document mentioned above later became part of the City’s contract with PCL. Its presence in the contract protects PCL from any future legal claim from the City of Victoria in the case that the bridge suffers unrepairable damage—or is unusable by emergency vehicles—following a much smaller seismic event than that for which Meyboom had recommended the City prepare. Keep in mind that Meyboom had put the value of that additional protection at $10 million, and the City had agreed to pay for this extra protection in exchange for an implied guarantee that the bridge would stand up well in a large earthquake. That $10 million had been included in the “$77 million” estimate in 2010. That extra $10 million was meant for such features as all-steel approach bridges, which have much better seismic performance than concrete. Recall that questions about the seismic vulnerability of the existing double bridge had been the primary rationale for replacing it. Ironically, all four of its approach bridges were steel. But inclusion of the Seismic Design Criteria document in PCL’s contract meant the City had, in effect, agreed to a lower level of seismic performance, so concrete approach bridges could now be used in the new bridge. None of this was divulged to councillors when they were asked to approve a contract with PCL. When the issue was brought to light by Focus in 2015, Huggett, by then project director, provided an extensive non-denial denial that carefully avoided even acknowledging the existence of the contract document that contains the lowered seismic design criteria. For readers unfamiliar with the expression “non-denial denial”: This is a term coined by journalists to describe a response from a subject that sounds like a refutation of facts, but, on careful examination, doesn’t actually refute anything specific in the reporting and doesn’t provide any evidence that disproves the report, yet isn’t, itself, untruthful. EACH OF THE ABOVE DECEPTIONS was first divulged to the public in the pages of Focus. The City has never presented any evidence that what we have reported was inaccurate or untrue. Yet, in almost every case, some City official—often the mayor of the day—has appeared at other Victoria media outlets with vigorous non-denial denials of our reports. The City hasn’t limited its defensive tactics to traditional obfuscation, though. They’ve been ground-breakers on keeping the record opaque. When Focus filed an FOI that sought evidence that Stephens had been advised the project was already over-budget in 2011, the City employed a legal maneuver—used against a media outlet only once before in BC’s history—that allowed it to delay responding to our FOI. On the very day the City was required to provide evidence to the Office of the Information Commissioner to support its tactic, the City withdrew its claim. Such self-inflicted wounds to the City’s credibility have not been without cost. One cost of the serial deceptions has been a continuous loss of top-level City managers closely associated with the project: City Manager Gail Stephens, Director of Operations Peter Sparanese and Director of Engineering Dwayne Kalynchuk all “resigned” suddenly—or were fired. Others, too, have disappeared. As well as that huge loss of senior personnel, the serial deceptions have had a corrosive effect on the community’s trust in its civic government. Why didn’t City councillors put a halt to the repeated cycle of beating down the value of the project and concealment of their actions? The majority on council went along with the original rushed decision in 2009, and concealment of the project’s problems provided those seeking re-election in 2011 and 2014 with cover for their original error in judgment. To be fair, in many of the cases in which City staff reduced the scope of the project in significant ways just to keep Ricard’s open-ring design alive, councillors were simply not informed. In some cases, once those issues were made public, senior staff soon resigned or were fired. But getting rid of project managers didn’t have any effect on the basic underlying problem: The initial decision to proceed had been rushed, and in that rush a difficult-to-build and under-priced design had been chosen. That brings us back to the current issue of the design flaw discovered by Atema and concealed by…well we don’t know who yet, but when we do, we’ll let you know. What we will likely hear from the City now, if past behaviour is any predictor, is an adamant non-denial denial. Regardless, Victoria is now stuck with a badly degraded version of Ricard’s problematic design, and the only recourse for electors seeking accountability is to get out and vote in November’s election. UPDATE: A follow-up story has been posted here: Victoria City Hall continues cover-up of bridge design flaw (This story was edited in June 2018 to reflect information about the physical size of the plates obtained by FOI. The plates are each about two metres by two metres in size, not one metre by one metre as we originally reported.) David Broadland is the publisher of Focus.
