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    Judith Lavoie
    Herring—a crucial keystone species, feeding whales, salmon, pinnipeds and birds—are struggling to recover from over-harvesting, yet more fisheries are planned.
     
    AN EXTRAORDINARY SHOW is taking place almost daily off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. 
    Whale-watching tourists and boaters around East Sooke and Race Rocks watch in awe as 45-tonne humpback whales open their massive jaws while small silver fish dance and jump, attempting to escape. Overhead, thousands of cackling seabirds use the opportunity to pick up dinner. 
     

    Seagulls enjoying a herring dinner (photo by Shorelines Photography)
     
    “You get a few thousand sea birds feeding on a bait ball of herring under the water—working it together as a group to put food in their bellies. Then you get the humpback whales coming in and lunge feeding at the surface with their mouths open—big enough to swallow half a small car,” said Brett Soberg, co-owner of Eagle Wing Whale and Wildlife Tours. 
    “In that area there are probably, conservatively between 10 and 20 humpback whales. . . .This is something special. The forage fish are dense enough to pull in these massive eating machines,” Soberg said. 
     

    Herring have helped support the resurgence of humpbacks feeding around Vancouver Island after they were almost wiped out by whaling. (photo by Clint William, Showtime Photography)
     
    It is unusual to find herring in the East Sooke and Race Rocks area and the explanation may be a 170-tonne spawn this spring in Esquimalt. It is the first time since the 1990s that herring have spawned in Esquimalt Harbour and Esquimalt Lagoon. 
    “If this is the beginning of a wonderful trend to have herring returning and spawning off the southern Greater Victoria region, that would be brilliant,” Soberg said. 
    The show depends entirely on the presence of herring, the forage fish at the base of the coastal food web, meaning whales, salmon, pinnipeds and birds all rely to some extent on healthy herring populations. 
    However, B.C.’s herring populations are not healthy and conservation organizations fear an upcoming food and bait herring fishery, followed by the larger spring roe fishery could wipe out smaller populations in the Strait of Georgia and, ultimately, lead to extirpation. 
    Herring stocks collapsed in the 1960s after years of overfishing and, despite intermittent efforts to rebuild, populations have continued to decline. Four out of five of the major herring populations in B.C.—Central Coast, Haida Gwaii, Prince Rupert and West Coast Vancouver Island —remained closed to herring fishing this spring, with the Strait of Georgia the only area remaining open. 
     

    Herring stocks have recently spawned in Esquimalt Harbour and Esquimalt Lagoon—the first time since the 1990s. (photo by Clint William, Showtime Photography)
     
    The catch was reduced from 20 percent of predicted biomass to 10 percent, but, after the seiners moved through, the gillnet fleet was unable to complete their allotted catch, bringing in only 4,300 tonnes of the 7,850 quota. 
    In Haida Gwaii the herring fishery was closed in 1994 after stocks collapsed, with members of the Haida Nation claiming the previous year’s commercial fishery wiped out the population. The herring have not yet returned. 
    The herring roe fishery kills fish for the roe, as opposed to the Indigenous system of collecting roe from kelp or branches and allowing fish to spawn again.  
    Now, conservation organizations are pleading with Fisheries and Oceans Canada to halt the food and bait fishery, pointing to studies (and here) showing the harm in targeting small populations. 
    Jim Shortreed, a herring advocate who works on re-establishing herring habitat, said the food and bait fishery is responsible for the extermination of many local populations. 
    “They go after these sub-stocks and they don’t know exactly where those stocks spawn, they just know they exist. They find them on their depth sounders and they just go and get them. No one knows where those fish were going to spawn,” he said. 
    Herring rely on external fertilization, with females laying eggs that are then fertilized by males, so a critical mass of fish is necessary to maintain populations 
    “When you fish the stock down to a certain level, the fish become inefficient at bouncing back,” Shortreed said. 
    “Many of our sub-stocks are gone, specifically sub-stocks in Sooke, Victoria, Southern Gulf Islands, Discovery Islands, Campbell River, Sunshine Coast and Cherry Point,” he said. 
    Shortreed is sceptical that any populations can be categorically protected, especially as the Strait of Georgia stock assessment region stretches from Port Renfrew, around Victoria, through the Gulf Islands and up to Campbell River. 
    The food and bait fishery in the Strait of Georgia has ranged from 1,759 tonnes to 7,393 tonnes between 2011 and 2021. 
    Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) is currently considering the quota for the 2022-23 Pacific herring season and the food and bait fishery, will represent a portion of the overall quota for the Strait of Georgia. 
    The period for public comment ended November 16 and the fishery was due to start about November 20, but, so far, has been delayed. 
    DFO spokeswoman Lauren Girdler told Focus that Esquimalt and Area 19, which runs from Saanich to Victoria, would not be included in either the food and bait fishery or the much-larger roe herring fishery next year. 
    Closures are implemented in areas where spawning aggregations have been at low levels, Girdler said. “Most recently, this includes areas in the Strait of Georgia south of Nanaimo and along the Sunshine Coast where spawn survey information and local observations show little to no spawning herring,” she said in an emailed response to questions from Focus. 
    Conservation is the main priority and scientific surveys and biological sampling programs are carried out in all major herring stock areas, she said. 
    Rob Morley, executive director of the Herring Conservation and Research Society, an organization funded by industry, said the draft plan calls for the fishery to be held in the area north of Nanaimo, so fish from the Esquimalt spawn would not be at risk. 
    Stocks in the Strait of Georgia are healthy, said Morley, adding that the fishery takes only a fraction of the biomass. 
    “I take issue with the idea that stocks in other areas have been wiped out. Where did the fish come from that spawned in the areas they are talking about?” he asked. 
    “They’re really not individual, separate populations. They’re part of one larger population and [although] most of them go back to the same general area they spawned in, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they go to other areas and that’s why we see these spawns show up in places like Sooke and Esquimalt and Texada Island because they are all part of the same population, they just chose to go somewhere else this year,” Morley said. 
    All of which gives little comfort to opponents of the fishery who question why, with the history of disappearing stocks, DFO would allow a food and bait fishery this fall. 
    “We remember the large volumes of local herring stocks which anglers jigged for around Victoria. This continued sustainably for many years until uncontrolled commercial fishing wiped out these stocks,” Wayne Zaccarelli, secretary-treasurer of the Amalgamated Conservation Society said in a letter to DFO. 
    The science branch of DFO has recognized that the food and bait fishery—with much of the fish used for pet food, fish and aquarium feed and bait—is the primary reason for the extirpation of unique local herring stocks, Zaccarelli wrote. 
    “These herring are the lifeblood of the ocean which support numerous fish, bird and mammal species. Recent research shows that herring are the primary prey species for chinook and coho salmon,” he said. 
     

    Many coastal species rely on herring (photo by Clint William, Showtime Photography)
     
    The Amalgamated Conservation Society, which has ten member associations representing more than 5,000 people, has unanimously voted to recommend closure of the food and bait fishery in the Strait of Georgia. 
    The Pacific Marine Conservation Caucus, made up of nine conservation groups, in a letter to DFO, said with rising natural mortality and declining biomass, the harvest rate for the annual fishery should not exceed four percent. 
    The Conservation Caucus is encouraged that DFO is undertaking a pilot program to conduct genetic analyses from at least four spawning sites in the Strait of Georgia and samples from the food and bait fishery catches should also be used to build a baseline of genetic information, said the letter signed by John Driscoll, David Suzuki Foundation fisheries analyst. 
    Tsawout Hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey, a member of the WSANEC Leadership Council, said letters have been sent to Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray asking that the Strait of Georgia fishery be closed to allow stocks to rebuild, but there has been no official response. 
    “We’ve had meetings with them, but they want to talk about fisheries in general, not specific species,” Pelkey said. 
    “I think if they don’t shut it right down, this could go the way of the cod,” said Pelkey, adding that herring used to be ubiquitous and part of everyday life for WSANEC people. 
    “People have to realize that when the herring go, so will everything. The salmon and the whales,” he said. 
    For now, there is an astounding resurgence of humpbacks feeding around Vancouver Island after they were almost wiped out by whaling. 
    However, in addition to the threats of ship strikes, entanglement with fishing gear and climate change, the humpbacks could face a potential prey shortage and herring are vital to their diet with recent research showing humpbacks around northern Vancouver Island rely on juvenile herring for at least 50 percent of their energy requirements. 
    As Brett Soberg reflects on the excitement of seeing the humpback feeding frenzies, he worries about what might happen if the herring disappear. 
    “We need to shift gears here and be a bit more sustainable and allow the herring to come back because that just feeds everything,” Soberg said. 
     Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world, along with the politics around them.
     
     
     

    Rochelle Baker
    A Freedom of Information investigation shows that an experienced RCMP officer quit the force's Community-Industry Response Group over "unjustifiable" actions taken against protestors at Fairy Creek.
     
    By Jen Osborne / Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
     
    AT LEAST ONE POLICE OFFICER joined protesters, journalists and politicians raising alarm bells over RCMP enforcement tactics during the peak of conflict at the Fairy Creek old-growth blockades in B.C. during the summer of 2021.
    The officer, a former member of the RCMP’s specialized team that deals with resource extraction protests, resigned from the task force over concerns about “unjustifiable” police behaviour during an August crackdown on activists, a freedom-of-information (FOI) request shows. 
    The resignation from the RCMP’s controversial Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) came in an email dated Sept. 5, 2021, after the officer, with 13 years of experience, was sent to the long-running protest in the Port Renfrew area on southeastern Vancouver Island. 
    The officer, whose name was redacted, remains a member of the RCMP, according to FOI documents obtained by freelance photographer Jen Osborne, who works with Canada’s National Observer. 
    After he left the task force, the officer wrote a report outlining his concerns over some tactics used to enforce a court injunction against the August blockades.  
    RCMP officers smashed the windows of vehicles parked in the injunction zone, seized and possibly trashed protesters’ personal property and improperly handled protesters, he said in a Sept. 22 report sent to Sgt. Antonio Hernandez. 
    Officers wore thin blue line patches, were ordered to remove their name tags and socialized inappropriately with Teal Cedar workers and members of the forestry company’s private security force, he added. The company, a subsidiary of Teal Jones, secured a court injunction to halt the blockades in its logging licence area. 
    Officers posted at Fairy Creek talked with loggers and security “non-stop,” the officer said. 
    “Jokes and stories about ‘fucking hippies’ and how much they stink were common.” 
    The officer said he wasn’t privy to all the reasons for the decisions made at the blockade.
    “That being said, I saw enough to know that I did not want to be involved and actions were certainly a departure from what we practise at our home detachments.” 
    The concerns raised by the officer mirror long-standing complaints by legal and rights groups, journalist associations and activists about the RCMP’s policing of dissent tied to resource extraction industries, especially when dealing with Indigenous Peoples. Criticism of the C-IRG in particular isn’t limited to Fairy Creek and includes the unit’s role at pipeline protests in Wet’suwet’en territory and more recently, logging protests near Argenta in the B.C. Interior.  
    The officer’s first report entry notes his arrival at the Fairy Creek blockade’s Mesachie Lake camp for a briefing by outgoing officers the day after a highly publicized incident between the RCMP and protesters where officers used pepper spray and force to break up and arrest protesters on Aug. 21, 2021. 
    Numerous videos of the incident surfaced on the internet showing RCMP officers emptying large canisters of pepper spray into people’s faces at close range and forcefully pushing and pulling to break up a blob of protesters, who’d grouped together and linked arms to make their arrests more difficult. 
    In some videos, an officer in a green uniform can be seen pulling COVID-19 masks off protesters. In other instances, people being arrested had their backpacks cut off or removed by officers, who then threw the bags to the side of the road. 
    The pepper spray incident was a flashpoint of public concern, with protesters alleging regular use of excessive force by police, federal politicians calling for investigations and a slew of complaints filed with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), the federal oversight body for the RCMP. 
    The month before, the B.C. Supreme Court roundly condemned the RCMP for violating Charter rights and freedom of the media because police used vast exclusion zones, checkpoints and other measures to restrict the movement and ability of journalists reporting on the blockade. Media and public access to the injunction area continued to be highly controlled by police during the course of the blockade, with RCMP citing civilian and officer safety as the reasons. 
     
    Smashed windows, trashed backpacks and custody concerns
    The resigning C-IRG officer said during his initial briefing the day after the pepper spray incident, two officers reported smashing car windows to clear vehicles that remained parked in a gravel pit and along the Granite Main Road to make sure no one was inside. 
    “In my 12-plus years of service, I have never done this. I do not agree this was necessary,” the officer wrote in his report. 
    In another instance at the blockade’s Red Dress Camp, the C-IRG member described the improper handling of both personal property and arrestees after protesters blocked Granite Main Road. 
    A woman lying on the ground with her backpack was refusing to walk to a police vehicle, the officer’s report said. An officer, whose name and rank are redacted, told her if she got up and walked to the car, she could keep her belongings, but if not, they’d be thrown in the garbage. 
    When she refused to comply and police carried her away, the C-IRG member picked up the backpack and informed her he would give it to a friend to keep. 
    But the other officer involved took away the backpack, said no to the plan and threw it into the back of a police truck. It’s not clear where the backpack went or if it was ever returned to the owner, the officer reported. 
    “I understand the difference between abandoned property and personal property,” the officer said. 
    “The backpack was not abandoned and should have been given to the owner upon release.” 
    He also referred to following up on a later complaint from a blockade organizer about backpacks going missing. 
    “I spoke with two different Teal Cedar workers who said all the backpacks they received from the RCMP were being thrown out.” 
    Eight people were arrested and placed into two police vans for transport while the officer was on site. The officer was driving one van with four male occupants, while the other was transporting the women in custody. 
    He and the other driver were told to release all those arrested without charges — but rather than transport them to nearby Port Renfrew, they were directed to take them to Lake Cowichan, about an hour’s drive away. 
    “The reasoning was to make it harder and more inconvenient for them to return than simply taking them out of the injunction area,'' the officer wrote.
    “Holding someone in custody to make things more inconvenient and driving them down the highway when they are to be released without charges is not justifiable.”
    The officer said he’d talked to another officer in a separate instance who’d also been told to drive a detainee to Duncan, a full two hours away from the injunction area. 
     
    Questions on impartiality and inappropriate conduct
    A member of the C-IRG since 2021, the officer noted he’d been formerly deployed to Houston, B.C., on three separate occasions in 2019 and 2020 during RCMP enforcement of court injunctions tied to the years-long blockade and protest activities by hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs and their allies to halt construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. 
    “When I was in Houston, we were given fairly clear directions that we were not to be visiting and chatting with CGL security or workers,” he said, noting the need to remain impartial. 
    The member also worried that officers didn’t respond in a timely way to Fairy Creek protesters’ allegations that industry workers were threatening them. 
    The officer said he witnessed protesters approach police three times to report threats by an industry worker, noting they had video proof and the alleged offender was in the area. But they were told to make a report at the nearest police detachment an hour away, he added. 
    “It is obvious this can result in a loss of evidence and does not show that we are impartial,” he said. 
    “This also leaves a person who uttered a threat in the same area as the victim with no conditions.”  
    RCMP members were ordered to remove name tags and given controversial thin blue line patches to wear on duty, the officer said. 
    The patch, which shows a Canadian maple leaf with a blue line through the middle, is reportedly a symbol of solidarity between police officers. But the image is opposed by numerous civilian groups and political fronts — such as the Indigenous Land Back and Black Lives Matter movements — which argue it conveys division, colonialism and racism, particularly given the symbol has been appropriated by white supremacists. Numerous police forces, including the RCMP, have directives not to wear the insignia but have faced pushback from officers and unions.
    The officer witnessed a box of the patches at Fairy Creek, and the insignia was handed out to police, he said. 
    “We were told the blue line patches piss off the hippies, so wear them,” he said, adding one officer had three of them on his uniform. 
     
    RCMP response to allegations 
    A total of 250 police complaints related to the Fairy Creek blockades have been filed with the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC), the federal independent oversight agency said Wednesday. Of the total, 108 met the commission’s mandate and are subject to an RCMP investigation, and potentially a CRCC review if complainants aren’t satisfied with police findings.  
    RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Chris Manseau confirmed C-IRG leadership and the RCMP professional standards unit were informed of the allegations made by an officer tendering a resignation from the task force.  
    “The matter was not pursued by the member who made the allegations, and they later volunteered again to deploy to Fairy Creek, as a non-CIRG officer,” Manseau said in an email. 
    C-IRG leaders provide clear direction that officers are expected to remain impartial when dealing with all individuals at protests, he said. 
    Officers can choose not to wear their numbered badge because several members have been targeted and harassed online, himself included, when their names are provided, Manseau said. 
    Blue line patches were worn at the beginning of enforcement at the blockade. But the practice stopped shortly after it was determined the public viewed it negatively and the RCMP commissioner provided clear direction on the patches, he added. 
    People taken into custody were transported to the nearest RCMP detachment, Manseau said, noting the measure wasn’t intended to be punitive or burdensome. 
    Complaints were coming from Port Renfrew about the number of people being released into the small community, he said. 
    Allegations of individual policy violations are taken seriously and investigated appropriately, Manseau said, including wilful destruction of property. 
    “Our enforcement actions are well-documented, including the use of body-worn cameras, which we are prepared to disclose as part of evidence in criminal proceedings, or as part of a complaint process.” 
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Canada’s National Observer.

    Leslie Campbell
    FOCUS congratulates two of its regular writers—Russ Francis and Stephen Hume—on winning 2022 Jack Webster Awards, announced on November 3, 2022.
     
    RUSS FRANCIS won a Webster for Excellence in Environmental Reporting for the second year in a row, this time for his story “Electric Vehicles: Will they Really Drive Us to a Better Planet?”
    In 2021, Francis won the award for his story “One in 7 deaths of Canadians are due to fossil fuel particles, which also help viruses invade our bodies”.
    Francis has been a regular contributor to FOCUS for over five years. He previously held staff positions with Monday Magazine and several large dailies, including the Vancouver Sun. His freelance pieces have been published in various publications worldwide. At Monday Magazine, in 2000, he won a Webster award of distinction, with T.K. Demmings and Ross Crockford, for a Victoria city hall story, and won wide praise for helping end a highly questionable city deal with a California developer, through his Arena Deathwatch column. In 2008, he enrolled in UVic’s Master of Public Administration program, subsequently working as a BC government analyst for 10 years in various ministries. He returned to reporting in 2018, concentrating on energy policy and the climate emergency for Focus.
     
     Russ Francis
     
    In learning of the award, Russ commented: “Congratulations to the other finalists, Nathan Griffiths at the Vancouver Sun and Province, and Jude Isabella at Hakai Magazine. Both excellent! And, of course, thanks to Leslie Campbell and David Broadland at Focus Magazine for their continuing advice and support.
    Stephen Hume won the Bruce Hutchison Lifetime Achievement Award for his 5 decades of journalism with publications like the Edmonton Journal and Vancouver Sun.
     

    Stephen Hume
     
    As the Webster Award tribute notes, “Over a journalistic career spanning half a century (and still going strong), Stephen Hume has been an Arctic Correspondent, Editor-in-Chief, General Manager, published poet and author of seven books, a journalism instructor at Vancouver Island university and for 30-plus years a beloved columnist for The Vancouver Sun and now for Focus on Victoria magazine. Mr. Hume has a deep love for and knowledge about British Columbia—its natural beauty, abundant wildlife, complex history, rich resources, diverse people. He has travelled every region of our vast province, telling stories from small towns and big cities, about everyday folks and powerful leaders. Hume demonstrates mastery of long-form feature writing, weaving many threads of a story together into a multi-layered whole informed by deep historical knowledge and current context. His skill and insight has won him many fans of his columns over the years and numerous journalism awards including, but not limited to the Southam President’s Award for commentary, many national newspaper award citations, and a Webster Award in 2000.”
    There’s a wonderful video interview with (and tribute to) Stephen, available about 13.5 minutes into the awards ceremony, which can be viewed here. A list of Stephen Hume’s many reports and essays in Focus is here.
    Other winners included CBC Victoria for Excellence in Health Reporting for “A Crisis in Care: The Family Doctor Shortage in Greater Victoria”, and Victoria’s Andrew MacLeod of the Tyee for his story “FOI Reveals a Problem-Plagued BC $8.9-Million Tech Project”. See the complete list of award finalists, with links to all their articles here.
    Named for influential reporter and commentator Jack Webster, who worked in print, radio and television, the awards are presented annually by the Webster Foundation whose mission is to foster and celebrate excellence in journalism to protect the public interest for British Columbians. 
    Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS—and pleased and proud to work with Russ and Stephen and other excellent writers dedicated to investigating important regional issues.

    Judith Lavoie
    It’s the government that most affects your daily life—so why do most people not vote?
     