  15. Recent scientific studies show how resident orca populations are affected by diminishing chinook runs and—critically—why the chinook are disappearing. RIVERS RUNNING INTO PUGET SOUND have perennially low returns of chinook salmon—currently estimated at just 10 percent of their historic levels—even though many of them are enhanced with hatcheries. Last year, scientific research connected this decline to secondary sewage treatment plants discharging partially-treated effluent into Puget Sound. Last June, a group of Washington scientists published a study showing the extent to which the decline in the birth rate of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population, listed as “endangered” by both the Canadian and US federal governments, is linked to the precarious state of the Salish Sea’s chinook salmon. Puget Sound chinook, which were given “threatened” status under the US Endangered Species Act in 1999, have become a cross-border issue. Recovery of both Puget Sound chinook and the Southern Resident Killer Whale population would require investment of many billions of dollars by Washington State in new sewage treatment infrastructure. While taking action to protect both the orca and chinook is required by US federal law, Washington State currently has no plans to make that investment. Is our southern neighbour ignoring its responsibility to be a good environmental steward? Killer Whales can be long-lived (“Granny,” above, lived past 100), but their birth rate is dependent on chinook salmon, a threatened species in Puget Sound. (Photo: markmallesonphotography.com) LAST JUNE, A BRILLIANT SEVEN-YEAR-LONG STUDY that correlated the declining birth rate of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population with falling chinook salmon numbers, mercilessly compared what’s happening to the remaining orcas to the mass starvation of the Dutch population at the hands of German Nazis during World War II. The authors stated: “The Nazis closed off the borders of Holland between October 1944 and May 1945, causing massive starvation over a 5–8 month period, with good food conditions before and after. There was a one-third decline in the expected number of births among confirmed pregnant woman during the under-nutrition period. Conceptions during the hunger period were very low. However, women who conceived during the hunger period had higher rates of abortion, premature and stillbirths, neonatal mortality and malformation. Nutrition had its greatest impact on birth weight and length for mothers experiencing hunger during their second half of gestation, when the fetus is growing most rapidly.” The inclusion of the word “Nazis” in a peer-reviewed scientific study on the reproductive dynamics of an endangered whale population may strike some as odd, but the Dutch Famine, as the above events are known, was highly unusual: it took place in a well-developed, literate population that kept excellent health records and the vast majority of those affected survived. Thus it was one of the first events in human history for which scientists had accurate, reliable records to help them understand what health impacts occur when a population of mammals is starved. The orca scientists found that a similar dynamic between food availability and birth rate has been impacting the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population, but with one big difference: For the orca, this is not a one-time event. For them, a months-long famine now occurs almost every year. Dr Samuel Wasser, the study’s lead author, is a research professor of conservation biology at the University of Washington. Wasser’s team gathered evidence from 2008 to 2014. They found that 69 percent of detectable pregnancies in the SRKW population failed during that period. Of those failed pregnancies, the scientists found, “33 percent failed relatively late in gestation or immediately post-partum, when the cost is especially high.” That high cost included an increased risk of mortality for the would-be mother. The scientists observed: “Low availability of chinook salmon appears to be an important stressor among these fish-eating whales as well as a significant cause of late pregnancy failure, including unobserved perinatal loss.” They added: “However, release of lipophilic toxicants during fat metabolism in the nutritionally deprived animals may also provide a contributor to these cumulative effects.” In other words, not only are the orca being starved, but when a starved, pregnant orca begins burning off her fat reserves in response to the scarce supply of food, toxins bioaccumulated in her fat reserves—such as PCBs and PBDEs—begin to have more of an impact on her health, such as a reduced ability to fight infections. This could contribute to the demise of the fetus and increase the risk to the mother’s life. As a consequence of these conditions, the study found “the 31 potentially reproductive females in the SRKW population should have had 48 births between 2008–2015. Yet, only 28 births were recorded during that period. The 7 adult females in K pod have not had a birth since 2011, and just two births since 2007. The 24 females in the remaining two pods (J and L) have averaged less than 1 birth per pod since 2011, with no births in 2013, but had 7 births in 2015. One of the two offspring born in 2014 died.” As of this writing, the population has dwindled to 76 whales. As recently as 1996 there were 98 orca in the 3 pods. How did the scientists determine that 69 percent of all pregnancies failed? After all, many of the pregnancies terminated early on, and there would have been no visible signs that the females had been pregnant. How does one detect whale pregnancies? Detection dogs. Tucker, one of Wasser’s orca poop detection dogs (Photo: University of Washington) Over the seven years of the study, the scientists intermittently followed J, K and L pods through the Salish Sea and used specially-trained dogs stationed at the bow of the research vessel to sniff for orca poop, and then point out its location to the scientists. The poop was collected and later genotyped (associated with a known individual whale) and analyzed for hormone measures of pregnancy occurrence and health. The scientists also looked for chemical indicators of nutritional and disturbance stress in the poop. By making the same measurements over time, they were able to distinguish between nutritional stress caused by low availability of chinook salmon, and disturbance stress caused by the presence of nearby boats. Fisheries scientists had previously estimated that 70 to 80 percent of the SRKW population’s year-long diet consists of chinook salmon. The whales are thought to prefer chinook over other species of salmon partly because they use echolocation to find their prey. Since adult chinook are physically larger (they can weigh as much as 55 kilograms) than adults of other salmon species, chinook might be easier for orca to find. As well, there are runs of chinook returning to spawn in different river systems in the spring, summer and fall (sockeye, coho and chum return only in the fall). In the past that meant a reliable, almost year-round supply of chinook. And chinook may be preferred by the orca simply because of its higher fat content compared to other salmon. Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) estimates that reliance on chinook rises to 90 percent during July and August as the resident orca target returns to the Fraser River and rivers flowing into Puget Sound. Although the link between the abundance of chinook salmon in the Salish Sea and the physical health of the southern resident population was known, Wasser’s research provides the first confirmation that low availability of chinook is suppressing the population’s birth rate and endangering the health of reproductive females. Wasser included comparison over the seven years of the study of the two main chinook runs that are keeping the southern orcas alive: the Columbia River early spring run and the Fraser River summer and fall runs. Depending on the timing of those runs, and how many fish were in them, the southern resident orca experienced more or less intense famines through the winter months and between the spring and summer runs. Estimating how many more chinook would need to be in the Salish Sea to make up for the southern orcas’ nutritional deficit wasn’t part of Wasser’s research. But in 2010, DFO estimated the nutritional requirement of the southern resident orca population, which then numbered 87, at about “1200 to 1400” chinook per day. Over the five-month period the orca occupy their critical habitat in the Salish Sea each year, that would amount to 180,000 to 210,000 chinook. Wasser’s research shows the whales weren’t catching enough chinook in 2010 and the deficit is threatening the population. Yet in the Salish Sea in 2010, the total number of chinook caught by commercial and sport fisheries, plus the number of chinook that escaped to spawn, was about 500,000 fish. (These numbers are from the US EPA and the Pacific Salmon Commission.) Of those, 320,000 returned to their natal rivers to spawn. The 180,000 fish taken by commercial and sports fishers were split roughly in half between Canada and the US, even though 94 percent of the spawning fish were headed for the Fraser River in Canada. Only 6 percent were headed for rivers in Puget Sound. Note that the total catch taken by humans is roughly equivalent to the catch required by orca. The quickest way to end the orca famine would be to end the commercial and sports fisheries for chinook in the Salish Sea, and Canadian scientist David Suzuki called for that action following the release of Wasser’s study. To recover chinook populations, however, will require a deeper understanding of why they are declining. A comparison of the Southern Resident Killer Whale population with their northern cousins helps in that understanding. Wasser noted the “significantly lower” fecundity rate of SRKW compared to the Northern Resident Killer Whale (NRKW) population. From a 2011 study by Ellis, Tower and Ford, we know that in 1974 there were 120 whales in the NRKW population; by 2011 that had risen to 262. According to Canada’s Species at Risk Registry, the population grew to 290 by 2014. DFO used this number in its 2017 reports. Above: Both NRKW and SRKW populations feed primarily on chinook, but one population of whales is growing while the other has stagnated since 1974. Data from DFO and The Center for Whale Research. Over that same period, though, the SRKW population went from 70 to a high of 98 in 1996 and then dropped to the current 76. Although both resident groups experienced a decline in population after 1996-1997 following significant declines in chinook runs, the northern population then recovered and grew steadily while the southern population has languished. As mentioned above, scientists have determined that both orca populations prey heavily on chinook as they return to spawn. It’s also known that, while their territories overlap, the northern orca rely on chinook returning to spawn in rivers north of the Salish Sea. The relative strength of the northern population compared to the southern, then, suggests the low availability of chinook that’s limiting growth of the southern orca population is a result of something