    IN THE DAYS LEADING UP to the mid-October municipal elections, small knots of residents gathered on street corners in the residential area of View Royal bordering Esquimalt Harbour.
    Suddenly, there was energy around the election. Conversations in the pub turned to the mayoral contest and residents scrolled through the draft Official Community Plan—a document not usually on anyone’s light reading list—trying to figure out whether multi-storey buildings were planned for the primarily large-lot, single family area.
    Interest spiked when then-incumbent mayor David Screech became publicly and noisily involved in a shouting match at a private gathering convened to meet the new mayoral candidate, Sid Tobias, who was subsequently elected.
    It had all the makings of a compelling contest, even though the council candidates were largely incumbents.
    But, on election day, most View Royal voters chose to stay away from the polls. Out of an estimated 9,169 eligible voters, only 2,382 voted, meaning a 25.98 percent turnout, down almost four points from the 2018 election.
    It was the same story in Langford where two slates offered clearly different visions. Drama was inevitable as battle lines were set between long-time Mayor Stew Young and those questioning his vision of breakneck development.
    In the fast-growing city, where many residents are renters or newcomers, some slippage was expected, but hopes were high that turnout would soar from the dismal 18.49 percent turnout in 2018—a figure that gave Langford the dubious distinction of having the second-lowest turnout in the province.
    Turnout did increase to 24 percent, meaning 8,437 out of an estimated 35,153 eligible voters cast ballots, but it was far from the hoped-for surge.
    In Victoria, where topics such as bike lanes and picnic tables at Clover Point have incensed residents, 36.81 percent voted, putting the city above the provincial average of 29.2 per cent, but falling far short of a ringing endorsement for new Mayor Marianne Alto and her council.
    Despite hot button issues such as homelessness, law enforcement, the opioid crisis and traffic congestion, all of which land on the desks of local councils—although they often do not have the budget or mandate to solve them—bursts of dissatisfaction and outrage were apparently not enough to convince people to vote.
    The paradox is that, although local government is, in many ways, the body that has the most relevance to people’s day-to-day lives—whether because of housing, zoning or policing—it is also the one that has the least power and the least revenues, said University of Victoria political science professor Michael Prince.
    “So, the government that is closest to us and the one that could be most meaningful to us, is the one restricted in its capacity to offer peace, order and good government,” he said.
    A belief that local councils will not solve the increasing urban problems probably affects voting, along with a lack of knowledge about candidates.
    University of Victoria assistant professor of political science Justin Leifso finds it curious that, although people appear concerned about issues such as a housing, they do not vote.
    “Municipal politics just doesn’t capture the political imagination in Canada as much as federal and provincial,” Leifso said.
    A partial explanation may be that, with an expanding population, many new residents do not yet have a sense of belonging to the community, which makes it daunting for them to sort out the local political landscape, Leifso said.
    Conversely, this year, a surprising number of people put their names forward as candidates.
    Victoria attracted eight mayoral candidates and 37 people vied for the eight council seats while Victoria’s School District 61 saw 30 candidates—most of them without a public profile—competing for nine trustee positions.
    The number of people ready to put time and effort into serving the community is heartening, even though voter turnout was low, Prince said.
    “The takeaway good news is that there were a lot of new young people—a new generation—so it’s encouraging that there’s still a commitment and people wanting to serve,” he said.
    While the number of school board candidates was eye-glazing, and many without children in the school system saw little point in voting for school trustees, the makeup of school boards is taking on increased importance, Leifso sai
    “There are really crucial social questions with regards to queer rights and trans rights, so school board elections are becoming really hot topics,” he said.
    But, the number of candidates on the ballot mean voters struggle to sort out where candidates stand.
    Curtis Evans, who is in the process of moving from Victoria to View Royal, did not vote in either community although he always votes in provincial and federal elections.
    “The main reason is I had no idea who anybody was. It was just lack of information about what people were representing,” Evans said.
    “It’s different when it’s provincial or national because you have a chance to hear from the (political) parties and there are way less people,” he said.
    Party politics plays only a minor role in municipal elections on Vancouver Island, but that means that there is not an easily accessible, big picture explanation of a candidate’s basic beliefs.
    “I probably could have learned by doing some research, talking to people and finding out what these individuals represented, but the amount of effort to do that was disproportionate to the amount of impact it would have on my life,” Evans said.
    “That 15 to 20 hours is more valuable spent on my other busy things like my kid and my business and my work,” he said.
    A possible solution could be to demand that each candidate fill in a lengthy questionnaire on where they stand on important issues and it could be used later to hold them to account, Evans said.
    For example, if someone says they are more for social investment than capital investment it would give a good idea of where they stand, he said.
    Shawna Abbott, a long-term Langford resident, did not vote municipally although she always votes in provincial and federal elections.
    “I feel like I’m just not educated enough in my neighbourhood although I do educate myself when it comes to provincial and federal,” said Abbott, adding that she had not realized a local election was imminent until campaign signs appeared.
    “All of a sudden there’s 30 signs up for people I’ve never even heard of. When it’s federal or provincial you know if [someone] is NDP or Liberal or Conservative, but this is just a name on a board,” said Abbott, adding that no candidates knocked on her door and she received only one flyer.
    “I just wouldn’t know where to start to try and learn about them,” she said.
    Prince agrees that, without identifiable political parties backing candidates, it is more difficult for voters to choose—especially when faced with such lengthy lists.
    “But a lot of places don’t like the idea that local elections would be populated by mainstream parties,” he said.
    Voters wanting to know more about candidates can look at slates, where like-minded candidates band together, or at endorsements from labour, business or teachers’ groups, but Prince believes, during this election campaign, more decisions were made informally, with people emailing each other or talking to friends and neighbours, especially when looking at lists of unknown people.
    “I have a hunch that’s going on more and more. We have a core of really engaged citizens here and this is an interesting example of how they are getting informed,” he said.
    People also appeared to be voting strategically, rather than casting the full number of votes, Prince said.
    For example, in Oak Bay, figures show that voters on average marked their ballots for 4.6 candidates for six positions, meaning people were choosing partial, selective or strategic voting, he said.
    Apart from uncertainty about candidates affecting turnout, the election took place at a time of growing cynicism about politicians in general, said Prince, referencing the Billy Connolly quote “Don’t vote. It just encourages them.”
    That viewpoint has been exacerbated during the pandemic, with an increasing disconnect between residents and politicians, as in-person meetings were replaced by virtual meetings.
    Councillors and municipal staff were suddenly less accessible for face-to-face discussions, leading to some citizens and public interest groups feeling they were left out of decisions, Prince said.
    “And maybe there is also a sense of being overwhelmed with so many crises and challenges facing people whether it’s housing affordability, the missing middle debate, cost of living, inflation, health care, people without family doctors, climate change,” he said.
    “It’s almost paralyzing, [especially] for people who may already have limited faith or belief in government,” he said.
     
    SO WHAT CAN BE DONE to encourage voting?
    There is no magic solution, but some people believe four years is too long a term for councillors and three years would be the Goldilocks number—not too long or too short, Prince said.
    In larger municipalities such as Victoria and Saanich, some people would like to see a ward system introduced, but in the mess of 13 Greater Victoria municipalities, ward systems would not be practical in smaller communities.
    “I know that amalgamation is a sensitive topic here, but maybe you could put out the option of having bigger electoral areas with wards,” Leifso said.
    Another possibility is making it marginally more difficult for candidates to run for office.
    Currently a candidate can run if nominated by a minimum of two residents in smaller communities. Other municipalities ask for 10 nominees or, in populations of more than 5,000, papers can be signed by 25 nominees.
    The $100 deposit is refunded after a candidate files campaign financial disclosure statements.
    Those prevented from running are judges, people confined to a psychiatric facility, those previously found guilty of election offences or those in custody after being convicted and sentenced for an indictable offence. See the “Candidates Guide” here.)
    Making the threshold a little higher may seem counter-intuitive, but it could reduce numbers and make decisions easier, Leifso said.
    In Australia, where there is compulsory voting, election day is usually accompanied by parties and barbecues outside polling booths,
    but there is little appetite to bring in a similar system in B.C.
    “At this time, the ministry is not contemplating mandatory voting,” said a background statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.
    However, following local elections “the ministry and election administrators review how the election was carried out and look for improvement opportunities,” according to the statement.
    Municipal Affairs Minister Nathan Cullen was not available for an interview.
    B.C is not alone when it comes to poor voter turnout and, with vital and complex issues facing Canadian cities, the apparent lack of interest is a concern, Prince said.
    “It’s hard to lobby the provincial and federal governments and go and lecture your premier or prime minister when you got elected on a turnout of 20 percent,” he said.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world, along with the politics around them.
     

    Judith Lavoie
    The future shape of the city along with council’s behaviour towards the public are at issue.
     

    Costco and environs in Langford
     
    THERE IS ONE CERTAINTY as Langford’s municipal election campaign gets underway—it is unlikely to be a politely fought battle.
    Recent Langford council meetings have been notable for their lack of civility, sometimes degenerating into shouting matches, with speakers cut short.
    Feelings have run high as Mayor Stew Young, with the constant support of four out of six council members, has pushed ahead with his crusade to fix the housing crisis and transform Langford into a modern city.
    “A green initiative is to have higher density going into the airspace, rather than spreading out sprawling and that’s what Langford is doing now. We’ve got 50,000 people, it’s time we grew up as a city,” Young told Focus.
    The city’s eye-popping growth, with the population soaring by 31.8 per cent between 2016 and 2021, has transformed the community, which, last year, had 46,584 residents.
     

    Langford, south of the Trans Canada Highway
     
    But, those advocating for slower growth, more green space and protection for residents of existing neighbourhoods are increasingly frustrated that concerns—such as the effects of living in a constant maelstrom of dust and construction noise—are ignored, while developers are given centre stage at council meetings.
    The insistent push for high-rise towers, small lot subdivisions and multi-condominium buildings means development is inevitably top-of-mind for voters as the October municipal election approaches.
    However, the more visceral issue is that many residents feel shut out of council decisions.
    Research scientist Jason Mackenzie has lived near McCallum Road for 16 years, in an area that has undergone serial rezonings. His home is now surrounded by six-storey, rental condo buildings and efforts to speak to council have been ineffective.
    “We were led to believe, given the zoning at the time, that we would be surrounded by housing like ours. Clearly this is not the case,” said Mackenzie, who is looking for opportunities to move.
    “It’s not that I don’t want to be in Langford, I don’t want to be in Langford with the existing council because they are people who don’t listen,” he told Focus.
    “Langford is run like a dictatorship. I have gone to the meetings, but nothing happens,” he said.
    Young, who has held the position since 1993, and his four supportive councillors, most of whom have held power for decades, will be fighting to retain their seats, while an organized group of opponents, running under the Langford Now banner, and some unaffiliated candidates aim to unseat them.
    Young and councillors Lanny Seaton, first elected in 1996, Matt Sahlstrom, first elected in 2002, Roger Wade, elected in 2008, and Norma Stewart, elected in 2018, have not yet formally announced they will run for re-election, but a joint announcement is expected shortly.
    Young stopped short of confirming he is running, but left little doubt about his intentions.
    “It looks like I’m running. I’m just not going to say for sure. I have the support of the majority of council and, man, have I got a lot of support in the community,” Young said.
    “You know, these new people that are running, they’re doing it for their own political reasons. That stuff they’re saying about Langford is actually disgraceful as far as I am concerned, because Langford is a great community,” he said, listing changes that have turned Langford from its scruffy, semi-rural roots into a thriving hub with a plethora of recreational facilities, schools, restaurants and shops.
    Young dismisses claims that green space is lacking and that trees have been wiped out in development areas.
    “Our park space has gone up 1,000 per cent from where it was… We have got millions of dollars of parkland free from developers. They give us up to 40 per cent green space when they develop,” Young said.
    “These people just don’t know their numbers or what they are talking about,” he said.
    Young also shrugs off complaints about autocratic behaviour saying every municipality has a problem with serial complainers kicking up a fuss if a decision is not to their liking.
    “They say ‘you are not listening to me.’ Well, we are listening to the majority and, the last time I checked, the majority wants jobs and an affordable house to live in and good schools,” he said, accusing his critics of wanting to kill jobs.
    Seaton echoes Young’s contention that there is misinformation about how council operates.
    Charges that almost all proposed developments are given fast-track approval are not true, he said.
    “We have turned down lots of developments that we thought wouldn’t work,” said Seaton.
    An indication of the tone of the campaign is that Young is not including Councillor Lillian Szpak or Councillor Denise Blackwell on his slate, despite endorsing them in the last election.
    Szpak and Blackwell, who topped the polls in 2018, have spoken out against some high-rise developments and Szpak, who has campaigned for tree protection and dust bylaws, has been a frequent target for the mayor.
    “The majority of council are great; there’s two councillors, Denise and Lillian, who have sided with the self-interest groups and they just say whatever to get themselves votes,” Young said, when asked why he is not supporting Blackwell and Szpak.
    While there is general agreement that Langford has some enviable facilities, it is also a community where mountain tops have been blasted into oblivion, developers wield an extraordinary amount of power and, despite an increasing number of people working in the community, traffic jams are a constant headache.
    Charlene Manning, who has lived in Langford since 1975, said tower blocks destroy any feeling of neighbourhood.
    “We need townhouses and infill housing, carriage houses and subsidized housing,” said Manning, who emphasizes she is not opposed to densification, but believes there needs to be more community debate and consideration of existing neighbourhoods.
    “It is just too much. How much do we have to suffer to be a bedroom community?” she asked.
    “Everyone I have talked to—and I am talking to older people—is flabbergasted by what is going on,” she said, adding that Young’s contention that complaints are coming from newcomers is simply not true.
    Main arteries such as Goldstream Avenue are a mess and living in a constant building site is draining, Manning said.
    “I hear the beeping, beeping, beeping and they pour concrete until 7 p.m. and the banging and the radios,” she said.
    Then, there is the problem of a council that doesn’t listen and a mayor that argues with critics.
    “He yells at his councillors if they don’t agree with him. What the heck—where is that coming from?” Manning asked incredulously.
     
    A new slate of new candidates
    Five candidates fielded by the newly-formed Langford Now Electoral organization will be tapping into the growing community unease and pushing hard for more engagement in a community renowned for apathy and low voter turnout.
    Four years ago only 4,812 out of 21,206 eligible voters—18.5 per cent—bothered to vote municipally, giving Langford the unenviable position of second-lowest turnout in the province.
    Engaging voters will be a challenge, but the group is banking on the enthusiasm and quality of their candidates to encourage people to vote, said Corrina Craig, spokesperson for Langford Now.
    Candidates endorsed by Langford Now are:
    • Colby Harder, who grew up in Langford and is now a University of Victoria Masters student researching transportation for aging adults.
    • Keith Yacucha, who teaches economics at Camosun College and recently bought a home in Langford. “We have appreciated what the community has to offer. At the same time, I have been alarmed by the lack of an up-to-date community plan, the patchwork ad-hoc development, the lack of public infrastructure and the opacity of city finances,” Yacucha writes in his election bio.
    • Kimberley Guiry, a cabinet maker with a degree in environmental science, who says listening to residents is a priority.
    • Mark Morley, a former member of the military who now works as a financial officer with the Department of National Defence. “Development has grown too fast for services to keep up, traffic is brutal and our infrastructure is starting to strain,” Morley wrote
    • Mary Wagner, who was born and raised in Langford, has a PhD in biochemistry and teaches biology at the University of Victoria.
     

    Mary Wagner, one of Langford Now's slate of candidates for council
     
    Community First Langford is also a registered Electoral Group and principal official Stephanie Sherlock said the organization will hold a news conference in Langford on Thursday, Sept 8. No information will be given before that time, she said.
    Wendy Mingo Hobbs, who served on Sooke School Board for 25 years, is a non-affiliated candidate.
    “I am very worried there is not enough infrastructure being put in for all the development… It has just gone over the top and there’s absolutely no environmental stewardship happening,” she said.
    Politics played around the council table is another reason change is necessary, Hobbs said.
    “The behaviour of the mayor, especially with women, is dismal and yet they say they don’t need a code of conduct,” she said with exasperation.
    “There is no democratic thinking with that council—well, I should say with the mayor, because we all know he runs the show,” Hobbs said.
    However, Shirley Ackland, former mayor of Port McNeill, who moved to Langford two years ago, agrees with Young that Langford is providing extraordinary opportunities for young families, which is why she is “seriously contemplating” running for council.
    People are moving to Langford because of what it offers, said Ackland, a former college instructor.
    “There’s new schools here, they see the activities that are available at the Y and the parks and they are just blown away,” she said.
    But some, like Keith Yacucha, one of the Langford Now slate, question the current council’s stewardship of public funds. Langford, he notes, “spends amongst the most annually on public works per private residence. Langford: $717, Colwood: $695 and Saanich: $553.”
    Ackland is aware of complaints about council attitudes, but said she looks for solutions.
    “As long as you can be respectful, people can have those sorts of conversations,” she said.
    But people have found respect is sadly lacking, Craig of Langford Now said.
    “People are talking about how rude the mayor and some of the councillors have been to each other and to members of the public,” Craig said.
    People listening in to council meetings have been “shocked, surprised, disappointed and frustrated that these are our elected officials,” she said.
    “These are the people who should be representing the public and they don’t want to talk to us. You see when you are watching the livestreaming, the eye-rolling when a member of the public calls in about concerns,” said Craig, who has lived in Langford since 1997.
    A frequent question fielded by Langford Now is why the group is not running a mayoral candidate, but Craig said change can be effected by electing progressive councillors.
    Young is only one voice on council, she emphasized.
    “A loud voice doesn’t mean you are smarter than everyone else. It just means you’re louder and, ultimately, he has to get votes passed,” she said.
     
    Respect and longterm plan lacking say Szpak and Blackwell
    Lillian Szpak, who previously said she was not running, said she changed her mind because of an outpouring from the community.
    “I’m there to serve and I think our number one job as elected officials is to bring the voice of the community to the table and I think the community knows that I am trying my very best to do that,” she said.
     

    Mayor Stewart Young, Councillors Denise Blackwell and Lillian Szpak
     
    Livestreaming, initially rejected by council, but brought in because of COVID restrictions, has allowed people to see what is going on, Szpak said.
    That means people are more engaged and more concerned, she said.
    “It is disturbing for people when they feel that no one is listening and the mayor is shouting down a councillor who is speaking appropriately to an item on the agenda… I think councils lose their credibility when they appear to be in conflict,” she said.
    Szpak said she is proud of what has been achieved in Langford, but the city, with changing demographics, is now at a crossroads and people are looking for ways to address climate change and ensure responsible development.
    When people look at developments on McCallum Road and Skirt Mountain, where the trees have been razed, they ask why it is happening, Szpak said.
    “I think we have to articulate clearly what our plan is and, if we are going to live sustainably on the South Island, we need to pay attention to climate change advocacy,” she said.
    Although the city has an official community plan it lacks a plan for growth that includes community consultation, Szpak said.
    “How are we going to grow and what does it look like? We don’t want to be ‘ride into Langford and throw up a tower here or there’ without a long-term plan for how you are going to support that kind of density,” she said.
    Blackwell said it is concerning that Young gets irate when people oppose his ideas.
    “I chaired the Capital Regional District and I am able to have meetings where everyone is civilized and everyone is allowed to talk, but it seems at Langford council he doesn’t want anyone to talk except him and, if you do raise an issue, he just talks over you,” she said.
    Blackwell emphasized that she does not want development to grind to a halt, but it is time to take a breath and listen to the people of Langford on issues such as multi-storey towers and managing traffic.
    During the early years on council, Blackwell, who was first elected in 1992, bought into Young’s vision of the city.
    “But when he started talking about all these towers all over the place, I said ‘that’s not my vision,’ and so then I was persona non grata,” Blackwell said.
    So far, Young has no competition for the mayoralty.
    But that does not mean Langford council will continue along the same path, Craig said.
    “There will be a change in council members this fall and there will be at least a majority who are willing to work together and who are willing to look at sustainable development, transparent and democratic governance, and protection of the environment,” she predicted.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world, including the politics surrounding it. See an earlier piece about contentious Langford council meetings here.

    Rochelle Baker
    Lack of transparency and stringency in cruise ship wastewater regulations will not protect Canada's waters and marine habitat, say critics.
     
    THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT says cruise ships operating in Canadian waters have overwhelmingly met the more stringent wastewater guidelines put in this spring. However, critics say Transport Canada’s report is very light on details and the industry’s largest source of water pollution remains untreated. 
    Transport Canada reported that 47 cruise ships travelling Canadian waters between April 9 and June 5 voluntarily reported on their compliance with the new thresholds for the treatment and dumping of wastewater, and only one failed to meet the new guidelines. 
    A ship visiting ports in the Quebec-St. Lawrence and Atlantic regions only partially followed the new environmental measures because it did not have a grey water treatment system that could meet the new measures, and had to discharge grey water inside the minimum distance from shore to ensure the boat’s stability, Transport Canada said. 
    Some vessels visited multiple regions, with 35 cruise ships travelling the Pacific coast, another 13 vessels visiting the Quebec-St. Lawrence and Atlantic regions, and five on the Great Lakes, Transport Canada said. 
    In April, the federal government announced new voluntary discharge and treatment guidelines for sewage (black water) and grey water — which includes kitchen water, laundry detergent, cleaning products, food waste, cooking oils and grease as well as hazardous carcinogens and other pollutants — that are slated to become mandatory in 2023. 
    The cruise ship industry injects more than $4 billion annually into the Canadian economy and creates about 30,000 direct and indirect jobs, particularly in the tourism sector, the federal agency said.
    “Cruise ships are an important part of our economy and tourism sector, and we must all work together to reduce their impact on the environment and keep our waters safe and clean for everyone,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra.
    However, the cruise ship industry’s adherence to the guidelines is voluntary and the sector is allowed to self-report its compliance with the new wastewater measures, said Anna Barford, Stand.earth’s shipping campaigner.
     