that’s happening to the southern chinook that’s not happening to the northern chinook. What could that be? The most dangerous period in a chinook salmon’s life, according to fisheries scientists, is its first year. Research scientist Dr James Meador, an environmental toxicologist with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Fisheries) in Seattle, estimates the current first-year survival rate of Pacific Northwest ocean-type juvenile chinook salmon at 0.4 percent. That’s four-tenths of one percent. Another way of stating that is that 99.6 percent of ocean-type chinook salmon die in their first year. That year is spent in their natal river, their natal estuary and marine waters not too far from that estuary. Since this is where almost all of the mortality occurs, it follows that any substantial recovery of chinook numbers would require conditions in these areas to improve. A doubling of the current rate of survival in that first year—so that only 99.2 percent of them die—could double the number of fish that return to spawn. We’ll come back to Meador later. Wasser and his University of Washington team concluded their paper with this noteworthy comment: “Results of the SRKW study strongly suggest that recovering Fraser River and Columbia River chinook runs should be among the highest priorities for managers aiming to recover this endangered population of killer whales.” What about Puget Sound, where chinook runs are listed as “threatened”? Historically, according to Jim Myers of the Northwest Fisheries Science Centre in Seattle, the Puget Sound chinook runs were about 25 percent greater than the Fraser River’s. But in 2010, according to the US EPA and Pacific Salmon Commission, Puget Sound returns were only 6 percent of Fraser River returns. The much bigger hole in chinook numbers is in Puget Sound. Shouldn’t international attention be focussed there? Instead of accepting responsibility for the role it has played in the orca famine, Washington State has shifted public attention away from its lack of action, thereby reducing the chances of the Southern Resident Killer Whales’ survival. Now the situation is getting critical. The EPA recently downgraded the endangered whales’ survival status from “neutral” to “declining.” Time is running out. Wasser, on sabbatical, was unavailable to explain why the recovery of Puget Sound chinook stocks shouldn’t be a priority in the effort to recover the southern population of killer whales. However, an examination of two scientific studies published by Meador shed light on why Wasser and other fisheries researchers might not regard recovery of the Puget Sound runs as a likely prospect to save the orca. The decline of the Southern Resident Killer Whales may be linked to the low survival rate of juvenile Chinook salmon in contaminated Puget Sound estuaries. (Photo by Roger Tabor, US Fish and Wildlife Service) IN 2013, DR JAMES MEADOR published the study “Do chemically contaminated river estuaries in Puget Sound affect the survival rate of hatchery-reared chinook salmon?” Meador was with the Ecotoxicology and Fish Health Program at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. NFSC is a division of NOAA. In that study, Meador observed: “Ocean-type chinook salmon that rear naturally or are released from a hatchery migrate in the spring and summer to the estuary as subyearlings (age 0+) and reside there for several weeks as they adjust physiologically to seawater and increase in size and lipid content before moving offshore to marine waters… Conversely, juvenile coho salmon spend their first year in freshwater and migrate to the estuary in the spring or summer as yearlings (age 1+), generally spending only a few days in the local estuary before proceeding to more open waters. This major difference in life history can have a large effect on the degree of toxicant exposure in contaminated estuaries, which can affect fish in several ways, including impaired growth, altered behavior, higher rates of pathogenic infections, and changes to physiological homeostasis, all of which can lead to increased rates of mortality.” The physiological process of a juvenile salmon acclimatizing to saltwater is known as “smolting.” The juveniles become “smolts.” Meador examined the records from hatcheries on major rivers flowing into Puget Sound over the 36 years between 1972 and 2008. Some of the rivers had contaminated estuaries while others were considered uncontaminated. He determined the difference in the chinook smolt-to-adult return rate between rivers with contaminated estuaries and those with uncontaminated estuaries. Meador noted that the smolt-to-adult return rate is the “primary metric to assess life-cycle success.” He did the same analysis for hatchery coho in these rivers. Coho pass quickly through their natal estuaries and so would be far less impacted by contaminants in that estuary. The coho data, Meador clarified, “was used as another line of evidence to test the hypothesis that contaminated estuaries are one of the main factors determining the rate of survival for chinook.” And that’s what he found: Coho survival was not substantially impacted by contamination in their natal estuary. Meador noted that “Salmonid survival is dependent on a large number of factors, many that co-occur. The analysis presented here is simplistic, but highlights an important relationship between hatchery chinook survival and contaminated estuaries. Because this analysis examined the smolt-to-adult survival rate in fish from a large number of hatcheries and estuaries over several years in one geographical location, many of these factors were likely accounted for and therefore had less of an effect on the overall results.” As mentioned earlier, mortality in the first year of an ocean-type chinook is high. Meador described this as follows: “Survival for first-year ocean-type chinook in the Pacific Northwest has been estimated at 0.4 percent. Rates of survival over successive years are considerably higher for 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-old fish at 60 percent, 70 percent, 80 percent, and 90 percent, respectively. Clearly, first-year survival is important for chinook, and most of the mortality for first-year ocean-type chinook is attributed to predation, poor growth, pathogens, starvation, and toxicants.” Meador determined whether or not a particular estuary was “contaminated” or “clean” based on existing records of contaminants found in juvenile chinook tissue in that estuary, records of sediment contamination, and whether or not the estuary had been listed as a contaminated site. He noted that most of the data on contaminants he was able to access had focussed on polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). The scientists did not make their own measurements of contaminants in the estuaries, nor did they speculate on the possible sources of such contamination. They simply compared the statistical differences in survival rates for chinook smolts between apparently contaminated estuaries and apparently uncontaminated estuaries. Meador concluded that “when all data were considered…the mean survival for juvenile chinook released from hatcheries into contaminated estuaries was 45 percent lower than for fish outmigrating through uncontaminated estuaries.” In other words, a contaminated natal estuary causes a nearly two-fold reduction in survival compared with uncontaminated estuaries. Wow. That was quite a discovery: A single factor that doubled the mortality of a threatened species of fish that was known to be the cornerstone of the diet of an endangered species of whale. Meador’s data was confined to juveniles that came from hatcheries. Does his conclusion apply to river-reared chinook? Meador’s study reported that, except for the Skagit River, Puget Sound rivers are all dominated by hatchery-bred chinook. But, for juveniles whose parents spawned in rivers, the effect of contaminants may be even greater than for hatchery-bred fish. Meador noted that “wild juvenile chinook spend approximately twice as long in the estuary as do hatchery fish, which would likely increase their exposure to harmful chemicals.” If the incidence of a contaminated natal estuary was limited to one or two of Puget Sound’s smaller rivers, this effect might not be of too great consequence. But that’s not the case. Some of the Sound’s largest river systems have contaminated estuaries. For example, the Snohomish and Puyallup rivers have the second and third largest drainage areas in the Puget Sound Basin, an indication of their potential for rearing chinook. Two forks of the Snohomish—the Skykomish and the Snoqualmie—have, according to Washington fisheries scientists, the potential for up to 84,000 spawners. But over the last four decades these rivers have been averaging only 4,500, a mere 5 percent of this river system’s potential. Meador’s research suggests this and other rivers’ collective capacity to provide nourishment for a healthy Southern Resident orca population is being cut in half, year after year, by the contamination in their estuaries. But what contamination? The Puyallup River—which once hosted one of the largest chinook salmon runs in Puget Sound—now hosts the Tacoma Central Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is permitted to discharge up to 10,000 kilograms of suspended solids per day into the river’s estuary, habitat critical to juvenile chinook. IN 2016, MEADOR PUBLISHED “Contaminants of emerging concern in a large temperate estuary” in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution. The CECs targeted in the study included a long list of pharmaceutical and personal care products, hormones, and a number of industrial compounds. Many of these substances, the authors observed, “are potent human and animal medicines.” They considered their targets to be just a “representative subset” of CECs in the environment, not a comprehensive list of what’s actually there. The scientists estimated there are over 4000 CECs leaking out into the ecosphere. Meador referenced his earlier study, noting that “juvenile chinook salmon migrating through contaminated estuaries in Puget Sound exhibited a two-fold reduction in survival compared to those migrating through uncontaminated estuaries.” His choice of targets suggests that he suspected secondary sewage treatment plants might be the source of the contamination that is causing that two-fold reduction in juvenile chinook survival. He noted that “some CECs are poorly removed by wastewater treatment plant processing or are discharged to surface waters, including streams, estuaries, or open marine waters due to secondary bypass or combined sewer overflows.” Having found no other research by other scientists along this line of investigation, Meador noted that “bioaccumulation and comparative toxicity to aquatic species constitutes the largest data gap in assessing ecological risk” posed by CECs. Meador’s team