    Anna Barford, Stand.earth’s shipping campaigner, says Ottawa's report on cruise ship compliance with new wastewater pollution guidelines lacks transparency. (Photo courtesy of Stand.earth)
     
    The Transport Canada report lacks critical data needed to ensure the protection of Canada’s coastlines, Barford said. 
    “It’s shocking… There’s simply no information in it,” she said.
    For example, there are no details about which ships were in Canadian waters, their treatment systems, where they dumped wastewater, or how the federal government independently verified or ensured compliance, Barford said. 
    It’s also not clear if the number of ships that voluntarily reported on compliance measures equals the number that travelled in Canadian waters.
    Compliance with the new measures is verified during formal port inspections of vessels, Transport Canada spokesperson Sau Sau Liu told Canada’s National Observer in an email. 
    However, the email did not clarify if, when or where any port inspections took place. 
    When requesting the reporting data supplied by cruise ships to the federal government, Canada’s National Observer was informed Transport Canada will only publish aggregate data to demonstrate participation rates for the industry as a whole.   
    Aside from transparency concerns, Canada’s new regulations don’t prohibit the discharge of sewage water, treated or not, in environmentally sensitive zones or marine protected areas, Barford said. 
    U.S. Pacific states north and south of B.C. have more stringent rules, she said. 
    California prohibits wastewater dumping less than three kilometres from shore and in National Marine Sanctuaries, and Washington state has established a sewage no-discharge zone in Puget Sound to protect the shellfish industry and human health.
    What’s more, it appears the Canadian government failed to include regulations for scrubber wastewater, the largest source of water pollution, in the new guidelines after pressure from the cruise ship industry, she said. 
    Scrubber discharge is created when cruise ships use dirty heavy fuel oil (HFO), but employ exhaust cleaning systems, or scrubbers, that use water to “wash” pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, carcinogens and heavy metals from exhaust and then flush them into the ocean rather than the atmosphere. 
    The dumping of scrubber water is entirely avoidable if ships simply used, or were mandated to use, cleaner-burning fuels to meet international emission standards, Barford said.  
    The acidic discharge includes heavy metals, which can accumulate in the food web and harm marine life, such as endangered southern resident killer whales, Barford said, adding more than 90 per cent of wastewater dumped by cruise ships involves scrubber discharge.
    Transport Canada did not clarify if it had a concrete timeline for addressing scrubber wastewater. 
    The federal government will continue to work with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to establish and harmonize rules on scrubber wastewater and intends to get input from industry and other partners on the issue this fall, Liu said. 
    The recent wastewater measures exceed those set out by the IMO, said Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray, and demonstrates the federal commitment to protect oceans and create a more sustainable course for the tourism industry. 
    But the federal government is comparing itself to the lowest thresholds of wastewater regulations, Barford said, adding Canada needs to at least match the more-stringent bar set by neighbouring Pacific coast states.  
    “Canada has one of the longest coastlines of any nation-state in the world and we have thriving internal seas,” Barford said. 
    “But if we continue to look for minimum standards and opportunities to pollute, instead of to protect, our ocean economy and coastal communities are at risk.” 
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with Canada's National Observer.

    Judith Lavoie
    A Qualicum Beach conservation group avoids defamation claim through new anti-SLAPP legislation—but the development they protested gets approved.
     
    A DEFAMATION LAWSUIT launched by a developer against a small Qualicum Beach conservation group was dismissed on Monday, August 8th, 2022 by BC Supreme Court. It is being hailed as BC’s first dismissal of an environmental SLAPP suit, bolstering the ability of groups and individuals to speak out against development or resource extraction without fear of being sued.
    BC’s Protection of Public Participation Act was passed in 2019 to protect the public’s right to speak freely without being hit with a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). Such claims are often filed by powerful groups with deep financial pockets in an effort to suppress criticism. The Qualicum Beach case was seen as a test of the provincial legislation.
    The lawsuit against the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society (QNPS) and Ezra Morse, the society’s president, was filed by Richard and Linda Todsen, owners of Todsen Design and Construction. The Todsens alleged 24 statements made by Morse about a proposed 16-lot development in a sensitive environmental area damaged the company’s reputation by linking municipal campaign contributions to bribery. They also took issue with claims by Morse that he was assaulted because of his opposition to the development and that the project was being pushed ahead despite strong community opposition.
     

    Ezra Morse of the Qualicum Nature Preservation Society (QNPS)
     
    An application for dismissal of the defamation suit was made under the SLAPP legislation and, after a four-day hearing, Justice Jan Brongers concluded the claim fitted the definition of a SLAPP suit and that the statements on social media constituted fair comment or were in the public interest.
    “Fundamentally, I consider the statement in issue to be expressions of concern that a municipal politician, who is considering a rezoning application, may be swayed by the fact that the applicant is also one of his campaign contributors. While this concern may turn out to be unfounded , it is deserving of public debate,” Brongers wrote.
    “While the Todsens are free to take issue with Mr. Morse’s comments…the Act precludes them from doing so through the vehicle of a defamation claim,” the decision says.
    Morse and others in Qualicum Beach who have fought against development on the 6.4 acre parcel of land on the border of Qualicum Beach’s Estate Properties hope that the decision will give more people the confidence to speak out.
    “[As] our public continues to lose faith in our political institutions, it has never been more important to speak for a better tomorrow for our children,” said Morse, who fought against the development because of potential environmental impacts and implications for climate change.
    “This shows people that they are allowed to get involved and speak on issues of great public interest, such as the climate or housing and doctors and development and community vision without fearing reprisal. It allows our communities to choose activism over apathy,” he said.
    While this lawsuit has been resolved, several others have been filed and the result is a chill on public participation in Qualicum Beach, with some people saying they fear speaking at public hearings, said Morse, who believes other communities around the province, and especially those with development pressures, are facing similar problems.
    “This is a cloud that has hung over this community and, while our victory does give assurance, we have more lawsuits in our town and, until we can restore civility and dialogue and ensure people know that lawsuits are not how to handle disputes, I think there will still be that fear and chilling spectre haunting Qualicum Beach,” he said.
    Chris Tollefson, Morse’s lawyer, said the case demonstrates that the legislation is working and that the courts will safeguard democratic expression on matters of public interest provided it is conducted in an honest and responsible manner.
     

    Chris Tollefson, lawyer
     
    “When a party wants to take on someone who has been lawfully involved in a democratic debate with them, they must ensure that they are not in breach of this law that protects those rights,” Tollefson told Focus.
    “I think this is very important in a province where we care so deeply about the environment and where political debates can get so heated. We need to know that the law discourages people—that there is a disincentive—to move those disputes into the legal arena unless it can be truly said that one’s reputation has been damaged,” he said.
    Brongers did not award damages and wrote that there was no basis for assuming the Todsen’s claim was sparked by malice.
    “Rather, the situation here is fundamentally one where two parties have strong opposing views about the merits of a proposed land development and its potential impact on the environment,” the judgment says.
    Costs—the amount of money a party is out of pocket for legal fees—will be decided after both sides either come to an agreement and, if they cannot agree, they will make submissions to the court for a decision.
     
    But the development is approved
    Adding a twist to the story, which has some questioning whether QNPS and Morse have won the war, but lost the battle, Qualicum Beach Council, on August 10th, just a few days after the defamation dismissal, voted 3-to-2 in favour of bylaw changes that will allow the Todsen’s development of single family homes and garden suites to proceed in the area that is outside the town’s urban containment boundary.
     

    Google Earth satellite imagery showing the area of the Todsen development on the right where some logging activities have taken place. Photo: Ezra Morse / Google Earth
     
    The decision was made despite the misgivings of some councillors about legal implications of the Supreme Court decision, and concerns about whether the process can be considered valid if some members of the community felt too intimidated to speak against the development at public hearings.
    Councillors were told by staff that the town’s lawyers believe the process is solid and there are unlikely to be legal concerns.
    But Councillor Teunis Westbroek, who served as the town’s mayor for 18 years and is likely to challenge Mayor Brian Wiese in the upcoming municipal elections, described the process as tainted and voted in favour of a motion to defer a decision.
    “I was appalled that some of these tactics were applied and I think we need to take another look before we proceed,” he said. “There are people in this town that are being sued and others that are intimidated by it that weren’t able to speak,” he said.
    Councillor Anne Skipsey, who made the motion to defer, said the council is in uncharted territory and should not be ignoring a Supreme Court decision. “We have a duty in this room to ensure and protect the democratic process and free speech,” Skipsey said, adding, “We should not be choosing development over democracy.”
    Council ambivalence about the development and discomfort with the way the process has unfolded were illustrated by Councillor Scott Harrison. “If folks hadn’t been so toxic, I might have swayed my vote on this because there are really strong reasons to vote against it,” he said, before voting in favour of the bylaw changes.
    Westbroek, who would have liked to see the vote delayed until after the fall municipal elections, said in an interview that the lawsuits had the desired effect of “shutting people up” and the process, together with other underhanded tactics, has divided the community.
    “The public hearing was a charade, not only because some people had already made up their mind, but also because people that did speak at the public hearing were intimidated and some of them didn’t speak because of that,” he said.
    Despite the court ruling that the Todsen case was a SLAPP suit, the prospect of being sued remains a concern, Westbroek said.
    “Even though they win, it still costs a lot of money and it is a huge stress…and you lose time off work and with your family and that will never be compensated,” he said.
    Richard and Linda Todsen and their lawyer, Michael Hewitt, did not return calls from Focus before deadline.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.

    Rainforest Flying Squad
    The request cites 13 complaint against the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) which has also been criticized for its conduct around protests in Wet’suwet’en territories.
     
    The below is from a press release by the groups involved.

    FOUR GROUPS ON AUGUST 10 submitted a request to Chairperson Michalaine Lahaie of the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP. They want the Chair to immediately initiate a public-interest investigation into the improper and unlawful actions by the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) in the planning and execution of enforcement of a April 1, 2021 injunction in Tree Farm License 46 held by Teal Cedar Products Ltd. in the Fairy Creek area.
    “No one is above the law including police officers. When those who are meant to enforce laws consistently and flagrantly disobey the law we have to act,” says Keith Cherry, one of the submitters of the request.
    The groups submitting the complaint and request for an investigation include Elders for Ancient Trees, the Rainforest Flying Squad, Legal Observers Victoria and the Social Environmental Alliance. In total, 73 witness statements support the complaint, each with disturbing accounts of their experiences when facing the C-IRG unit officers.
    Thirteen unlawful Charter of Rights and Freedoms infringements are noted in the complaint such as: denying Indigenous people access to their territorial lands; blocking access to public roads outside the injunction zone; deploying excessive force against people engaged in non-violent civil disobedience; disregarding human rights and dignity; subjecting individuals to unlawful and unreasonable searches; unlawfully destroying personal property; denying access to legal counsel; interfering with access of members of the media; denying access to the necessities of life such as shade, water, food and sleep; discriminatory treatment on the basis of Indigenous status, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation; arbitary detention without charge (catch and release); and, ignoring direct reprimands from the Supreme Court of British Columbia.
    “C-IRG’s conduct raises troubling questions about the rule of law that requires action by provincial and federal officials,” says Ben Isitt, a member of the legal team representing several witnesses. “BC’s Solicitor General, Mike Farnworth, is politically responsible for the operations taking place in areas without municipal police departments like Fairy Creek. The federal Minister of Public Safety, Marco Mendicino, is also responsible to ensure C-IRG operations and other RCMP operations are lawful and consistent with the RCMP Act and the Charter.”
    The C-IRG unit has faced criticism since its inception in 2017. It became Canada’s protection from what they defined as critical infrastructure (natural resource extraction projects). Although about 90 per cent of what is considered critical infrastructure is not publicly owned, it is owned by private corporations. 
    Those who’ve submitted this request say that an investigation of the C-IRG is in the public interest. It will ensure that policing occurs in a manner consistent with the rule of law and respectful of Charter-protected rights and freedoms. They say the provincial and federal governments need to dismantle this violent CIRG unit and overhaul the RCMP stating that the C-IRG have simply become policing partners for corporations at public cost.
    “The C-IRG unit has shown a consistent and dangerous disregard for the rule of law,” says Cherry. “From the Transmountain Pipeline to Wet’suwet’en territories, from Fairy Creek to Argenta, C-IRG routinely violates the rights of Canadians and Indigenous peoples to secure the interests of corporations. Something has to be done.”

    Ross Crockford
    Only a passionate few know the City of Victoria is about to approve three-storey condos everywhere.  
    ON THE MORNING of Monday, July 4, Victoria councillor Stephen Andrew tweeted that he’d posted a survey on his mayoralty campaign webpage, asking followers what they thought of the City’s Missing Middle housing initiative, which would permit multi-unit, three-storey condos in every area currently zoned for detached single-family houses. By early afternoon, the survey link was pinballing around the internet.
    “Stephen Andrew is asking for feedback on the Missing Middle Initiative,” d_jackrabbit posted on Reddit’s r/VictoriaBC forum. “Pretty important as he is likely the deciding vote on if this passes or not on August 4. If you want townhouses and plexes legalized in our city please fill out the survey and let him know!” Ken Roueche, a critic of the initiative, bcc’d the link to 75 friends and neighbours, asking them to “Please consider responding to this poll.” On the Discord forum run by the 300-strong pro-development group Homes For Living, dgrypma posted the link and wrote, “Stephen Andrew is asking for feedback on missing middle—you know the drill”. 
    One might dismiss this as nerdy chat in obscure corners of the internet, but the stakes are real, and huge. Missing Middle has the potential to provide thousands of units of new housing, create new real-estate product worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and transform Victoria’s lawn-and-garden neighbourhoods into walk-up residential districts like those of Montreal, or Copenhagen. 
    First introduced in November 2019, the City’s Missing Middle initiative gradually evolved through workshops and online surveys, until the complete details were finally presented this past May. It immediately divided Council, and advanced only via a series of 5-4 votes—with Andrew voting on May 26 to have the plan rewritten after more public input, then voting on June 9 to reconsider that motion—to where we are today. City staff will hold “information sessions” on the Missing Middle plan this Tuesday, July 12: you can register for the noon virtual session at https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/missing-middle-housing-pre-public-hearing-information-session-tickets-372379445947, or attend in-person at City Hall between 3 and 7:30 p.m. Then its bylaws will go to a public hearing and final Council vote, likely on August 4. 
    “So many different comments have come to me through emails, phone calls, people stopping me on the street, that I wanted to clarify what the points of those individuals were, and this is helpful,” Andrew says of the survey, which collected nearly 500 responses in its first two days. “Also, there are questions that the City hasn’t asked, such as: Have we sufficiently educated, engaged, and consulted you? A lot of people say to me, ‘I didn’t hear about this,’ or ‘This is the first I’ve heard about it,’ which I find stunning, but OK. So I wanted to get a real feeling for what’s going on.”
    If the Missing Middle plan was so named to put residents to sleep, it succeeded. Over the course of two years, only about 480 people participated in the 28 workshops, focus groups, “ask a planner” sessions, community-association meetings and advisory-panel discussions where the City described the plan. (The only real pushback seems to have come from the City’s Hertiage Advisory Panel: “These are laudable goals, but one could see wholesale demolition in existing neighbourhoods,” said one member at a December 2020 meeting.) Instead, and partly because of COVID, the City got most of its feedback through online surveys. 
    The first survey, open for four weeks in the autumn of 2020 and conducted through the City’s Have Your Say platform (engage.victoria.ca), asked vague questions about housing priorities: of 191 respondents, 142 identified “create more housing choice so families and other households can stay in Victoria as their housing needs evolve” as a priority, while only 36 identified “maintain incentives for heritage conservation and re-use of existing character homes.” 
     

    Only 191 people took the City’s first Missing Middle survey in late 2020, but results gave City planning staff the green light to proceed.
     
    Based partly on that result, Council voted 5-4 in July of 2021 to continue with the initiative. A second survey, open for six weeks that autumn, specifically asked which missing-middle housing types (houseplexes up to six units, corner townhouses, heritage-property infill) should be approved by City staff alone, without the time and cost burdens of public hearings and Council approval: of 810 respondents, only eight percent said “none.” (That option was last, with no graphic beside it.) City staff concluded this showed “strong support” for all the housing types, and the general plan. 
     

    A key question in the City’s second online survey sought approval for Missing Middle housing types. Only eight percent of respondents voted for “None,” at the bottom of the page.
     
    But as it’s now becoming apparent, the trouble with such limited engagement is it gives little indication of what the general public knows or thinks about a subject. “Real surveys have random samples of populations, and a range of questions which should be neutral, to create a projectable sample. They have to look like the whole population. That is clearly what is not going on here,” says Ian McKinnon, a former president of Decima Research who’s also served in central agencies of federal and BC governments. 
    Instead, consultations that are open to anyone frequently get dominated by small groups that feel passionately about an issue. “My concern is often: How are people informed about it, and who responds?” McKinnon asks. “With almost all public consultations, those who are strongly motivated often use their networks to encourage participation by people who they know to have the same viewpoint as themselves.”
    Online consultations can also get skewed by people giving multiple responses, McKinnon notes, or chiming in from other jurisdictions. (It happens: one eagle-eyed member of the Downtown Residents’ Association noted that during the runup to Council’s approval of the controversial Telus Ocean, 81 of 140 letters of support came from people associated with the project, including Telus employees from other parts of Canada.) On Homes For Living’s forum, members and developers regularly urge each other to respond positively to surveys, consultations and hearings on projects across Greater Victoria, with little concern whether they live in the municipality or not. Is that appropriate? “I never know myself,” Phil MacKellar, an HFL spokeperson tells me; he lives in Fernwood, but recently filled out a survey to support infill housing in Oak Bay. “Because Victoria’s never amalgamated, it feels like I’m part of multiple cities. A lot of people who live in Saanich but work in Victoria, or vice-versa, feel the same way.”
    Andrew says some respondents have tried to skew his survey by using false names and email addresses, but they will be “filtered out” by administrators. The City’s Have Your Say platform only requires participants to provide an email address and a postal code; I was able to register different addresses and take the same survey several times. Given Missing Middle’s huge stakes, I asked the City if it was worried about its surveys being gamed. The City replied in a statement that it uses “industry standard engagement tools for local government,” and that “all online engagement is based on good faith.” (Although some platforms, such as Vancouver-based PlaceSpeak, go farther to prevent fraud by verifying every respondent’s physical address.) “Public engagement during policy development is important,” the City concluded, “but the real test of public position on the final bylaw is a public hearing.”
     

    Anyone can register for the City’s online engagement platform by providing an email address and postal code.   Before anyone makes Trumpist allegations of foreign vote-rigging, however, they should read the comments on pages 171-231 of the City’s massive engagement report. Some 54 percent of the respondents to the City’s surveys identified as between 25 and 44 years old (that demographic comprises 32 percent of the City’s population), and the submitted comments match the survey’s numbers, showing that a majority want more housing options immediately, more public transit and cycling facilities, and don’t much care about preserving Victoria’s heritage. “Get this done, yesterday,” one wrote. “Every day of inaction, this housing crisis worsens.”
    Andrew’s survey closes on July 13 at midnight, and he says the results will be published immediately afterwards—just before Council’s first reading of the Missing Middle bylaws on July 14. But he insists that the survey results won’t sway his final vote. “I have tried to be right down the middle of the lane on this, to not, in any way, respond affirmatively or in opposition to what’s going on with the Missing Middle. I’ve tried to get as much information, become as educated as I can, listen to what people have to say, so I can enter it, like any public hearing, with an open and disabused mind. I try to do that, I really do.”
    Ross Crockford will try to explore all the implications of the City’s Missing Middle plan in his next article for FOCUS.

    Judith Lavoie
    As decision day on the transition of open-net salmon farms looms, both sides say science is on their side.
     