targeted 150 contaminants. They focussed on three estuaries, two considered to be contaminated and one uncontaminated. The two contaminated estuaries (Puyallup River and Sinclair Inlet) each had one or more secondary sewage treatment plants discharging treated effluent into the rivers on which they were located. The third, the Nisqually River estuary, which doesn’t have a sewage treatment plant above it, was intended as a reference—an uncontaminated estuary to establish the extent to which the other two were contaminated. The researchers took water samples from the estuaries and effluent from the treatment plants and analyzed each for the 150 target contaminants. As well, they netted juvenile chinook and Staghorn sculpin from the estuaries and whole-body tissue analyses for contaminants were performed. Eighty-one of the CEC’s were found in effluent being discharged from the treatment plants; 25 were detected in the estuaries. To the surprise of the researchers, nine (9) of the CECs were detected in the water column of the Nisqually estuary, which they had supposed was uncontaminated. Their data indicated an even more disturbing situation: “Collectively, we detected 42 compounds in whole-body fish. CECs in juvenile chinook salmon were detected at greater frequency and higher concentrations compared to Staghorn sculpin.” Finding more CECs in fish tissue than estuary water meant juvenile chinook were quickly bioaccumulating the CECs. Moreover, the chinook were absorbing a higher dose of toxins in just a few weeks than were the Staghorn sculpin, which spent their entire life in the estuary. Of the targeted contaminants, 37 were found in chinook. This included, from A to Z: Amitriptyline, Amlodipine, Amphetamine, Azithromycin, Benztropine, Bisphenol A, Caffeine, DEET, Diazepam, Diltiazem, Diltiazem desmethyl… well, you get the picture. How might multi-contaminant doses lower the survival rate of juvenile chinook? The scientists found “several compounds in water and tissue that have the potential to affect fish growth, behavior, reproduction, immune function, and antibiotic resistance,” all of which could lead to early mortality. But they also noted that even if individual contaminants weren’t at a lethal level in tissue or organs, the cumulative effect of so many different contaminants in the juvenile chinook at the same time could very well be lethal—the drug-cocktail effect that so many humans experience, sometimes with fatal results. The scientists put this finding in the context of Puget Sound as a whole: “The greater Puget Sound area contains 106 publicly-owned wastewater treatment plants that discharge at an average total flow about 1347 million litres per day (Washington Department of Ecology (2010)). Our study examined two of these with a combined total of 71 million litres per day. The output for these two wastewater treatment plants alone was on the order of kilogram quantities of detected CECs per day into estuarine waters of Puget Sound. Considering the low percentage of commercially available pharmaceutical and personal care products analyzed in this study and the amount of effluent discharged to Puget Sound waters, it is possible that a substantial load of potentially harmful chemicals are introduced into streams and nearshore marine waters daily. If the concentrations from the two studied effluents are representative of that from other wastewater treatment plants in Puget Sound, then it is reasonable to assume that inputs to streams and nearshore waters are substantial and likely on the order of 121 kilograms per day (approximately 44,000 kilograms annually) and even higher if secondary treatment bypass, permitted flows, maximum outputs, unmeasured compounds, septic system contributions, and transboundary contributions are considered.” Some of Puget Sound’s largest secondary sewage treatment plants. There are 106 publicly-owned sewage treatment plants in the Puget Sound Basin. Many are located on or near to the natal estuaries of threatened chinook salmon runs. All of Puget Sound is considered to be an estuarine ecosystem. The data the scientists collected contained another ominous finding. The concentrations of the targeted contaminants found in the effluent from the treatment plants were unexpectedly high, by American standards. Meador found that “a large percentage of the chemicals detected in Puget Sound effluents are among the highest concentrations reported in the US, which may be a function of per capita usage of these compounds or the treatment processes used at these wastewater treatment plants.” One final, noteworthy point: In the estuary that was thought to be uncontaminated—the mouth of the Nisqually—the researchers found 9 of the targeted contaminants in estuary water and 13 in chinook. Meador observed, “Based on our water and fish data, the Nisqually estuary was more contaminated than expected, which highlights the difficulties of establishing suitable non-polluted reference sites for these ubiquitously distributed CECs.” This observation has an interesting implication with respect to Meador’s earlier study, mentioned above, in which he was comparing the survival rates of juvenile chinook between contaminated estuaries and those considered uncontaminated. The Nisqually estuary was on the “uncontaminated” side of the ledger in that study, but on investigation it was, in reality, merely less contaminated. Would Meador’s finding of double the rate of mortality have risen if he