    CONSERVATION ORGANIZATIONS, POLITICIANS, THE SALMON FARMING INDUSTRY AND FIRST NATIONS are all focused on Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray as decision day for BC fish farms approaches. While there is scant information on how Murray will proceed in crafting a transition away from open-net pen salmon farms, one thing is certain—it will be impossible to satisfy all interest groups.
    On June 30 most federal salmon farming licences on the BC coast will expire and Murray must decide how to juggle the political, environmental and economic realities that surround the controversial industry. Reconciliation with First Nations, protection of iconic wild salmon runs and economic interests of coastal communities are all part of the complicated equation.
    Murray’s mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau specifies that her task is to “work with the province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities on a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal BC waters by 2025 and work to introduce Canada’s first ever Aquaculture Act.”
     

    Canada's Fisheries and Oceans Minister Joyce Murray (Photo by Eric Thomas)
     
    Murray has consistently released statements saying she is “committed to transitioning away from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal BC,” but, there are no specifics on what that transition will look like and it is unclear what will happen between the end of June, when at least 79 licences expire, and the 2025 deadline set by Trudeau.
    With growing acrimony between salmon farmers—who claim the future of 4,700 workers and $1.2-billion in economic activity is at stake—and conservation groups—who fear pathogens and sea lice from fish farms are pushing shrinking wild salmon runs into extinction—both sides are waging campaigns for public support.
    Watershed Watch Salmon Society is appealing to supporters to make a last ditch appeal to Murray to get open net pen fish farms out of BC waters.
    “Despite what industry-backed scientists would have you believe, a massive body of peer-reviewed scientific research shows salmon farms harm wild salmon. Juvenile wild salmon need to be free to leave their home rivers and swim along our coast without battling the deadly viruses, parasites and bacteria spewing from factory fish farms,” wrote Aaron Hill, Watershed Watch executive director.
    “Previously, factory fish farm licences have been renewed every six years or so, but, if Minister Murray is serious about keeping her promise and meeting her 2025 commitment, she needs to start shutting farms down this year,” Hill said.
    Brian Kingzett, BC Salmon Farmers Association science and policy director, would not speculate on what decision Murray might make or comment on whether companies are preparing for closures. However, an Association release says that “if the 79 licences up for renewal are not reissued, Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities will face even greater devastation.”
    It is a point that has the attention of Premier John Horgan and, in a letter to Trudeau, written earlier this year, he said that, if the licences are not renewed, hundreds of jobs will be lost and the economies of dozens of coastal communities will be undermined.
    A spokesman for the provincial Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship said Minister Josie Osborne has “strongly advocated, in a letter to federal counterparts across economic, social and fisheries portfolios on the need for a comprehensive federal support plan for First Nations and communities that rely on the economic opportunities provided by the salmon farm industry as well as for exploring new technology that may provide economic opportunities for the industry in BC”
    University of BC professor Tony Farrell, Canada Research Chair in fish physiology, culture and conservation, said Murray will make a political, not a scientific, decision and it is essential she is given accurate scientific advice on the impacts of salmon farming.
    “I think that what [Murray] should do is listen very carefully. There are many scientific facts that exist about the impacts of aquaculture on wild salmon and, when I look at those scientific facts, not the opinions, I fail to see major and sustained impacts that could explain the collapse of wild salmon in BC,” he said. 
    “I think appropriate consultation has not gone on,” said Farrell, pointing out that First Nations in areas such as Klemtu have run commercial salmon farms since the 1980s.
    IntraFish Media, which analyzes global aquaculture industries, said in a report this month that “the future of the world’s largest salmon farmer’s [sic] operations in Canada look dim as a decision nears on whether a critical farming region in British Columbia will be closed.”
    Intrafish reported that Mowi Canada West, which lost 30 percent of its west coast harvest because of the federal decision to phase out farms in the Discovery Islands, also holds 44 percent of the licences up for renewal, while Grieg Seafood BC holds 22 of the expiring licences.
    Cermaq Canada, whose Discovery Islands farms accounted for 20 percent of the company’s overall production, has 14 licenses up for renewal in Clayoquot Sound where conservation organizations, backed by Department of Fisheries and Oceans correspondence, have raised the alarm about sea lice counts that far surpass the federal threshold of three lice per fish while young wild salmon are migrating.
    The Discovery Islands, near Campbell River, a bottleneck where juvenile salmon swam past farms, has been a flashpoint in the fish farm fight. Former fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan ordered the farms closed in 2020—meaning the pens are now empty—but, in April, Federal Court Judge Elizabeth Heneghan ruled that the Jordan decision breached salmon farmers’ right to procedural fairness. It is not known whether Murray will re-issue the order based on conservation needs.
    The depth of disagreement between the polarized camps, with both claiming science is on their side, is illustrated by opposing views of what happened in the Discovery Islands after the farm fish left.
     

    Young wild salmon swim around a salmon farm’s open-net pen in the Discovery Islands (Photo by Tavish Campbell)
     
    NGOs point to a recent survey showing wild salmon are virtually lice-free when swimming near the Discovery Islands, but Kingzett of BC Salmon Farmers Association said there has been no change.
    “We showed that sea lice levels in the Discovery Islands during our five years of monitoring, by independent, actual biologists, with Indigenous guardian oversight, has always been low and remains unchanged,” Kingzett said last month.
    Yet, a scientific study, based on 10 years of research and released last month by the Pacific Salmon Foundation, found that when young Fraser River sockeye swam past Discovery islands fish farms, their exposure rate to the pathogen Tenacibculum maritimum was 12 times higher than elsewhere.
    A second study, released by the University of BC, found that Tenacibculum maritimum and piscine orthoreovirus are the two pathogens that most negatively affect the survival of wild salmon.
    Michael Meneer, Pacific Salmon Foundation president, is appealing to Murray to hold firm to the commitment to transition away from open net pen salmon farming.
    “Any renewal of licenses that prolong this risk to wild salmon would be deeply concerning. Salmon face many challenges and open-net salmon farms pose a serious risk to wild salmon—a risk we can control,” Meneer said in a news release.
    Stan Proboszcz, senior scientist at Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said one of the concerns is pressure on Murray from within the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and, specifically, from the Aquaculture Management Division, where there is entrenched support for the industry.
    “We believe [the minister is] potentially trying to transition salmon farms out of BC, but certain people in DFO may be trying to thwart those efforts,” he said.
    There are also questions about the rules that will govern farms during the transition and about the time frame if licences are renewed to allow time for consultations with First Nations and other stakeholders, Proboszcz said.
    Government must consult with First Nations and a likely scenario is that Murray will announce a schedule for consultation and engagement on how to get the farms out of BC, Proboszcz said.
    “But, if the licences are renewed for three years, that bumps up against another election and, potentially, a new government that won’t keep this promise,” he said.
    Indigenous communities are key and salmon farming companies are actively courting First Nations in efforts to reach partnership agreements.
    Several farm expansion proposals have already been submitted, including three in the Broughton Archipelago where, in an agreement with First Nations, the BC government plans to phase out farms by 2023.
    The majority of Indigenous communities—a total of 102 First Nations—are opposed to salmon farms in their territories, according to Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nations Wild Salmon Alliance.
    However, a smaller group, represented by the Coalition of First Nations for Finfish Stewardship, wants Nations to be able to decide for themselves whether to have salmon farms in their territories.
    BC Salmon Farmers Association website says 20 First Nations have partnership agreements for farming salmon in their territory, 78 percent of all salmon farmed in the province in under a “beneficial partnership” with a First Nation and “about 20 percent of salmon farming jobs are held by people of First Nations heritage.”
    The Coalition wants licences reissued for a minimum of five years and says it is a matter of Indigenous rights and title.
    However, Chamberlin said that, as salmon are migratory, it infringes on the rights of other First Nations when wild salmon, which Nations rely on for food and ceremonies, have to swim past farms with lice and pathogens.
    Closed containment and other new technologies that prevent farm fish from coming into contact with their wild counterparts are seen as a path to the future and Grieg Seafood has conducted trials in BC with a semi-closed containment system. But concerns about viability and cost remain even though at least three major on-land salmon farms are planned in the US.
    With the decision looming, the bottom line must be to find a way to minimize the contact that farm fish have with wild salmon.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.
     
    UPDATE: The federal Minister made her announcement shortly after we published the above article. She has promised more details over the coming weeks, and more consultations with First Nations, towards the final transition plan, expected in spring, 2023. Meanwhile, she has renewed licences outside of the Discovery Islands for two years. Consultations with First Nations and industry for the salmon farms in the Discovery Islands will inform a final decision on them, expected in January 2023. While this process is underway, DFO will not reissue licences for Atlantic Salmon facilities in the area.
    See https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/government-of-canada-outlines-next-steps-in-transition-from-open-net-pen-salmon-farming-in-british-columbia-879196811.html

    Judith Lavoie
    Cannabis is like candy to dogs—but also highly toxic. Since legalized, it is littering parks, trails and sidewalks, along with discarded opioids.
     
    AS ADRIAN HICKIN held his apparently lifeless Vizsla puppy he racked his brains trying to figure out what could have happened to two-month-old Finnigan.
    The family, with their new puppy, returned home after an on-leash walk along the waterfront in Brentwood Bay and a brief pee-stop in a commercial parking lot with convenient grass patches. Finnigan, like most puppies, was rambunctious when he got home, but when he reached the kitchen he started to rock and wobble.
    “Our first thinking was that he was having some sort of stroke or embolism so my partner put him in a blanket and held him, but then he just went completely lifeless. He was completely flaccid. We could see he was breathing, but when you picked up his paw, there was absolutely no response,” Hickin said.
    “We were distraught. We had only had the puppy home for two weeks and this happened. . . We thought it was neurological and something bad had happened to his brain.. . .  He was so little, he was only 14 pounds,” he said.
    As Hickin and his partner Melanie drove a still-catatonic Finnigan to Westcoast Animal Veterinary Emergency Specialty Hospital (WAVES) they phoned in a description of the  symptoms to a veterinarian and the first question was whether the dog had ingested marijuana.
    No one in the household uses marijuana, so the question was jolting and the initial gut response was that it was not possible, but the vet then explained that it is common for dogs to pick up marijuana when out for walks and the hospital needed to know so Finnigan could receive the correct treatment, Hickin said.
    As COVID rules were still in effect, Finnigan was carried into the hospital while the couple waited outside for test results and wondering if their puppy was going to make it out alive.
     

    Finnigan as a puppy (he’s a few months older now)
     

    “They finally came out and said they had tested his urine and it was marijuana, but it was also opioids—it was the stuff that is killing people—and that was when we got very, very afraid,” Hickin said.
    The veterinarians gave Finnigan a shot of Naloxone and, as everyone waited to see if it would bring him around, Hickin was told that the hospital is seeing similar cases almost every day.
    “[The vet] said it’s not just picking up a roach, people are doing edibles and they drop them and they are filled with THC. The other thing is people get high and they’re out in the bush or whatever and they defecate and the dogs will eat it—which is not uncommon for dogs to do,” he said.
    Finnigan was put on an IV, given activated charcoal, which can prevent a poison from being absorbed by the body, and kept in the hospital overnight as staff kept watch.
    By noon the next day Finnigan was awake and, a few hours later, was on the road to recovery.
    The story was similar for Brentwood Bay resident Maureen Garrity and her Sheltie puppy Berri, who was three months old when she went for an on-leash walk at Rithet’s Bog.
    “That night she started vomiting and had projectile diarrhea and then she couldn’t walk. She was like a drunken sailor and then her head started wobbling. I knew it wasn’t a seizure, but it was very, very distressing,” said Garrity, who called Central Victoria Animal Hospital.
    Garrity spent 15 minutes on the phone describing Berri’s symptoms and answering questions and the vet then concluded that her dog had ingested THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis that produces the sensation of being high.
    “I said ‘that’s not possible. I don’t smoke it, none of my friends smoke it. There’s no way she would have access to it,’” Garrity said.
    The vet asked Garrity if she had been in a public place that day and explained that, since marijuana became legal in 2018 it has become increasingly common for dogs to pick up pot and THC is so toxic to dogs that, especially if they are young or small, it takes very little to make them ill.
    The saving grace for Berri was the extent of the diarrhea and vomiting, which effectively cleaned her system of the poison, but the incident has shaken Garrity.
     

    Maureen Garrity with Berri as a puppy—again, she’s bigger now.
     

    “I felt like a terrible dog owner and I was shocked when I started to tell people what had happened, how many people said ‘oh, that happened to my dog.’  That’s when I began to realize that this is something that the public needs to be aware of,” she said.
    Dr Tin Wai Kwan of Helmcken Veterinary Clinic was an emergency veterinarian before opening up her clinic five years ago and said the cases of THC poisoning are a dime a dozen. “I have literally seen hundreds over the last few years,” she said.
    Since legalization, people are smoking joints in public places, whether in popular spots such as the Galloping Goose Trail or someone flicking a roach off a balcony, and all too often, they are picked up by dogs, Kwan said.
    When it is uncertain what the dog has eaten, owners in BC are often initially referred by local veterinarians to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Animal Poison Control Centre.
    In the first two months of 2019, as some states legalized marijuana, the centre reported a 765 percent increase in marijuana cases over the previous year.
    Edibles are an increasing problem as the concentration of THC is higher and, while a person might eat one brownie, a dog will eat the whole pan, APCC medical director Tina Wismer said in a video.
    Often it is not worth testing the dogs as signs of pot ingestion are usually obvious and can include difficulty walking, excessive drooling and dribbling urine, Kwan said.
    “They act really weird, sort of a little freaked out or stoned,” said Kwan, adding that many owners think their dog is having a stroke.
    The good news is that most pot ingestions do not end in death, but symptoms depend on the amount consumed, she said.
    If the dog gets into a big bag someone has stashed in the house, it’s a problem, while eating a single roach is less severe.
    “The problem is, as an owner, you don’t really know how much your dog ate,” said Kwan, who recommends that, even if the symptoms are mild, the owner should get help from a veterinarian.
    “Not all toxins are the same. There may be subtle differences so at least you can get a diagnosis and then talk about treatment options which can range from monitoring at home to intravenous fluids to help flush it out. If it is early on, a vet can help induce vomiting,” Kwan said.
    But why would a dog eat a roach someone has flicked into the bush?
    “It’s like the best-tasting candy you can imagine. They will 100 percent eat it,” Kwan said.
    Dr Adrian Walton of Dewdney Animal Hospital in Maple Ridge, who sees a steady stream of stoned pets, agrees that dogs find marijuana irresistible.
    “It’s their version of catnip. They absolutely love the stuff. They will find even the smallest amount because they love the smell of it and it is incredibly common,” he said.
    “If we have a dog coming in stumbling, the first thing we say to the owner is ‘did your dog get into pot?’”
    The common reaction is “absolutely not,” either because people don’t want to admit they were careless with their stash at home or because they have no idea the dog picked up something outside.
    “The simple fact is we don’t care [how it happened]. We just want to treat your dog. We’re not going to report people, just tell us what your dog got into,” Walton said.
    Many people don’t understand that their stash has to be secured, not out on the counter, and those smoking in the park often have little understanding about how it affects dogs, he said.
    “It debilitates dogs for much longer than people and often, if it’s a severe intoxication with a small dog like a Pomeranian or a Chihuahua, these animals have to be hospitalized for 24 or 48 hours and the cost is expensive,” Walton said.
    Asked whether the CRD can or is doing anything around the toxic debris, Jeff Leahy, Capital Regional District senior parks manager, said no smoking is allowed in regional parks and that includes marijuana. Signs make the rules clear and park rangers monitor visitors.
    Therefore, education is the obvious answer, but people are accustomed to throwing away cigarette butts and see no difference with their marijuana or other drugs, said Walton, who has had at least a couple of cases where fentanyl has been involved and, like many vets now keeps Narcan—medication used to reverse the effects of opioids—on hand.
    “We need people not to be idiots….Pack it in, pack it out. We have to retrain people [to understand] this is not a safe product,” said Dr Walton, adding that, in addition to dog problems, there is little information on the effect on wildlife.
    Domestic cats, however, are not usually interested.
    For Garrity one of the most shocking discoveries was the number of non-dog-owners who laughed off the incident with Berri and told her that the dog was probably having a good time.
    “I’m telling you, my dog was not having a good time,” she said.
    “It was awful and it took her a good week for her digestive system to go back to normal,” she said.
    Hickin found that one of the lingering problems was figuring out which areas were safe for dog-walking, but, now the family has moved to the Highlands and are taking more remote walks, the anxiety is fading, he said.
    “But I am still quite gun shy,” he said.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.
     

    Judith Lavoie
    “Everything out there, the salmon, the seals, the sea lions, all types of fish up to the whales rely on the herring to survive.” —Tsawout hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey
     
    THERE IS A BASIC BELIEF, passed down through generations of First Nations for millennia, that ensured Indigenous people along the BC coast not only survived, but thrived.
    “You never, never, ever take everything. You only take what you need,” said Tsawout hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey. He was considering the fate of Pacific herring, a vital link in the food chain extending from plankton to killer whales, and an important food source for Indigenous communities.
     

    Tsawout hereditary Chief Eric Pelkey
     
    That rule has been broken time and time again by Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO), which, for decades, has allowed unsustainable catches by commercial fishers, and ignored pleas from conservation organizations and Indigenous groups to shut down the fishery in order to allow herring stocks to recover, say critics.
    Pelkey, community engagement coordinator with WSANEC Leadership Council, representing Tsartlip, Tseycum and Tsawout First Nations, wants a complete shutdown of the herring fishery and a detailed plan to rebuild stocks. But, over the last five years, there has been little response to repeated calls for a moratorium. Last year, an effort by the Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’xw Nation to obtain an injunction to stop the herring fishery in Smith Inlet was turned down by the federal court.
    However, as fears grow that the foundational species may not rebound, there are signs that Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray, who describes the stocks as being in a “fragile state,” is looking carefully at fishing pressures, though many question if it’s too little too late.
     
    Failure to catch allotment a telling sign
    This year, four out of five areas around the BC coast—the west coast of Vancouver Island, Prince Rupert, Central Coast and Haida Gwaii—remained closed. In the Strait of Georgia, the one area that remained open, the catch was reduced from 20 percent of predicted biomass to 10 percent.
    “This approach extends the cautious approaches taken in recent years, with additional limits on harvest and considers the decline of the wild Pacific salmon and the impacts of the recent floods and landslides on fish habitats in British Columbia,” said Claire Teichman, Murray’s press secretary, in an emailed response to questions from Focus.
     

    Seining Pacific herring in the Salish Sea near Parksville
     
    In March, DFO closed the mackerel and herring spring fishery on the East Coast in an effort to rebuild depleted stocks. In April, regulations to accompany changes to the Fisheries Act named 30 stocks that will require a rebuilding plan if numbers fall below a reference point. 
    On the west coast, those stocks include Haida Gwaii Pacific herring. The Haida Gwaii herring fishery was closed in 1994 after stocks collapsed, with members of the Haida Nation claiming the previous year’s commercial fishery had literally scooped up all the fish. An attempted opening by DFO in 2014 was successfully opposed by the Council of the Haida Nation and stocks have not yet recovered.
    Fears for the future of Pacific herring were exacerbated this spring when, after seiners had scooped up their quota in the Strait of Georgia, the gillnet fleet was unable to complete their allotted catch, bringing in only 4,300 tonnes of the 7,850 tonne quota.
    Rob Morley, executive director of the Herring Conservation and Research Society, an organization funded by industry, said the reason for the shortfall was that spawning took place further north than expected and over a very short period of time.
    The gillnet fishery waited for several days, in order to catch the high-yield females, which come into shore after the males, but, with the change in spawning time, less fish were caught, he said.
    “Also, because the quota had been reduced, there were fewer boats, with less time to fish,” Morley said.
    Others believe the lack of fish shows incontrovertibly that Strait of Georgia herring are disappearing.
    “I think the lack of ability that fishermen had to catch fish this year is really telling in itself,” said Emma Page, Pacific Wild marine campaigner.
    “We usually see the herring quota filled within a matter of days, regardless of what the stock assessment turns out to be. This year, the fishery remained open for two weeks without any additional catch. That has really never happened before, so, even if the stock assessment isn’t complete yet, we can draw some pretty telling conclusions from the fishing activity,” she said.
    It is possible, but unlikely, the herring spawned in different areas and times, Page said.
    “Herring for decades have been spawning in the same general location and DFO has been on the ground doing assessments and dive surveys and spawning surveys prior to opening the fishery and then they opened the fishery because the spawn was occurring,” she said.
    Grant Scott, chair of Conservancy Hornby Island, said the idea that spawning had occurred in different areas is “dreaming in Technicolour.”
    “There’s people all over the coast looking for them and these are not fish quietly spawning in the shallows where you can’t see them. This is a huge, white, milky stream in the water,” he said.
     

    Herring spawn off the south end of Denman Island (Photo courtesy Jake Berman)
    .
    DFO is conducting dive surveys to assess the number of eggs deposited by spawning herring in the Strait of Georgia and that information, which will be used to assess stocks and plan for the future, will not be available until later this year.
    Science, informed by the surveys, will then form the basis of gear allocation, openings and harvest levels for next year, according to DFO.
    Award-winning author and herring advocate Briony Penn, PhD, questions why the precautionary principle is not immediately being applied to the herring fishery.
    “From Victoria to Haida Gwaii, coastal communities are experiencing a silent spring, up and down the coast, and now the last spawn is on the brink,” she said in a news release.
    Pelkey also does not believe the herring moved or changed spawning times.
    “We have been in touch with First Nations all over the coast and, it seems to me, it is widespread. There was no spawn in almost all areas and, where there was spawn, it was severely depleted,” he said.
    There are pockets, such as Ganges Harbour and Fort Rodd Hill, where small shoals of herring are appearing, and some people are trying to transfer eggs on kelp and boughs to traditional spawning areas, Pelkey said. But, to succeed, the entire area must be closed to fishing, said Pelkey.
    Pelkey wonders whether people have grasped the gravity of ripple effects if herring disappear.
    “It will actually end up killing the salmon fishery. Almost everything out there, the salmon, the seals, the sea lions, all types of fish up to the whales rely on the herring to survive. It would kill just about everything out there in the Salish Sea,” Pelkey said.
    It has been about 20 years since Pelkey has seen signs of a full herring spawn, but, a decade ago, there was a “pretty lively herring spawn that appeared in Saanich Inlet,” he said.
    “Automatically DFO opened it up to commercial fishing and wiped it out completely again. It was really, really maddening to us. Our people went out to try and block the fishing, but, by the time the blockade happened, the commercial fishermen had set their huge nets and wiped out the stock,” Pelkey said.
     
    Industry and activists diverge on numbers
    The small silver fish, with a high fat content, can live for eight to 10 years and can spawn multiple times, leaving sticky eggs stuck to rocks, kelp or eel grass. Once the eggs are laid, usually in mid-March and early April, the males release huge amounts of sperm, turning parts of the ocean milky white.
     

    Herring roe on eel grass (Photo by Jim Shortreed)
     
    Females can lay up to 20,000 eggs a year, but only about 20 to 30 percent of the fertilized eggs survive to hatching, according to “The Fighting Fish” a research paper written for Pacific Wild.
    The juvenile herring then have to survive predators, pollution and climate change, with only one herring out of 10,000 returning to the shallow waters to spawn.
    While First Nations traditionally collected eggs from spawn on kelp or cedar boughs, allowing the fish to return and spawn again in future years, the commercial fishing industry kills the fish and strips the eggs from females. The roe is sold as a delicacy, with most of it going to Japan.
    Pacific Wild estimates that 88 percent of the catch—parts of the fish remaining after the roe is stripped—is not used for human consumption, but is ground up for pet food and salmon farm food.
    It is a number disputed by Morley, spokesman for the commercial fishing industry, who said the roe makes up between 15 and 18 percent of the fish. Between 40 and 60 percent of fish caught are frozen and exported whole to be processed in China or Japan where much of the fish is used for food products, said Morley, who also chairs the Herring Industry Advisory Board, which provides advice to DFO.
    “The overall amount that goes to human food out of the roe fishery is probably closer to 35 or 40 percent and that is not much different from many other fish products or some animal products,” Morley said.
    “Nothing goes to waste, it’s made into fishmeal that goes into livestock and fish food and some pet food. If they weren’t eating that, they would be eating something else,” he said, adding that the fishery is worth between $35-million and $40-million annually.
    Morley also claimed that, contrary to popular belief, herring populations in BC have grown by more than 50 percent over the last 10 years. “The total spawning population on the coast of BC is now about 185,000 metric tonnes. I know that is totally contrary to what people are telling you, but they are not reading the scientific stock assessment reports,” said Morley, who believes the Prince Rupert area, Central Coast and West Coast of Vancouver Island should have been opened for fisheries this year.
    “Some of it, I think, is being done because of reconciliation issues with First Nations,” said Morley, adding that some Nations wanted commercial spawn-on-kelp fisheries this year, but Murray turned them down.
    The rosy picture of recovering stocks is not what members of Conservancy Hornby Island have seen.
    Scott, who, in addition to chairing Conservancy Hornby Island is a retired commercial fisherman, said Strait of Georgia herring are at risk of going the same way as herring in other areas of the coast and there needs to be an immediate fishing moratorium for at least five years and a recovery program put in place to rebuild stocks.
     

    Chinook salmon are just one of the species that rely on herring
     
    “It’s an amazing, important little fish in the middle of the food chain. The southern resident killer whales need salmon and then there’s the cod, halibut, gray cod—everything ultimately relies one way or another on these forage fish,” said Scott, who wants to see a program to buy out the licenses of herring fishers and provide retraining for people in the industry.
    “Normally, Hornby and Denman Islands are the epicentre of the last remaining herring spawn. This year, it has just been a catastrophe. What I do know for sure is that I haven’t seen this limited and short duration of spawn in my 20 years of looking out over Lambert Channel. It’s a sad story,” he said.
    It was distressing to see the gillnetters continuing to search, but not finding fish, Scott said. “Those fish were just not there.”
     
    Petition calls for moratorium on herring fishery
    A 2020 study prepared for Conservancy Hornby Island by John Neilson, a research scientist with DFO for 30 years, advocated for a Marine Protected Area in Lambert Channel to protect the herring.
    The study identified the northern Gulf Islands as the most important area on the coast for herring and pointed out that other areas have shown “little or no recovery” after commercial fishing ended.
    In addition to fishing, herring in the Salish Sea face other threats such as “increased temperature and acidity, changes in prey fields and competition from other species,” Neilson wrote.
    Catherine Gray, Conservancy Hornby Island executive director, said a moratorium is needed on both the roe fishery and the smaller bait fishery, which is due to open in the Salish Sea on May 1.
    “They’re planning to kill off another 900 tonnes of fish and these could be the resident herring,” she said.
    A petition asking for a moratorium on the herring fishery has now been signed by 173,820 people, said Gray.
    Although most eyes are on the Strait of Georgia fishery, Jim Shortreed is hoping that, one day, large herring shoals will return to Victoria.
    From the 1950s until the 1970s herring were overfished around Victoria and, so far, have not recovered, said Shortreed, who wants DFO to work with First Nations on plans to rebuild stocks.
    “For instance, in Victoria, one year, there were 16,000 metric tonnes of herring and then there were 8,000 next year and then 200 and then they became zero,” Shortreed said.
    “It’s pretty clear it was overfishing,” he said, adding that climate change and increased predation also play a role. 
    Although there have been a few minor spawning spots on the South Island this year, even herring in the Gorge Waterway, which for years has been fished recreationally with jigs from bridges, appear to have disappeared, Shortreed said.
    “In 2016 an estimated total of 3,445 herring were caught from the Craigflower Bridge, equivalent to 4.5 fish per hour of fishing. This year, one fisherman has caught six fish since January despite regular effort,” he said.
    Shortreed would like to see an emphasis on roe-on-kelp fisheries.
    But first, the herring must be persuaded to return.
    “The water quality is good in the Gorge and there’s lots of spawning habitat—waiting for herring to make it home again,” he said.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.
     

    Judith Lavoie
    If the Nuchatlaht’s case is successful in BC’s Supreme Court, they will be able to take back their unceded land from forestry companies and begin its healing process.
     

    The north end of Nootka Island. Most of the area shown is claimed by the Nuchatlaht First Nation. The area has been heavily logged, mainly by Western Forest Products and BC Timber Sales. Remaining old-growth forest is indicated by darker green (click image to enlarge).
     
    BARK AND WOOD from the towering cedars that used to cover Nootka Island, off the west coast of Vancouver Island, were used for millennia by the Nuchatlaht people to create ocean-going canoes and household items, while abundant salmon, ducks and seafood ensured that no one went hungry.
    “It’s a powerful history,” said Archie Little, Nuchatlaht house speaker, describing how, for centuries, Nuchatlaht, a nation of plenty, hosted other First Nations, with Nootka becoming a regional cultural and social centre.
     

    Archie Little, Nuchatlaht house speaker (Photo: Nuchatlaht First Nation) 
     
    Nuchatlaht Tyee Ha’wilth (hereditary chief) Jordan Michael can trace his family history back through the centuries, with documents showing a flourishing culture and unbroken line of hereditary chiefs.
    “We were here when British Captain James Cook sailed into Nootka Sound in 1778. We were here when George Vancouver met the Spanish Captain Bodega y Quadra in 1792,” Michael wrote in an explanation of the First Nation’s history.
     

    Nuchatlaht Tyee Ha’wilth Jordan Michael (Photo: Nuchatlaht First Nation)
     
    Fast-forward to today. Following colonization, smallpox, residential schools, provincial and federal laws that took away the land and forest licences issued to multinational companies, 80 percent of northern Nootka Island has been logged, salmon streams have been destroyed and the herring run decimated.
    Which is why the tiny Nuchatlaht Nation, with about 170 members, is heading to BC Supreme Court on March 21 in a landmark title case, naming the provincial and federal governments and Western Forest Products, and why there is absolute determination to win this case and, possibly, set a precedent for other First Nations hoping to lay title claim to unceded territories.
    “We won’t lose. We can’t lose. Losing is not in our vocabulary. We’re here to win. We’re here to change. We’re here to make things better for everyone,”  Little said at a webinar hosted by the Wilderness Committee.
    “Our wealth was abundance, and it was managed as such. It wasn’t just take, take, take until there’s nothing left,” Little said.
    “Look at the state we are in now. We have to stand up. We have to take ownership. We have to protect it and manage it way better,” he said.
    The Nuchatlaht rights and title case, claiming about 200 square kilometres of Nootka Island, is the first to apply the precedent-setting 2014 Tsilhqot’in decision in which the Supreme Court of Canada granted the Tsilhqot’in First Nation title to 1,750 square kilometres of territory. The ruling established that semi-nomadic First Nations can claim entire territories, not only village sites.
    Nuchatlaht is asking for a declaration of aboriginal title and for the Forests Act to no longer apply to those lands. Such a ruling would void existing forest licences and leave Nuchatlaht to decide how to manage the land.
    Little believes local management by people with a deep connection to the area will give the land a chance to recover and, as he confidently predicts victory, he hopes to see salmon parks established on Nootka Island. Salmon parks recognize that everything is connected, from the health of mountain tops to the rivers running through the valley bottoms
    “Salmon depend on water and land. We can’t cut all the trees and expect the salmon to survive. We need healthy waters and healthy fish and healthy people,” he said.
     

    Clearcut logging on Nootka Island (Photo: TJ Watt)
     
    A test of the Province’s pledge to implement UNDRIP
    The case will also test the Province’s commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, passed in 2019. The Province pledged to bring all BC’s laws into alignment with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous people.
    That declaration says that Indigenous people have the right to the lands and resources they have traditionally owned, occupied or otherwise used and requires Indigenous communities to consent to decisions that affect their rights.
    However, progress on the provincial declaration has been slow, with some First Nations criticizing the pace of change.
    Chief Michael, speaking at the webinar, said the Province’s insistence on fighting the title case does not indicate a commitment to UNDRIP.
    “Considering the way Canada has been towards us up to now, there’s been no sign of UNDRIP or any of that good faith yet, so I was not holding my breath. Sure enough, there’s no change in their tactics. It’s pretty disappointing, but no surprise,” Michael said.
    Lawyer Jack Woodward, who shepherded the Tsilhqot’in case through the courts and was instrumental in drafting the section of the Canadian Constitution that enshrines Indigenous Rights, is exasperated by the provincial government’s insistence on fighting the case.
     

    Lawyer Jack Woodward (Photo: Landon Walters CC)
     
    While Woodward acknowledges that implementing UNDRIP is a big project, he said, “But, they just have to work harder. You can’t make a solemn promise to all of the Indigenous people and all of us who feel ashamed of British Columbia’s past…and not follow through. You’ve got to follow through and we just have to keep pressuring our politicians,” he said, in answer to audience questions at the webinar.
    History speaks for itself, according to Woodward.
     
    Province’s legal arguments are “disgraceful”
    “It has been the shame of British Columbia. It’s really our original sin in this province that there have been no proper dealings with the First Nations about their lands, which were simply taken. What is new, is that the current government has promised that they are going to conduct this litigation in a spirit of reconciliation on a principled basis,” he said.
    Instead, the Province’s legal arguments are “disgraceful,” Woodward said.
    The Province’s position, put forward in the latest response to the civil claim, are that the Nuchatlaht abandoned Nootka Island, that BC laws displaced Indigenous title, and that the Nuchatlaht Nation was too small and weak to legally hold title.
    The document describes various groups or Indigenous collectives using the area before the British Crown asserted sovereignty over Nootka Island in 1790 and  “a collective of politically autonomous local groups” that lived in the territory between 1803 and 1846. “There are not now and, since the 1980s there have not been, Nuchatlaht resident communities in the Claim Area,” it says.
    That is because the Nuchatlaht were driven out after they were forbidden to cut trees or build houses on Crown land, Woodward said.
    “They were evicted. They were forced off their land by the government’s act. This is a disgraceful argument that our government is making…I am embarrassed that our Province continues to advance that position. I am calling on the Attorney General to turn it around,” he said.
    “Our argument is really very simple that Indigenous people, like all Canadians, have to have the right to inherit the wealth of their grandparents…That right was cut off by government actions in the last decades and that is what we are going to fix in this court case,” he said.
    An e-mailed statement from the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation said the Province is committed to a principled legal approach, but the primary goal is always to resolve issues outside the courts.
    “We are deeply committed to advancing reconciliation in BC—guided by the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples—and with meaningful consultation and cooperation with Indigenous Peoples,” it said.
    The claim that British Columbia’s laws displaced Aboriginal title, if it ever existed, is a new argument, Woodward said.
    “That’s the extinguishment argument recycled with a different word,” said Woodward, adding that, under the Canadian Constitution and UNDRIP, there cannot be claims that Indigenous title was extinguished.
    The Province is not arguing extinction and has not used such a defence since the litigation started, replied the ministry in an e-mail.
    Since 2019, the Province has based its negotiations on a recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples “with all agreements stating explicitly that government will not require Indigenous peoples to extinguish their rights,” says the ministry response.
    Then, there is the “Luxembourg defence” claiming Nuchatlaht was too small and weak to have Indigenous title, Woodward said, pointing out that Luxembourg is squished between the great powers of France and Germany, but still exists.
    “That’s like Nuchatlaht. They are still there… [and] that is the bully’s argument that they say only the strong have a right to survive,” he said.
    The pleading from the Province says the government is concerned about possible overlapping title claims with the Ehattesaht and Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nations, but Woodward said there are no overlaps with the territories of other First Nations.
    “What distinguishes this case is the very careful way that Nuchatlaht have exercised restraint by not making a claim for any areas claimed by another First Nation,” he said.
    Ehattesaht and Mowachaht-Muchalaht confirmed there are no problems with overlap and both First Nations support the Nuchatlaht claim.
     
    Show of support requested
    As the case progresses, and particularly if Nuchatlaht is victorious, one of the questions will be whether other First Nations are ready to follow suit.
    For most communities, the downside is the time, energy and money required to get a case into court and Woodward has accused the Province of using delaying tactics to increase the expense in the Nuchatlaht case, which was launched in 2017.
    Woodward said many people were surprised that more First Nations did not embark on rights and title cases after the Tsilhqot’in victory, but most opted to aim for negotiated settlements instead of long, expensive court cases.
    As some of the “clutter” is cleared in the initial cases, Woodward hopes the time and the cost will decrease.
    “My ambition is that this case will be done for 10 percent of the cost and 10 percent of the time of Tsilhqot’in and I think we might do it,” he said.
    The case will start Monday, March 21, 2022 and continue for eight weeks, followed by two weeks of legal submissions in September. Nuchatlaht members are asking for a show of support with a rally at the Nelson Street entrance of the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver at 8:30 am March 21.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.

    Judith Lavoie
    In the lead-up to civic elections next fall, Langford citizens are demanding change, including respectful debate and input into decision-making.
     
    THE FINAL STRAW for Langford Councillor Lillian Szpak, during an increasingly prickly council meeting, was when a fellow councillor alluded to her family during a verbal attack and another, supported by the mayor, accused her of supplying information to outsiders during the meeting.
    The January 10, 2022 meeting degenerated into a schoolyard-style spat as Mayor Stew Young, Councillor Lanny Seaton and Councillor Matt Sahlstrom piled on to criticize Szpak, who had suggested getting expert and community advice on a tree protection bylaw.
    “I am talking about respect,” said Szpak after Seaton claimed she was in conflict-of-interest because her daughter-in-law is a member of Langford Voters for Change, a Facebook group that is, increasingly, a thorn-in-the-side of council.
    Later in the meeting Szpak sent an emailed reply to a resident who complained about being cut off in mid-sentence by the mayor.
    Young claimed Szpak behaved inappropriately by responding to the email from a member of Langford Voters for Change, although Szpak said she does not know the emailer and was apologizing for the abrupt cut-off.
    Under COVID-19 protocols, residents must phone or use Zoom to speak at public hearings and, ironically, the caller was asking Young not to interrupt those phoning in.
    The “shameful behaviour and egregious accusations” are a clear demonstration that Langford needs a code of conduct, said Szpak, who notified Council at its next meeting of her plan to introduce such a motion soon. That resulted in a reprimand from the mayor for not putting it in writing or going through staff first.
    In a January interview with Saanich News after that January 24 meeting, Young, described some councillors as “combative,” and stated “I’ve got broad shoulders; nobody has to agree with me, but this is the path that I’ve taken for 30 years and it’s brought Langford to a great space.”
     
    “It was ugly”
    At issue is more than a spat on a local council. Langford is BC’s fastest-growing large municipality and Young has steered that growth since becoming mayor shortly after incorporation almost 30 years ago.
    He has had three decades without serious opposition, but, some sectors of the community say they are struggling to make their voices heard and feel disheartened by a council that appears to follow its own agenda regardless of input.
    Szpak, who has lived in Langford since 1993 and served six terms on council, has watched Langford’s demographics change, with younger, more engaged people moving into the community. Many share their views on social media and it worries her that some councillors view groups such as Langford Voters for Change as a threat.
    “To characterize them as the evil Facebook group and that anyone on it has questionable intent—and then to refer to my daughter-in-law as one of those people—was a personal attack and completely unacceptable,” Szpak said.
     

    Langford Mayor Stew Young, Councillors Denise Blackwell and Lillian Szpak 
     
    Several days after the January 10 council meeting, Szpak remained troubled about the atmosphere on council, personal attacks and a reluctance to listen to opposing views.
    “I tried to defend myself and my family and it was ugly,” she said in an interview.
    “I watched that [video recording] this morning and it is painful. It’s very, very hard for me to see that again,” she said. (The exchange referred to starts at roughly 1 hour, 50 minutes into the January 10 meeting.)
    The meeting was an illustration of what regularly happens around the council table where questions are taken as challenges, rather than requests for information, Szpak said.
    “Where is our integrity? Where is our accountability and where is our collaborative leadership?” she asked.
    “When someone has the floor, the chair should protect that as long as they are speaking appropriately. Inappropriate is not ‘I don’t agree with you,’” she said.
    “Physical gestures, eye rolling, hand gestures, those kinds of threatening behaviour should not be tolerated,” she added.
    Councillor Denise Blackwell said she and Szpak recently decided to be more vocal about the need for debate, especially when it comes to major changes such as 24-storey towers in Langford’s centre.
    “I think the other [councillors] are terrified to do it, so we have decided to speak up,” said Blackwell, who has been on council since incorporation in 1992.
    “It’s a frustrating kind of thing when no one debates anything—it just kind of goes through—and, in the past, most of it was fine and had been approved at different committee meetings, but, if you dare to ask questions or disagree with the mayor’s vision, you get a lecture,” Blackwell said.
    In the meantime, a code of conduct would help, she said.
    “I know you can’t always do everything that people want, but people do need to have an opportunity to speak. If it’s a big change, like all these towers, it’s something you should put out to the community and let them speak,” Blackwell said.
     