actually had a number of pristine estuaries to compare with those that are contaminated? IN AN EARLIER STORY (“Washington’s phony sewage war with Victoria,” Focus, May 2016) we reported on the 32.4 million kilograms of suspended solids permitted to be discharged by 77 of Puget Sound’s largest wastewater treatment plants each year. Attached to those solids are many contaminants, including PCBs and PBDEs, not targeted by Meador’s study, but known to have a negative impact on the health of fish and their sources of food. The additional impact on chinook smolts, after they leave their natal estuaries and migrate through this near-shore chemical soup—dubbed “Poisoned Waters” by the 2005 PBS film of that name—is hinted at by the Puget Sound Basin’s 10-fold decline in chinook returns from historic numbers. As the urbanization of Puget Sound’s shores has spread, and the daily recontamination of marine and estuarine waters has grown, the chinook and the Southern Resident Killer Whales have been pushed closer and closer toward extinction. This intense urbanization—right beside the critical habitat of both whales and their prey—is not occurring for the Northern Resident Killer Whale population, and that difference may be the deciding factor in the different birth rates of the two populations. Given the seriousness of the situation and the headlines in the media about drugged fish in Puget Sound, one might have reasonably expected that Washington State’s political leaders would respond to Meador’s findings. After all, what Everett-Seattle-Tacoma residents were flushing down their toilets into Puget Sound by way of sewage treatment plants was doubling the rate of mortality of a fish already listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. They did respond, but apparently only to deflect attention away from Puget Sound’s contamination from sewage plants. To do that they pointed at…Victoria. Just two days after an embarrassing drugged-chinook story appeared in the Seattle Times, Washington State Representative Jeff Morris boldly announced a proposal to ban Washington State employees from claiming travel expenses for trips made to Victoria until Victoria built a sewage treatment plant just like the ones around Puget Sound. A week later, Morris sent a letter to Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps claiming that “chemical loading” from Victoria’s marine-based sewage treatment system poses a “long-term risk” to “our shared waters.” Morris’ letter was signed by 36 other Washington legislators whose districts border on Puget Sound. The legislators’ letter informed Helps: “We recognize the shared risk in short-term loss of tourism activity on both sides of the border from publicity surrounding [Victoria’s lack of secondary sewage treatment]. However, we believe the long-term damage to marine mammals, in particular, but all marine wildlife, does more long-term damage to ecotourism.” Washington State Representative Jeff Morris Morris’ idea that extinctions should be prevented because they’re bad for tourism highlights the gap between a politician’s level of understanding of this critical issue and the depth of knowledge that has been created by scientists like Wasser and Meador. If State legislators were drawing up an action plan for the recovery of Puget Sound, they could do worse than to put on their list: “Read some science about contamination.” The Washington legislators’ proposal to discourage State employees from travelling to Victoria—a move they didn’t follow through on—wasn’t the only action precipitated by Meador’s science. There was a bureaucratic response as well. The Puget Sound Partnership (PSP), which describes itself as “the State agency leading the region’s collective effort to restore and protect Puget Sound,” undertook two related “actions” after Meador’s study had been published. One of those was “Action 0156,” which directed the University of Washington to conduct an “analysis of impacts…from Victoria, BC sewage.” Nowhere to be found on PSP’s long list of actions was any analysis of the impacts from the 106 publicly-owned sewage treatment plants around the Sound that are permitted to discharge over 32.4 million kilograms of suspended solids each year. The PSP also committed to “Action 0048,” which was “Identifying sources of contaminants harmful to juvenile salmon.” PSP reports that after the expenditure of $273,000, the project is “off-schedule.” Contacted by Focus, the Washington State Department of Ecology—the agency responsible for undertaking the analysis—clarified that the study “was not actually funded.” It appears that little else on the “Action” list for the Sound’s recovery is funded, either. PSP estimated its list of “Actions” for 2016 would cost $130 million, but acknowledged that only $17 million of that had been found. Washington’s Department of Ecology confirmed that, as of 2016, the State had no plans to upgrade or relocate any of the existing large sewage treatment plants on Puget Sound. Washington State says it’s commited to the recovery of Puget Sound. That would require the State to act on its scientists’ findings about the ecological impacts of ongoing contamination from its sewage treatment facilities. Unfortunately, the State’s current course doesn’t appear likely to produce anything that the Southern Resident Killer Whales will be able to chew on. David Broadland is the publisher of Focus Magazine.
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