    Developers leading the process
    Langford has changed beyond recognition in the last three decades and the City regularly gains accolades for its relentless push to provide housing, bring jobs to the community and densify the city core.
    It was recently named Most Resilient City and Best Place for Work in BC by BC Business Magazine and has grown from 14,000 residents at incorporation in 1992 to 47,313 in July 2021.
    The growth has brought restaurants, recreation facilities, cheaper housing and a city vibe, but the rapid building rate has also brought traffic jams, clear-cut, once-forested development sites, blasted mountain tops, the disappearance of some single-family neighbourhoods and concerns about the environment.
    John Treleaven, chair of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, said the transformation of Langford has benefitted the whole region and contributed to the regional housing supply.
    Young and the council have been key to Langford’s growth, but, eventually, that transformed community will move in the direction it chooses, Treleaven said.
    “People have every right to express their point of view. It’s all about transparency, accountability and acting in the best interest of the community as the council judges. That is the sacred trust we place on our elected officials,” he said.
    The backdrop to the apparent growing dissatisfaction is the run-up to next October’s municipal elections and Young, who did not respond to phone calls or emailed questions from Focus, recently told the Times Colonist that he is undecided on running again.
    Langford Voters for Change will not be fielding candidates, although individual members may decide to run.
    In the 2018 municipal election, Langford had the second-lowest turnout in the province—beaten only by Terrace—but, some are hoping issues ranging from continuous construction noise to the prospect of 24-storey condominium towers, may overcome apathy.
    Young is proud of Langford’s ability to cut red tape and grease the wheels for developers, with approvals racing through the process in a fraction of the time it takes in other municipalities. The speedy approach means developers can assemble land and, often, start building within six months.
    However, there are ongoing concerns about who has the ear of councillors and the close relationship between developers and council.
    “If the only people they are hearing from in these committee meetings and in the hallways are those who are making a living off …increased development, those are the only voices they pay attention to,” said Laurie Plomp, a member of Langford Voters for Change.
    “It’s very frustrating to feel like the developers are leading the process in Langford.”
    Those with links to the development community dominate advisory committees and much of the work is done behind the scenes, before an application reaches council, leading to accusations of lack of transparency.
    Public hearings are usually short and a check of hearings during the last two council meetings shows almost all those speaking in favour of developments were connected to either the real estate or development industries.
    “There is such a lack of opposite viewpoints or balanced viewpoints on any of the committees,” Plomp said.
    Then, once an application comes to council for a public hearing, input is limited and councillors will not consider the cumulative impact of development on neighbourhoods, despite the breakneck speed of development, Plomp said.
    “There has been a lot more pushback over the last couple of years, particularly in terms of development and environmental destruction, and [Young] just doesn’t appreciate those kinds of remarks,” she said.
     
    Opposition to status quo getting organized
    The Facebook site for Langford Voters for Change, which has 1,900 members, emphasizes the group is not anti-development, but wants thoughtful, balanced and well-paced development that “protects the natural environment rather than obliterates it” and blends in with existing neighbourhoods.
    The group wants “a community centric and transparent governing body” that encourages broad-based community input to be analyzed and incorporated into the decision-making processes.
    That is not what Langford has right now, say some residents who believe that, especially when it comes to development, Young will not tolerate opposition.
    Jacqueline Gintaut, a member of Langford Voters for Change, whose phone call was cut off by Young at the meeting, said, after living in Langford for decades, she joined the group last year.
    “I was naïve in that I believed that, if community residents reached out to engage with mayor and council in a professional and constructive manner, that their input would be welcomed and an opportunity to work collaboratively would present itself. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long to recognize that my imagined reality was not to be,” she said.
     

    Langford residents Jacqueline Gintaut (left) and Ayzia De Medeiros
     
    The perception that issues are decided before reaching council and input is ignored means some residents no longer feel comfortable calling in, especially if they are identified as belonging to Langford Voters for Change, Gintaut said.
    “Mayor Young has publicly said to me at a council meeting that I am a bully, I am a complainer. This how he speaks to the residents. If I was anybody other than myself, I probably would have been deterred from continuing to phone in. Who wants to be called names by the mayor at a public council meeting?” Gintaut said.
    “What is happening is wrong and it needs to change,” she said.
    When developments are questioned Young frequently speculates that callers do not understand the urgent need for more affordable housing or that they are newcomers to the area.
    “This isn’t Vancouver. If you like Vancouver, stay there. If you want to be in Langford this is what we do,” said Young during the tree protection bylaw discussion.
    Gintaut said Young publicly misrepresents those who hold contrary views.
    “He has also categorized those of us who have lived here for decades as ‘wealthy naysayers who want to close off opportunities for others,’” she said. 
     
    Community feels left out of decision-making
    One of the biggest frustrations is the limited opportunity for community input to be incorporated into council decisions, Gintaut said.
    An example is the Official Community Plan which has changed significantly since it was put together in 2008, but lacks any broad-based community input, she said.
    Kimberley Guiry regularly listens to council meetings with her six and eight-year-old children, to help teach them how to talk about important topics.
    “We’re trying to show them that we have feelings about our community and this is the place to take those feelings [so we can] tell people who make decisions what is important to us,” Guiry said.
    The mid-January meeting was a disappointment, she said.
    “Being told by a mayor that, if we don’t align with the views that are already in place, we don’t have space to voice those opinions is hard,” she said.
    However, the family has turned it into a learning opportunity, said Guiry, who has used it to emphasize the need for respectful discussions.
    Ayzia De Medeiros has lived in Langford for about 15 years and, initially, paid little attention to local politics, but with increased development around her home, started listening to the council meetings.
    “But I take a step back every now and then because it is, honestly, so aggravating. It’s like beating your head against the wall at times,” said De Medeiros, adding she was so shocked by the mid-January meeting that she was shaking after listening to it.
    “It was embarrassing to watch,” said De Medeiros, who called City Hall with the aim of having a discussion or filing a complaint, but she is not optimistic it will make a difference.
    What will make a difference is people turning out to vote at the next election, said De Medeiros who worries that rapid development is continuing without consideration of infrastructure.
     
    Code of Conduct—now or as election issue?
    One of the next steps will pull the seven-member council into a debate on the need for a code of conduct, something that may not be a choice for council after the October 15 municipal election.
    Last year a working group from the Union of BC Municipalities, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Local Government Management Association came up with an updated draft code of conduct and guide.
    That was followed by amendments to the Local Government Act calling on all municipal councils to publicly consider developing or updating codes of conduct within six months of a new term of office.
    “This provides a tool to strengthen local government responsible conduct, respect and inclusion by creating a regular process for elected officials to talk about shared expectations as they carry out their responsibilities and govern together,” according to a background statement from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. 
    The real test will then be the October election to see whether the dissatisfaction is limited to a few malcontents and special interest groups, as Young recently claimed during an interview with CFAX radio, or whether Langford residents really want to be involved in the rapidly-changing community.
    Despite the simmering dissatisfaction, both Blackwell and Szpak doubt that Young is beatable if he decides to run.
    Blackwell will consider running for mayor if Young steps down, while Szpak hopes there will be new faces ready to serve on council.
    “It’s not rocket science. You don’t need any special qualifications other than you listen and you are respectful,” Szpak said.
    Plomp believes Langford residents are ready to ditch their apathy because, although most support construction of affordable housing, they are also concerned about their own environment.
    “Housing is important, but it’s housing that comes with neighbourhood parks or trees that you can see in your neighbourhood…I think there is going to be big change because it has escalated to the point that there is hardly any area that is not affected by this,” she said.
    “I don’t know that this council is able to reframe their thinking from what they have been doing for the last 30 years and start to look at some of the issues that matter to Langford voters now.” 
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.

    Grace Golightly
    “If all the beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man. All things are connected.” ——Chief Seattle (1786—1866)
     
    SPECIES HAVE BEEN GOING EXTINCT for numerous reasons, over millennia. But human-caused development, deforestation and climate change have accelerated the process as never before. 
    Record numbers of species are threatened or at risk—nearly 2,400 in British Columbia alone. Scientists say that up to half of all species may vanish by the end of this century.
    The problem is so widespread and distressing that an international “Remembrance Day for Lost Species” was created in 2011. This year it fell on Tuesday, November 30th. 
    In BC, lost and threatened species were honoured with events held in Port Coquitlam and in Victoria. About 100 people participated in Victoria’s event, called Rise Up for the Fallen, on November 24th. 
     

    Rise Up for the Fallen procession in Victoria, November 24, 2021. Hereditary Chief Ye-Kue-Klas (also known as Sonny) of the Gwat'sinux-Kwakwaka'wakw, carries a small totem pole, while others carry fronds of the cedar tree, sacred to many Indigenous nations. (photo by Valerie Elliott)
     
    Twenty people helped carry an iconic reminder of one of the “fallen”—a 1200-pound slab of coastal Douglas fir. With chanting and drumming, they followed Indigenous leaders in a procession that ended with a rally at the Legislature, where MLAs were still in session. 
    The slab measured a full eight feet across. It had been cut from a huge stump left behind in a clear-cut at the foot of Edinburgh Mountain, in the Port Renfrew area, and served as a stark reminder of the ongoing destruction of old-growth trees and the irreplaceable habitat they provide. Coastal Douglas fir ecosystems are among the most threatened in the province.
    En route, the procession paused at several intersections. During one pause, Jackie Larkin, an organizer with Elders for Ancient Trees, led a call-and-response that honoured recently clear-cut nearby ecosystems, and extinct or threatened species.
    “We honour, we remember Caycuse…” she said. The crowd gravely repeated each phrase after her. “We honour and rise for Eden Grove… We honour and remember marbled murrelet…” 
    And the little brown bat… Western toad… bandtailed pigeon… sharp-tail snake… Western skylark… oldgrowth specklebellied lichen… barn swallow… great blue heron… olive-sided flycatcher… common bladder moss… blue-grey taildropper slug… Western toad… phantom orchid… Stellar sea lion… red-legged frog… 
     

    Marbled murrelets are a threatened species. These robin-sized sea birds nest only in old-growth forests, high up on thick branches covered in moss. They lay only one egg. When it can fly, the chick makes a solitary journey to the sea. A lack of old growth along its route leaves it vulnerable to predators. (photo by Deborah Freeman)
     

    Northern pygmy owls are only 6 to 7 inches in length—about the size of a plump robin. But they are fierce hunters, sometimes preying on birds and mammals larger than itself. (photo by Deborah Freeman)
     


    The goshawk is a large hawk and requires large areas of old growth or mature forest for nesting and hunting. It is a red-listed species. Goshawks have been known to attack people that venture too near its nest. (photo by Deborah Freeman)
     

    Close up of a Western Toad (photo by Andrew Johnson, Creative Commons)
     


    Phantom orchid, Cephalanthera austiniae, on Vancouver Island (photo by sramey, Creative Commons)
     

    Sharp-tailed snake, Contia tenuis (photo by Don Loarie, Creative Commons)

     
    These are only a few of the threatened species within our region. The full list is much longer. And it must be added to the lists of all the lost and threatened species in other regions, and other countries, as well as the oceans. More than 37,000 species in the world are at direct risk of extinction.
    For the past 20 years, Larkin and Maggie Ziegler have been co-facilitating groups to help people open to and share the grief and pain so many feel for our planet and its beings harmed by human activity. They encourage people to see the interconnectedness, beauty and presence of life, and to feel gratitude for it. They include, honour and share the pain rather than repressing it as a private grief.
    “The Spanish word for remember is recordar—‘to pass through the heart,’”Larkin noted in an interview. “For me it’s very important for us as humans to remember and honour them, to celebrate the lives that they had, and to grieve for their loss. To me, the grieving and the honouring and the celebrating are all tied up together.”
     

    Citizen scientist Natasha Lavdovsky discovered one of BC's largest populations of this blue-listed lichen—in a marked cutblock at Fairy Creek. Oldgrowth specklebelly lichen only grows in forests that are at least 6,000 years old. Much of this forest in the Heli Camp area was recently logged. (photo by Natasha Lavdovsky)
     
    Ziegler explains the issues humans are facing are collective, and the pain is collective, so it makes sense to acknowledge them in community, where they can be witnessed and recognized as normal. It’s empowering, it opens the heart, and it also brings attention to what hasn’t been said or acknowledged, she said.
    She added that protecting land and water is a dangerous activity, and around the world, hundreds of environment defenders are murdered every year. It was recently reported that a record number of land defenders were killed in 2020: 227. Many were Indigenous people defending their ancestral land. (A sobering reminder, in a week when the RCMP reportedly assaulted a Pacheedaht land defender on her ancestral territory at Fairy Creek, and a week after 29 Indigenous people were arrested as they defended their Wet’suwet’en territory from the destructive installation of a pipeline which will endanger their sacred river and the nation’s water supply.)
    Que Mary Banh, who helped organize the Rise Up event, says the actual number of land defenders killed in the world is likely much higher. She speaks from personal experience. Before her family moved to Canada, two of her uncles were killed defending their jungle homelands from the destruction of logging and mining in South Vietnam. 
     

    Que Mary Banh at Fairy Creek, April 2021 (photo by Dawna Mueller)
     
    “They were shot by corporate mercenaries,” she said. But deaths of land defenders like her uncles go unreported in countries where there’s little press freedom, or where they may even be perpetrated or covered up by governments. 
    Now, she says, “There’s almost no life in the jungle. The fish have disappeared. The soil is contaminated.” 
    Young people of that region now see the birds and animals that used to live there only in photos. In Canada, Banh believes we are heading for the same fate. She is passionately committed to protecting forests and biodiversity, and spent five days in a hard block structure at Fairy Creek last August to slow down the logging.
    Banh says, “We Teochew people are not scared of death. What we’re scared of is not standing up while we’re living, letting these bullies scare us into submission. That’s not what I was taught.”
     
    WHEN THE PROCESSION reached the Legislature, several Indigenous leaders addressed the crowd. 
    Elder William Jones, of Pacheedaht First Nation in the Port Renfrew area, thanked those in the crowd who have helped defend the old-growth forests in the Fairy Creek area, which are part of his nation’s ancestral territory.
    “I am most grateful for all of you,” he told them. “We are here to protect and care for our Great Mother’s gift to us.”
    Another elder, a hereditary chief from northern Vancouver Island, Ye-Kue-Klas (Sonny) of the Gwat'sinux - Kwakwaka'wakw Nation said: “We will never give up, in our fight for our lands and for Mother Earth.” 
     

    Indigenous people led the Rise Up for the Fallen procession, including hereditary Chief Ye-Kue-Klas (also known as Sonny) of the Gwat'sinux-Kwakwaka'wakw, in the centre-right of the photograph. He was accompanied by his mother Tlax-Gwah-Nee (Fran Wallace), in the centre-left. Both are wearing their traditional regalia. Their nation is located on the western side of northern Vancouver Island. (photo by Valerie Elliott)
     
    Wearing his traditional regalia, he explained that his people call the Earth Mother because it provides for all: “It provides for every animal, every insect, every plant. The Earth provides for us. We need to stop all of the greed, all of the overcutting. We need to save the last bit of our old growth.”
    Ye-Kue-Klas said he was raised to think seven generations ahead. “What will they have, that we have now? If we take too much, our future generations will have nothing.”
    Greed was absolutely illegal before colonization arrived in these lands, another Indigenous speaker told the crowd. Chiyokten (Paul Wagner) from the W’SANEC nation has spent the past few months defending the old growth forests at Fairy Creek.
    Colonialism is “an adolescent culture of death,” he said. “It has destroyed all its elders and Indigenous-hearted matriarchs that would have said ‘No, you will not harm the circle of life.’ They have lost their connection to Mother Earth.” While Indigenous cultures were able to steward the lands and keep the circle of life healthy, this society is unable to even ensure a future for its own children, he said. 
    Colonialism has never listened to our First Peoples, he said.  As a child, his mother told him a story of the first contact with Europeans. “She said, ‘They came here with long eyes,’ and she took her fingers and moved them in a gesture from her eyes forward, beyond herself. She said ‘they came here with long eyes, and they looked beyond us, they looked right through us. They could only see the things they wanted to take for themselves.’
    Since then, Chiyokten said, 98 percent of the forests in the Salish Sea region have been destroyed, and 95 percent of the animals that lived in them are gone. “And about the same percentage of Indigenous human beings are gone too. Annihilated. 
    “So this is the trajectory of colonialism. We’re moving hard and fast towards death for the circle of life.”
    In order to stop that process, it is time to return to and honour the knowledge of Indigenous people, he said. Their deep and intimate knowledge of the earth, the water and their inhabitants enabled the first peoples to steward and maintain a paradise here for millennia, he said. That knowledge was passed on to children by the elders, and matriarchs guided their society. 
    When the Douglas party arrived and started wholesale destroying the ancient forests on their territories, the WSANEC people tried to reason with them, he said. 
    “But they wouldn’t stop. They wouldn’t listen to us. So we counselled and we decided to paint our faces black and fight to the death for an ancient forest. I’m proud of that. Not because it was violent. Because it was necessary. 
    “When my elder told me this, he said… if they destroy that, they destroy our ability to live as human beings. To be free, to truly be Indigenous, to be the same as all the other beings. That’s our knowing.”
     
    MEMBERS OF THE RISE UP FOR THE FALLEN event in Victoria had hoped to speak with MLAs. They stayed several hours at the Legislature, occupying the entrance and exit to the restricted parking lot until midnight. However, MLAs left their cars in their parking stalls and took taxis from the other side of the Legislature.
    But as Chiyokten said, many people see the need for change now. Many are embracing the Indigenous teachings about living simply, to respect the Earth, nature, and all species, and to stand up to protect them. “We’re beginning the end of the era of death,” he said. “We’re returning to a way of Life once again.
    “When you fight for that ecosystem, when you fight for what is simply called a tree, you’re fighting for our existence as Indigenous people.” Chiyokten said his ancestors didn’t fight out of hate or anger. 
    “They fought out of love. They fought out of love for our ways, our ways of keeping every single being as well as the Creator put them here. Our way is the way of life and respect. We’re stepping into the ways of the ancient people. 
    “And we’re going to bring these governments along with us.”
    Grace Golightly (her name since birth) is a freelance writer interested in the protection of nature and human rights.
     
    Further viewing/ reading:
    • A video of the speakers when Rise Up for the Fallen reached the Legislature.
    • Raincoast Conservation Foundation recently stated that within the coastal Douglas fir range, 44 ecological communities are at risk. So are 94 species of vertebrate animals, 65 vascular plant species, 45 invertebrate species, 5 lichens, and 3 bryophyte species. See the Foundation’s report on coastal Douglas fir ecosystems.
    • Check out the rich variety of biodiversity at Fairy Creek, found by scientists and citizen scientists.
    • Habitat Acquisition Trust has information on local species and on native plants and trees we can plant to support local species.
    • British Columbia’s looming extinction crisis.
    • BC government gives okay to trap endangered fishers for fur as scientists warn of impending extinctions. 

    Judith Lavoie
    Watt’s dramatic images of coastal forests—before and after logging—have helped everyone better understand what’s being lost.
     
    THERE WERE A FEW TIMES, as TJ Watt slogged through a sea of stumps and barren clearcuts, that he questioned whether anyone cared that trees, which had grown for centuries and supported intricate networks of species, had been destroyed forever.
    “You sometimes wonder ‘why am I even doing this? Is it really making a difference,’” said Watt, a photographer and campaigner for the Ancient Forest Alliance whose dramatic before-and-after pictures of old-growth logging in BC recently went viral.
    International shockwaves from his photographs of giant western red cedars in the Caycuse River watershed on southern Vancouver Island, strategically placed with after-logging images of massive stumps, helped focus attention on BC’s already controversial old-growth logging policies.
     


    All photos above were taken in the Caycuse area of Vancouver Island by TJ Watt
     
    The reaction proved that, indeed, people do care.
    “It says we are on the right track,” Watt said.
    The images appeared in several major magazines and were recognized in three international photo competitions. Then, in October, Watt was named as a National Geographic Explorer and Royal Canadian Geographical Society Explorer.
    Watt will also receive a Trebek Initiative grant, which will help fund more expeditions into remote areas where, out of sight of the general public, old-growth is being logged. 
    He hopes the recognition will allow him to reach a wider audience. “I think it just goes to show that this is truly a globally significant issue. These are some of the Earth’s largest and oldest trees and, here we are in a first world country, and it is still legal to cut them down,” said Watt. 
     

    TJ Watt
     
    The Trebek Initiative is named after Alex Trebek, the Canadian host of the popular television show Jeopardy, who died earlier this year. Trebek was an honorary president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the grants, awarded for the first time this year, support explorers, scientists, photographers, geographers and educators who use storytelling to ignite “a passion to preserve.”
    The recognition comes shortly after Watt’s latest release of photographs that are breath-taking for all the wrong reasons.
    The pictures of scalped hillsides along the upper Mahatta River on northwestern Vancouver Island immediately drew horrified condemnation of BC’s old-growth forestry policies.
     

    Scalped hillsides along the upper Mahatta River on northwestern Vancouver Island (photo by TJ Watt)
     

    The destruction on the ground at Mahatta River (photo by TJ Watt)
     
    About 50 hectares around the Mahatta River, within the territory of Quatsino First Nation, was auctioned off by BC Timber Sales, and the photos show the raw reality of of clearcutting, with slopes and the valley bottom denuded of old-growth trees, leaving only giant cedar stumps.
    “[The photos] really struck a nerve with people. A lot of people see those images and think ‘didn’t we stop clearcutting like that back in the 1990s?’” Watt said.
    The trees were cut last year and this year—after the Province received the Old Growth Strategic Review which called for a paradigm shift in the way BC manages ancient forests.
    “This is one of the most atrocious examples of logging that I’ve seen in more than a decade,” said Watt, 37, who has worked on photography projects for the Ancient Forest Alliance since 2010.
    The Province has committed to implementing the panel’s 14 recommendations, but, in the meantime, old-growth logging has accelerated and Forests Minister Katrine Conroy confirmed last month that, out of a total annual cut of about 200,000 hectares, 55,000 hectares are old growth.
    Historically, before commercial logging, there were about 25-million hectares of old growth and government figures now put BC’s total forest at 56.2 million hectares of which 11.1 million hectares is old growth (not the 13.7-million hectares that government previously estimated).
    The definition of coastal old growth is a forest with trees that are at least 250 years old and, in the Interior, trees that are at least 140 years old.
    It’s too late for the Mahatta River forest, but Watt is holding out hope that people will no longer put up with such destruction elsewhere.
    “The world is watching right now,” he said
    “I’m hoping that the pressure of these images and the rest of the photographs we have been sharing are enough to push the government in the direction of doing the right thing.”
     

    Recent BCTS logging at Mahatta River (photo TJ Watt)
     
    From skate-boarding hippie to making a difference with pictures
    Watt’s interest in photography, which morphed into his crusade for old growth, started when he was a skate-boarding teenager, sporting dreadlocks and living in Metchosin.
    “Like every young photographer, I figured I wanted to travel the world and shoot photos of far-flung places, but after a few months doing that and then coming home I realized the landscape in the forests right in my own back yard on Vancouver Island, are second to none and I decided to really focus my efforts here,” he said.
    That commitment was cemented by a stint at the now-defunct Western Academy of Photography.
    “It gave me a year to focus specifically on photography instead of doing all the construction and landscaping jobs I was doing. I knew I wanted to do photography related to nature and photography with a real purpose,” he said.
    It was a decision that worried his family, Watt admits.
    “If you tell your parents that you’re going to be an artist that saves trees and that’s how you’re going to make a living, they definitely roll their eyes at you and look concerned and worried,” he said.
    “But, I can say, more than a decade later, they’re some of the proudest people around. You sometimes really do have to follow your gut, follow your dreams and believe it’s all going to work out.”
    Andrea Kucherawy was program manager at the Western Academy of Photogaphy when Watt arrived as a student and she watched his potential develop.
    “He definitely stood out for me,” said Kucherawy who has avidly followed his career.
    Watt’s interest in environmental photography paralleled his interest in sports such as skateboarding, said Kucherawy, who is pleased he took the environmental route.
    “I honestly don’t think we would be where we are now without the work he has done,” she said.
    “People need a visual, a comparison and his before-and-after work often includes a human element to give a sense of scale and I think that’s what’s really empowering for the cause,” she said.
    Ken Wu, who co-founded the Ancient Forest Alliance and is now executive director of the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance, first met Watt when he (Wu) was executive director of the Victoria chapter of the Wilderness Committee.
    “He was this skateboarding hippie who always had a camera with him and he liked to take pictures of all the protests we were organizing,” Wu said.
    “Then I sent him into the woods to take pictures of the old-growth forests and to build trails and it turned out that he had a great aptitude for trail building and outdoor activities in rugged landscapes,” he said.
    When Wu split from the Wilderness Committee, one of his first moves was to hire TJ as the Ancient Forest Alliance’s first staff member.
    One of the most celebrated early campaigns was sparked by the duo’s discovery of Avatar Grove, near Port Renfrew. TJ’s photos of the huge, gnarly trees and untouched forest, which was slated to be felled, sparked massive public interest.
     

    Avatar Grove (photo by TJ Watt)
     

    Avatar Grove (photo by TJ Watt)
     
    Avatar Grove has now become a tourist attraction and was pivotal in the transformation of Port Renfrew from a logging town to a destination for people who want to see big trees.
    It was the right time in history, noted Wu: the movie Avatar—which has a story line about saving a forest on another planet—was taking the world by storm; and TJ’s growing camera skills, combined with the rise of Facebook, allowed his photos of the discovery of a spectacular grove of trees in an accessible area to be shared around the world.
    “I recognized that TJ’s photos could be news media in and of themselves because they could be shared on that new platform,” Wu said.
    “They really hit home. It’s a visual shock. It’s like harpooned whales or rhinos with their horns cut off, you get it a lot more quickly than all of my emails about productivity distinctions and tenure regulations,” he said.
    Edward Burtynsky, one of Canada’s best-known photographers, who focuses on global industrial landscapes, came across TJ when he was looking at photographing big trees and BC’s northern rainforest.
    All his research led to TJ and a loose collaboration started, said Burtynsky, who was impressed with the power of the photographs and the direction of the Ancient Forest Alliance campaigns.
    “When you name an area and name a tree it’s a really powerful way to save them,” he said.
    Now, in the age of iPhones, images have become one of the most powerful and fluid forms of communication, putting eyes on parts of the world that most people cannot witness first-hand, Burtynsky said.
    “Those before-and-after images I believe really drive the point home. You look at a tree that is 500, 700 or even 1,000 years old that sprouted before the medieval age and is now going to be sent somewhere else—not even here—to be cut into boards for decking. There’s something terribly wrong with that image,” he said.
    “I can’t see a more compelling way to tell that story than letting people look at that majestic tree and then [look at it again] after the loggers have been in.”
     


    Before and after images of logging of old-growth forest on Vancouver Island (photos by TJ Watt)
     
    Sonia Furstenau, leader of the BC Green Party, said Watt’s photographs illustrate the gap between logging practices on the ground and the story that government tries to tell.
    “Thirty years ago, the world was paying attention because we were clearcutting old-growth forests. Well, nothing has changed,” she said.
    “We have accepted this approach to forestry that puts mechanization and efficiency above, not only ecosystem protection, but also above jobs,” said Furstenau, pointing out that increasing volumes of timber are being cut with fewer and fewer people working in the industry.
    “When you see these images that TJ has so beautifully captured of before and after, what he shows is the real devastation of these logging practices,” Furstenau said.
     
    A huge emotional toll in witnessing the destruction
    The accolades for Watt come at a pivotal point as the provincial government announced in early November that logging will be deferred on 2.6 million hectares of old growth for two years while it consults with the province’s 204 First Nations.
    The deferrals are based on new mapping, identifying areas of old growth where there is imminent risk of biodiversity loss. BC Timber Sales, the government agency that hands out logging contracts for 20 percent of the province’s annual allowable cut—and which has been heavily criticized for auctioning off some of the most controversial areas of old growth—will immediately stop advertising and selling parcels in the deferral areas.
    It is positive that government is now using independent mapping, based on science, to identify old-growth forests at risk and that mapping confirms that many of BC’s forests are at risk of irreversible biodiversity loss, Watt said.
    However, details and provincial funding are missing although the federal government has committed $50-million to help protect BC’s ancient forests, noted Watt.
    “Without a matching provincial commitment of several hundred million dollars in conservation funding, with a primary focus on First Nations economic relief linked to deferrals, the full scale of the deferrals and eventual permanent protection will be impossible to achieve,” he said.
    “We have the road map in hand, but we’re missing the gas in the tank,” he said.
    That means the clock is ticking as the ever-shrinking remains of BC’s old-growth forests are continuing to fall and Watt suspects it will be impossible to avoid more before-and-after pictures—and they are never easy.
    The chance to inform the public about forestry practices in the hidden corners of the province is a privilege, but it leaves scars, Watt admits.
    “There’s a huge emotional toll and compounding ecological grief to witnessing the disappearance and destruction of these truly irreplaceable forests,” he said.
    “It even causes a lot of anger, because I know that every day there’s a delay in ensuring these forests are protected, some of them are gone forever. Trees may come back, but never the ancient forests that are so humbling and awe-inspiring.”
    As an example, he described how retracing his steps through the Caycuse after the machines had done their worst, was like looking at the death of old friends.
    The idea of irretrievable loss when old-growth forests are cut was echoed by Gary Merkel, one of the authors of the Old Growth Strategic Review and a member of the technical advisory panel on the recent deferrals.
    Speaking at the news conference Merkel emphasized the importance of the underlying ecosystems in old-growth forests: “Some of our ecosystems in British Columbia remain relatively undisturbed since the last ice-age, more than 10,000 years,” he said.
    “We can grow new trees, they are renewable. These ecosystems, in most cases, are not renewable. They will never come back in a lifetime and possibly ever because of climate change,” he said.
    Watt’s photographs have helped make British Columbians aware of what was happening in the remote reaches of Vancouver Island. Despite the toll, Watt is committed to continuing his work on behalf of the forest: “Unless we go on these trips to try to expose them, the forests would disappear without anybody knowing about it.”
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.

    Leslie Campbell
    FOCUS CONGRATULATES WRITER RUSS FRANCIS on his winning the 2021 Jack Webster Award for environmental reporting for his report “One in 7 deaths of Canadians are due to fossil fuel particles, which also help viruses invade our bodies.”
    In the article, Francis reports on research about particulate matter in the air we breath—PM2.5s—and how those released from the burning of fossil fuels help the coronavirus slip past our bodies’ natural defence mechanisms to gain easy access to every cell in our bodies. In general PM2.5s can wreak havoc. They can cause “cancers, heart attacks, lung disease, strokes, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. They even increase the risk of permanent blindness,” writes Francis. Though there are many sources of PM2.5s, new research suggests that burning fossil fuels kill tens of thousands of Canadians every year. “[F]ossil fuel-generated PM2.5s kill 2.6 times as many adult people in just one year as the pandemic has killed in total,” writes Francis. 
    Francis has been a regular contributor to FOCUS for over four years. He previously held staff positions with Monday Magazine and several large dailies, including the Vancouver Sun. Starting with a short piece on animal rights in the December 1986 issue of Mother Jones, his stories have appeared in various publications worldwide. At Monday Magazine, in 2000, he won a Webster award of distinction, with T.K. Demmings and Ross Crockford, for a Victoria city hall story, and won wide praise for helping end a highly questionable city deal with a California developer, through his Arena Deathwatch column. In 2008, he enrolled in UVic’s Master of Public Administration program, subsequently working as a BC government analyst for 10 years in various ministries. He returned to reporting in 2018, concentrating on energy policy and the climate emergency for Focus.
    The November 3rd Jack Webster Awards ceremony took place online this year. Named for influential reporter and commentator Jack Webster, who worked in print, radio and television, the awards are presented annually by the Webster Foundation whose mission is to foster and celebrate excellence in journalism to protect the public interest for British Columbians. 
    Other finalists in the environmental reporting category for the Websters this year were Jess Houty with Hakai Magazine and Marc Fawcett-Atkinson with Canada’s National Observer.
    Other Victoria-area winners in other categories include Andrew MacLeod with the Tyee and Les Leyne (Commentator of the Year) with the Times-Colonist. See the list of award winners and finalists here. And read Russ Francis’ award-winning entry here.
    Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS—and pleased and proud to work with Russ and other excellent writers dedicated to investigating important regional issues.

    Judith Lavoie
    Killing wolves, moose and cougars won’t save the caribou—but stopping logging in their endangered forest habitat might give them a chance.
     
    THE USUAL HEAVY WINTER SNOW north of Revelstoke will make it tough to maintain a blockade, but a small group of determined activists want to ensure loggers do not gain access to certain blocks of old-growth forest. These forests—part of the threatened Inland Temperate Rainforest—are critical habitat for the endangered deep snow Columbia North caribou herd.
    One cutblock has been auctioned off by BC Timber Sales to Downie Timber and three others remain on the auction list.
    Last December, after a backlash from conservation groups and scientists, the provincial government deferred logging on 11 of 14 scheduled cutblocks in the Argonaut Valley until the mountain caribou herd planning process is complete—which is not expected until late next year. But that still leaves the three cutblocks, adding up to almost 65 hectares, and close to five kilometres of road that was punched into the valley before the deferment.
    “We’re afraid that if we leave, they’re quite capable of ploughing those roads and logging in the winter,” said Virginia Thompson, who, after years of volunteer work to protect caribou, has been spending time on the blockade as a member of Old Growth Revylution.
     


    Numbers of  woodland caribou in BC have shrunk from 40,000 to 15,500. Caribou are the “canaries in the clearcuts,” says lichenologist Trevor Goward. (Photo by Conservation North)
     
    “We don’t know if we can pull it off, but we are sure going to try. We have a few people who are very at home in the back country and know how to winter camp and don’t mind being quite solitary,” Thompson said.
    The protest is supported by First Nations, including the Splatsin and Ktunaxa Nations, and environmental organizations, such as Wildsight, Wilderness Committee and Valhalla Wilderness Society.
    The Splatsin First Nation has called on BC Timber Sales to cease all operations in the area and a news release supporting the blockade says “Splatsin members and leadership will be standing up for what little intact refuge area remains for our four-legged ancestors.”
    The Ktunaxa Nation Council has committed to working with the Province and other parties to ensure Ktunaxa Nation interests and stewardship responsibilities are upheld.
    “The area in question is a vital southern mountain caribou habitat and any threat to the caribou, or ?a?kxam’is q’api qapsin (all living things), in this region is of great concern,” says a Ktunaxa news release.
    The determination to continue the blockade is reinforced by anger that, despite studies showing that saving BC’s dwindling caribou herds depends primarily on habitat protection, the Province is continuing to kill wolves, cougar and moose in caribou habitat, while allowing logging to continue.
    A recent study shows habitat loss is driving woodland caribou to extinction. It points out that caribou have lost twice as much habitat as they have gained over the last 12 years. In the past three decades, BC’s 54 herds of woodland caribou have shrunk to 15,500 from 40,000 animals and, in the Kootenays, since 2006, five caribou herds have been extirpated and three others are struggling to survive. 
     
    “Everything has gotten worse”
    Those are grim statistics which, said Sadie Parr, former executive director of Wolf Awareness, make it more extraordinary that the BC government is not pulling out all the stops to save the Columbia North herd, which is regarded as the one most likely to survive in southern BC.
    “It amazes me that the same government committed to protecting caribou is logging the little habitat the animals have left,” she said.
    The 2021 population census of the Columbia North Mountain Caribou shows about 184 animals, up from 138 in 2006.
    But critics say that government is trying to sustain those numbers by continuing to kill wolves and other animals in perpetuity instead of protecting their habitat.
    Parr stepped down from Wolf Awareness to allow her to take more direct action after concluding the usual channels, such as sitting on committees and holding meetings with government officials, were not working.
    “Everything has gotten worse. The logging continues. More wolves are killed. The caribou are winking out. That’s why we are so fierce about people heeding this call,” she said.
     

    A view of logging of old-growth forest in Bigmouth Valley (photo by Sadie Parr)
     
    It is not only the caribou that are threatened. Bigmouth Creek and the Argonaut Valley, one of the last unlogged valleys in the region, are within the Inland Temperate Rainforest, an ecosystem that a recent study said is critically endangered and facing ecosystem collapse.
    “The decline of mountain caribou has mirrored the destruction of the Inland Temperate Rainforest ecosystem,” said Eddie Petryshen, Wildsight conservation specialist.
    The convergence of old-growth logging, shrinking caribou herds and the controversial wolf cull means BC’s top hot-button environmental issues are crystallized in the opposition to further old-growth logging in an area described as a patchwork of roads and clearcuts.
    Lower elevations of Bigmouth Creek have been hammered by clearcut logging going back decades, said Vallhalla Wilderness Society director Craig Pettitt, pointing to mottled images on a Google Earth map.
     

    Satellite image of clearcuts in the Bigmouth Creek area. The Argonaut Creek watershed is in the lower right corner.
     
    “This logging has reduced what were vast stands of old-growth cedar hemlock forest to fragmented postage stamp retention areas,” he said.
    In contrast, so far, Argonaut Creek has escaped, probably because of the steep terrain, and the area provides a refuge of intact forested habitat for the deep snow caribou, Pettitt said.
     

    A view of the upper Argonaut Valley (photo by Eddie Petryshen)
     
    Blockade slowed down logging, but critical valley-bottom threatened
    There is no injunction, so police and media attention is sparse at the Revylution blockade, but, the land defenders (named thus by the Splatsin chief and other Indigenous representatives) have succeeded in preventing Downie Timber from harvesting.
     

    The Old Growth Revylution blockade during summer 2021 (photo by Sadie Parr)
     
    “We’ve deferred harvest, deferred road building,” said a Downie spokesman, who refused to confirm his name or explain the terms of the deferral. 
    A Forests Ministry email, in response to questions from Focus, said the blockade has also “stopped environmentally sensitive road deactivation work from being completed.”
    Downie previously logged about 126 hectares of old growth on the north side of Bigmouth Creek. Petryshen does not want to see any more ancient trees loaded onto trucks.
    “Those were probably 500 to 600-year-old trees; a lot of that forest had been growing undisturbed since the end of the ice age. It’s globally unique forest and there’s not a whole lot of it left,” Petryshen said.
    “The deep snow-dwelling caribou are so tied to that ecosystem and have learned to live within it and we are disrupting that whole process,” he said, noting that the block that Downie plans to log contains some of the highest value old growth; it’s valley bottom—habitat that is essential to caribou which spend about half of their time in low elevations.
    No logging is currently taking place in the Argonaut or Bigmouth areas, but old-growth stands are scheduled for harvest in Bigmouth Creek, according to the ministry e-mail.
    “Locations for proposed cutblocks in the Bigmouth area have not been determined and will be dependent on the assessment and advice of many specialists for a range of natural resource values,” it says. The email also notes: “It’s important to recognize that, in their report, the Independent Panel [old-growth review panel] did not recommend a moratorium on old-growth logging in BC. They recommended deferrals in areas where there is a near term risk of irreversible biodiversity loss and further action to change the way we manage our old-growth forests.”
    Roads and clearcuts mean moose and deer move into the area—together with hunters and snowmobilers—and prey animals are followed by predators such as wolves and cougars
    Petryshen described this as “out-of-whack predator/prey dynamics,” and added, “The predators are not going after caribou, the caribou are just the bycatch. The system is kind of in chaos and caribou are the first to go when it is significantly out of balance.” 
     
    Focus on wolf cull not the answer
    Since 2015, 1,447 wolves have been killed in the provincial cull program. The animals are usually shot by aerial gunning from helicopters—a practice heavily criticized for disrupting wolf packs and having little basis in science as other wolves usually move into the area. A court case on its legality is being heard in late October.
    A study released last year found no statistical support for wolf culls or caribou maternity pens as conservation measures for mountain caribou.
     

    The BC government has killed over 1400 wolves despite no evidence that it protects caribou (photo by John E. Marriott) 
     
    This month, a Pacific Wild petition calling for a halt to the cull, with more than half a million signatures, was presented to government on the opening day of the BC Legislature, but, in answer to questions from Focus, the Forests Ministry said both predator reduction and habitat protection are needed to protect caribou.
    “Without protecting caribou habitat, wolf and cougars will have to be killed in perpetuity to maintain caribou on the landscape. This is not what anyone wants,” says the emailed response. “On the other hand, if we only protect habitat, we likely will lose many caribou herds due to the current disturbed condition of the habitat from past and ongoing forestry activities. We need to protect habitat that is currently suitable and we need to give impacted habitat time to recover. This is a decades long process,” it says.
    BC is currently holding consultations, which will continue until Nov. 15, on extending the cull program for another five years.
    Parr is unimpressed by the consultation process and said the Province has already decided to not only go ahead, but to expand the cull, even though habitat protection and herd plans will not be completed until 2022.
    “We have asked them to show us the externally peer-reviewed science on this and they can’t…There’s no equation that could convince me [it is right] to brutally kill this number of wolves, which are sentient beings and play important ecological roles which are then disrupted,” she said.
    Parr believes that killing everything except caribou, while continuing to destroy habitat by removing trees that are thousands of years old, makes no sense. Though there might be short-term increases in caribou number, there will be no positive, long-term outcomes.
    “There are so many layers to this. We’re creating an ecological debt for future generations,” she said.
     
    Caribou need lichen, lichen need old growth
    Frustration is mixed with sadness and anger as Trevor Goward traces the downward spiral of deep snow mountain caribou populations and connects the decline to lichens, the essential deep snow caribou diet, which are being lost to logging.
    Goward, an internationally recognized lichenologist and author of about 150 scientific papers on lichens, said logging of old-growth forests in the Revelstoke area has now reached the point of no return and he believes the Columbia North caribou, which have survived in BC’s interior for millions of years, are tipping towards extinction.
    “It’s an absolute horror story and the caribou should be the warning. I call them the canaries in the clearcuts,” said Goward, pointing to decades of studies concluding that deep snow caribou need extensive old-growth forests at all elevations for long-term survival.
    “Once you get beyond a certain point—and we’re long past that point—every tree cut is basically making the situation worse,” he said.
    However, government biologists first opted to kill hundreds of moose and deer in the mistaken belief that, without prey, predators would leave. When that plan did not work, the killing was extended to wolves and cougars, Goward explained.
    “Any qualified biologist understands that pressure comes both bottom up and top down. Top down is the predation and bottom up is the food they eat—and to focus on one to the exclusion of the other is reprehensible in the extreme,” he said.
    Deep snow caribou rely on lichens growing on the branches of trees and when there are fewer trees with lichens, caribou expend more energy walking in the deep snow. It eventually gets to the point where caribou cannot survive, Goward said.
    “It’s not just a matter of the individual caribou dying, but, if it’s a stressful winter, the cows abort their fetuses and, if young are born, they are much less resilient than a normal caribou calf, so they are much more likely to die in the first year,” he said.
    “These caribou are special. They are the only ones that live entirely on these lichens. They need forests that are at least 120 or 150 years old,” Goward said.
    When caribou cannot find hair lichens in the high altitudes they move down to the valleys, he said.
    “But now the lowlands have been essentially nuked. There’s nothing for them. So, the next time they have to go down, they will only have wasted energy,” Goward said.
    “It’s a very sad story and the irony of the whole thing is that this is the one caribou type that could have survived long into climate change because they don’t care what’s on the ground. They just needed to have old forests and they have lost them, so it’s lose, lose all around,” he said.
     
    Only “plans to make a plan” while caribou near extinction
    Petryshen and Parr also find it difficult to be optimistic about the future of caribou in BC, when economics seem to trump immediate action and the answer from government is that there are plans to make a plan.
    “What’s frustrating is that, as the logging continues, they continue to say they don’t know where caribou habitat is,” Parr said.
    The official Environment Canada critical habitat map has been in the works since 2014, Petryshen said. “It has been in draft form for seven years and the Province and feds keep saying ‘hey, we are almost done,’” he said. Petryshen is hoping Indigenous leaders will fill the gap left by the federal and provincial governments.
    “I grew up close to the South Purcell mountains and we lost those caribou while we were planning to make a plan. We need immediate action right now,” he said.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world.

    Dawna Mueller
    Victoria celebrates the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation
     
    IT HAS BEEN HEARTENING to see how Canadians are beginning their journey to true reconciliation and respect for Indigenous peoples and to fully comprehend the injustice and devastating impacts of the residential school system.
    In Victoria there were a number of events in recognition of this first annual National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The making of the statutory holiday itself is a step towards reconciliation. It provides an opportunity to recognize and commemorate the tragic history and ongoing legacy of residential schools, and to honour Indigenous survivors, their families and communities.
    Featured here are photos by Dawna Mueller with words by speakers at the Xe xe Smun’ eem event held at Centennial Square. Xe xe Smun’ eem means “Sacred Children” in the Cowichan or Quw’utsun ­language. It has also become known as Orange Shirt Day for the shirt that was taken from a six-year-old Phyllis Webstad  (Northern Secwpemc/Shuswap) on her first day at school, leaving her with feelings of worthlessness. 
    Stories, songs, dancers, drummers, blessings and tears were all part of the three-hour ceremony.
    Below the photo essay are links to articles on this site about reconciliation. —the editor


     

    An attentive audience of a few hundred gathered for the three-hour ceremony in Centennial Square on September 30, 2021. This is the fifth consecutive year that the City of Victoria is supporting the event to mark the City’s commitment to reconciliation.
     



    Eddy Charlie and Kristin Spray are the organizers of the Xe xe Smun' eem-Victoria Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters event, which they developed in 2015 while attending the Indigenous Studies program at Camosun College. Eddy Charlie, a survivor who attended the Kuper Island residential school, said there were 150,000 children stolen from their families and communities during the residential school era. “They took away our language, they took away our identity, they took away our ability to function as a family, they starved us and beat us.” He also talked of the sexual abuse he experienced from age four-and-a-half by a priest. “Some of the residential schools created some of the most perfect hate machines ever,” he said. And the hate was taken back to their homes; “we became part of that genocide, we taught people to hate…” He said, “I can make a different choice now.” In sharing his experiences, he hopes to encourage others to do so and to make this country strong again. Said Spray, “What I was taught in school growing up was a myth; it didn’t include the people who were here first.” She and Charlie thanked the City for making time and space for the event and the many local businesses who helped because “they want to be part of the truth-telling and see a change in this country.”
     



    The Orange Shirt Day flag was raised, followed by 15 drum beats and a minute of silence to honour and remember those who did not survive residential school. The flag was lowered to half-mast after the ceremony.
     



    Lisa Helps, Mayor of Victoria: “We’re here today to honour those who survived the dehumanizing and utterly unspeakable conditions of the residential school system.” It’s also, she continued, “to honour those children who never came home.” She asked attendees to consider what difference they could make in the next year, and “to make known what we know.” 
     



    Dr Danièle Behn Smith and children, Deputy Provincial Health Officer Indigenous Health. She is from Fort Nelson First Nation and Red River Métis: “There are no words that can make this right; there is only action.” Dr Behn Smith said she desires the “freedom to be ourselves.” Though many non-Indigenous no longer believe—as the early colonizers and settlers did—that they are better than Indigenous peoples, “our systems, structures and laws are still rooted in those racist beliefs.” She urged non-Indigenous people to ask themselves how they can “disrupt the status quo” and “earn back our trust.”
     




    Dance, drumming and song were performed by Westwind Intertribal Drum, a family drum. The family comes from a long lineage of pow wow people. Their late grandfather, Ernie Bertrum, was from the Pullalup (P-U-AL-UP) and Yakama (YAK-A-MA) Nations. He brought the drum and teachings to this territory and to keep his culture alive he would sing with his children. Many of of the family began pow wow with their late Uncle Joe Henry as the Thunderbird Singers and Dancers. Later they formed Westwind Intertribal with lead singer, the late Ernie Alphonse.
     




    Laurel Collins, Member of Parliament, Victoria: “How do we support healing? What are our next steps on this path of reconciliation.” She stressed that though we may not have all the answers, it’s important to start the journey with truth and humility. She pledged to fight to get the federal government to address chronic underfunding of services for Indigenous children and, referring to the unmarked graves sites, “to bring every child home.” 

     

    Victoria Children’s Choir, celebrating 20 years, performed under the directorship of Teodora Georgieva.
     



    Carl Mashon,  Acting Director in the Community and Social Innovation Branch, Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, is a Sixties Scoop child of Cree ancestry. Mashon also served for 16 years at the BC Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres.
    Mashon spoke of his birth mother, Elizabeth Cardinal, a member of the Saddle Lake Nation. She was the first from her community to finish high school and join the Canadian airforce. At 19 she got pregnant and was discharged from the airforce and quickly pressured by the Catholic Church to give up her baby. After five years in the care of the church, Carl was adopted by a non-native family in Southern Alberta, at least avoiding being placed in the residential school system, as were others in the orphanage. It wasn’t until many years later when, suspecting he was of native ancestry, Carl found and reconnected with his birth mother and family. “I can get angry when I think about this country…”
    Such realities as the residential school system and the recently found gravesites, he said, harden our hearts over the years. Events such as this ceremony are important because they “soften our hearts.” 
     


    Minister Mitzi Dean, BC Ministry of Children and Family Development, presents plaques to the event organizers Eddy Charlie and Kristin Spray. Describing herself as a longtime witness to the devastating impact the residential schools have had, Dean committed to working with Indigenous people to rebuilding the system into one they can trust. She noted that the recent discoveries of children’s gravesites bolsters the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation for a system in which “no Indigenous children are brought into care.”
    Dawna Mueller is an award-winning photographer focusing on issues of social and environmental justice. Dawna was born in Winnipeg and is Red River Métis, Cree and Saulteux on her mother’s side and Czech on her father’s. Adopted into a family of Ukrainian heritage at birth, she only discovered her indigenous heritage as an adult and is on a reclamation journey to discover her roots. Ironically, without even knowing she was Indigenous, Dawna studied Political Science at Camosun College, finishing with a BA from UBC majoring in Native Indian Studies as it was called in the 1980s. As well, she graduated from Allard Hall School of Law at UBC and studied Art and History at the University of Paris-Sorbonne.  
    Dawna is currently studying for Masters of Photography and focusing on the Residential School Issue. After discovering many of her aunties, uncles and a cousin were victims of the residential school system in Canada, she has committed to photographically documenting this as a way of raising awareness and continuing the narrative both within and outside of Indigenous communities. www.dawnamueller.com (Dawna Mueller’s photographs documenting the Fairy Creek forest defence can also be found on this site.)
     
    For further commentary on issues related to the reconciliation project, please see the following articles on this site:
    Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic’s First Nations are done with having land, children, opportunity and prosperity stolen from them
    Let’s Change these Place Names: British Columbia and Victoria, by Stephen Hume
    “You and your people were not invited here” by Stephen Hume
    Following the Good River: the Life and Times of Wa'xaid, by Briony Penn. Book review and interview by Amy Reiswig
    The historical moments when European colonization of this region began by Stephen Hume
    Facing the truth: Canada was founded on a national crime by Stephen Hume
    “The islands are our homelands, too,” says W̱SÁNEĆ youth by Katlja Lafferty
    Diary of a forest defender, part III: Colonialism 101—and why Indigenous protesters are being singled out by RCMP” by Yellow Cedar
    And from our vault, 2013, by Katherine Palmer Gordon: Truth and Irreconciliation
    A video of the September 30 ceremony, produced by the City of Victoria, can be found here.

    Stephen Hume
    Massive new fossil fuel infrastructure would contribute greenhouse gas emissions for many decades to come, argues Environmental Law Centre
     
    A $5.6 BILLION PETROCHEMICAL COMPLEX proposed for Prince George should go to public hearings as part of an impact assessment conducted by an expert independent panel before any provincial approvals, say environmental law scholars at the University of Victoria.
    Calgary-based West Coast Olefins Ltd wants to tap into a natural gas pipeline through northern BC to extract liquid ethane, propane, butane and natural gas condensate as feedstock for manufacturing plastics and synthetic rubber for export to Asian markets. 
    It would represent a dramatic expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in British Columbia, one of three co-dependent plants. They would include: a natural gas liquids recovery plant; an ethylene plant to produce a million tonnes of polymer-grade ethylene a year; and the polyethylene plant producing plastic.     
    Following controversy from a citizens’ group in Prince George worried about possible air pollution from the proposed plant and local First Nations concerns, the company said it hoped to relocate the project 140 kilometres north to McLeod Lake where it was in talks with the McLeod Lake First Nation about negotiating a potential benefits agreement should the project go ahead. 
    But talks fell through and the company subsequently dumped that plan and said it wanted once again to build in Prince George.  
     

    Prince George already has a long history of serious industrial air pollution (photo Creative Commons)
     
    Both the Lheidli T’enneh Nation in Prince George and the McLeod Lake Indian band have since publicly opposed the proposed development and rejected future negotiations.
    In a 26-page letter to George Heyman, the minister of environment and climate change strategy, Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the university’s Environmental Law Centre, says the proposal contradicts provincial climate objectives.
    With every major long-term investment in infrastructure whose existence depends upon fossil fuel use into the future, it becomes more difficult for all of us to deal with the climate emergency, Sandborn’s letter points out. 
    The letter was delivered to Heyman Wednesday morning, August 25th.
    Tuesday the US government ordered a delay in development of a $9.4 billion plastics and petrochemicals complex in south Louisiana in response to environmental concerns and community backlash. 
    It is calling for an extensive environmental assessment following objections that the complex would double toxic emissions in the local area and release up to 13 million tonnes of greenhouse gases, equal to the pollution pumped out by three coal-fired power plants reported The Guardian newspaper.
    The letter to Heyman observes that Prince George already has a long history of serious industrial air pollution because of strong inversion effects that trap pollutants in the city’s air shed and cites a 2011 study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health estimating that as many as 81 deaths a year could be attributed to fine particulate air pollution. 
    It cites objections from First Nations and from Prince George citizens who are worried about impacts upon air quality, occupational health issues for workers associated with petrochemicals, risks of fire and explosion, potential impacts upon water quality and fish habitat and the proposed site of the complex which it says is too close to the Fraser River.
    All these deserve an independent assessment, the letter says. “Approval of this complex may be one of the most consequential climate change decisions your government ever makes.”
    It says the proposed complex poses “profound risks” to the global environment because expansion of plastics manufacturing infrastructure “could lock in greenhouse emissions for decades to come” at the same time that the Province has pledged to reduce emissions dramatically.
    And the development would be an incentive spurring expansion of fracking and other natural gas production activities, add to the plastic pollution already linked to widespread environmental harm, undermine provincial and federal efforts to reduce plastic waste and undermine efforts to encourage plastics recycling.  
    Ken James, the CEO of West Coast Olefins, did not respond to a request for comment made last Tuesday.
    But “there are a lot of us here who are worried about the potential consequences such projects might bring, says Zoe Meletis, a geography professor at the University of Northern BC. She speaks for Too Close 2 Home, a Prince George citizens group concerned about potential environmental consequences for the city of 74,000 about 800 kilometres north of Vancouver. “We have a lot of questions and concerns as there has been so little public discussion and information shared,” said Meletis.
    Meletis said the group approached the Environmental Law Centre at UVic for help preparing a request to the Province for a more comprehensive and public environmental assessment because “we want to know more about the exact nature of the many sites that are part of WCO’s long term vision for the two sites, and all of the costs, benefits and impact those are likely to entail, particularly when overlaid on top of everything Prince George and  area are already dealing with, for example air pollution, particulate matter etc..”
    The letter to Heyman warns that limiting an environmental assessment to one element of the complex—the ethylene plant—risks being uninformed about the full potential impact of the proposed project. 
    “You have to see the entire thing—the whole petrochemical complex—to come to any rational conclusion,” Sandborn’s letter says.
    “British Columbians must have an assessment of the overall project, to see what real-world, cumulative impacts are likely.”
    In fact, it argues, the $2.8 billion ethylene project requires a second facility—a  $1.3 billion natural gas liquids recovery plant—to provide its feedstock and a third facility—a $1.5 billion polyethylene plant plant which would turn the ethylene into plastic pellets for export to overseas plastics fabricators.
    The three projects and their impacts have to be assessed as a whole not as individual projects, the letter says, because if billions of dollars have already been spent on an extraction facility those sunk costs are highly likely to skew assessments of subsequent projects. 
    “The pressure to complete an ‘overall project’ that is halfway there will be substantial.” 
    And government has an obligation to transparently obtain a fully objective assessment of whether the proposed project is congruent with the Province’s oft-stated commitment to fight climate change, reduce plastic waste and enhance recycling of materials to create a circular economy.
    The letter argues there is evidence that the proposed project will seriously undermine all these stated government objectives, which makes an independent expert review imperative. 
    An independent panel is needed to consider other potentially serious impacts on Indigenous people, local citizens and the region’s environment, Sandborn argues. And, he says, there’s a risk that creating a massive petrochemical complex there would both foreclose a more prosperous and sustainable future for Prince George and put the Province at risk of having a major asset stranded and made worthless as the rest of the world pivots aggressively from fossil fuels to mitigate the growing climate emergency that as brought repeated summers of unprecedented fire and drought to BC.
    “We are very wary about the two sites being ‘too close to home’ in terms of proximity to neighbourhoods, agricultural lands, and greenspaces that we value,” Meletis says. “We know that oil and gas is a dying industry, and that plastics are part of the push to eke out a final stage or rebranding of that industry. 
    “Why should Prince George suffer ill effects for a plastic product that we are going to send elsewhere? How does all this fit with recent ongoing efforts to make our city and region more sustainable, diverse and resilient in the face of climate change?
    “Just because people of Prince George have learned to live with the ‘smell of money’ in terms of pulp mill and other emissions, it doesn’t mean they want the same for their kids and grandkids.”
    Stephen Hume has spent half a century as a journalist writing about Western Canada, the Far North, BC and the Island. 
     
     

    Rochelle Baker
    FOR MILLENNIA, THE SALISH SEA—the shared body of water linking northwestern Washington state and southern BC and encompassing the Puget Sound, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Strait of Georgia—was abundant with salmon.
    The keystone species is the bedrock of the entire ecosystem of the Pacific Northwest. All seven species of Pacific salmon populated the Salish Sea—sustaining a host of other iconic animals, such as bald eagles, southern resident killer whales, and grizzlies, along with their surrounding aquatic and terrestrial environments and scores of Indigenous nations and cultures.
    But, says Isobel Pearsall, director of marine science at the Pacific Salmon Foundation (PSF), beginning in the late 1970s, salmon survival, particularly for chinook, coho, and steelhead—which migrate to the ocean like salmon, but can spawn multiple times—began a mysterious downward slide, especially in the marine environment. 
    Some populations in Salish waters have plummeted as much as 90 percent, says Pearsall, and limiting fisheries, restoring habitat, and improving hatchery practices weren’t making significant differences. It’s clear juvenile fish are particularly vulnerable, and that there is something particular to the Salish Sea impacting survival of the three species, which aren’t facing the same pattern of decline in other regions, she says. 
    So, in partnership with Long Live the Kings, another non-profit foundation south of the border, PSF launched a five-year research initiative involving 60 different entities to understand what was driving some salmon stocks to extinction and what could be done to reverse it.
     

    A scientist involved in the Salish Sea Marine Survival Project scans juvenile salmon in Sansum Narrows in the Strait of Georgia (photo courtesy of Pacific Salmon Foundation)
     
    Pearsall believes that despite the dire situation salmon face, the key findings of the recently completed Salish Sea Marine Survival Project, which she co-ordinated, can act as a roadmap for priority action, research, and policy. “It’s very easy to get pulled down into the doom and gloom of what we’re seeing around salmon declines,” Pearsall she notes. “But the [survival project] has highlighted the areas that we really want to focus on and that we know are crucial.” 
    The Salish Sea is weathering some significant changes due to the climate crisis, such as warming waters, increasing risk from harmful algae and pathogens, shifts in the marine food web, and the decimation of estuary and foreshore habitats, the study found. 
    Many of the changes impacting salmon are interlocked, says Pearsall. 
    “One might hope for a smoking gun and that there would be one major thing you could change to solve the whole issue, but that doesn't seem to be the case,” she says. However, the initiative concluded that salmon food supply and predation of young salmon are two key contributors to the declines of chinook, coho, and steelhead when they first enter the marine environment. 
     

    The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project identified the key stressors causing declines of juvenile salmon.
     
    Changes to the Salish Sea affect when, where and how much food is available for young chinook and coho, which influences their growth and mortality. 
    Drops in zooplankton and forage fish, especially herring, put young salmon at increasing risk, a situation compounded by the destruction of estuaries and nearshore habitat, which provide hiding spots and food for both the fish and their prey. 
    The finding suggests that protecting and restoring estuary and forage fish habitats on the foreshores of the coast should be a priority, says Pearsall. 
    As well, increased efforts to boost declining herring populations and study their distribution and movements are important. 
    Young salmon are also under pressure from a growing number of harbour seals in the Salish Sea, the project found. 
    While chinook and coho are a limited portion of the seals’ diet, the number of seals negatively impacts salmon survival rates, already under strain from human-caused climate change, notes Pearsall.
    The study doesn’t advocate for widespread culls, which would require the elimination of up to 50 percent of the seal population, and the constant removal of a significant proportion every year after, to have any real effect on salmon, she says. “It’s just untenable to make such a drastic move in an ecosystem that nobody fully understands,” says Pearsall, adding other pressures and changes are also at play since abundant salmon stocks existed alongside large seal populations in the past. 
    “I think we need to look at the anthropogenic changes that we’ve made that make the salmon more vulnerable to predation,” she says. 
    That could include removing infrastructure like log booms in estuaries where seals can hang out waiting for salmon without fear of being eaten themselves. 
    Or by changing hatchery practices, such as the release of large groups of juvenile fish upriver, often in low water, which make young salmon easy pickings for all sorts of creatures, including raccoons or herons. 
    Implementing solutions that could ensure higher river or stream flows to provide more cover and cooler water to young salmon would also give them a fighting chance against predators and increase their survival, Pearsall adds. 
    The holistic, collaborative nature of the Salish Sea project has resulted in a framework for stakeholders on both sides of the border to respond more effectively in a co-ordinated manner to make gains in restoring endangered salmon stocks, says Pearsall. 
    While the study tallies the range of pressures on salmon, it has also pointed out some practical action.“We’re letting people know that what they’re doing can have impacts, both negative and positive,” says Pearsall. “There may be some things that are out of our control, but there are many immediate actions we can take.”  
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

    Judith Lavoie
    THERE WAS AN UNUSUAL TRAFFIC DELAY recently on Highway 1 in Langford when RCMP, called by concerned drivers, stopped traffic to allow a bemused black bear to move on its way after spending hours in the middle of the highway.
    It was a rare happy ending. Wildlife on highways usually means wrecked vehicles, injuries and dead animals. For Dana Livingstone and other members of the grassroots organization Wildlife Advocates Collective, the Langford bear was a graphic example of the need for more large animal wildlife tunnels or overpasses on Vancouver Island. According to the Collective, Langford has the most calls around bear conflicts on Southern Vancouver Island because of fragmentation of their habitat and lack of corridors.
     

    Black bear in Juan de Fuca area near Victoria, BC (photo by Gary Schroyen)
     
    Animals usually follow riparian zones or travel traditional routes, but often find their access blocked by fences, new developments and highways, said Livingstone, an East Sooke resident and former park naturalist and outdoor education specialist.
    “They need to cross the roads to get to the water or their food source and then they get stuck in these fragmented landscapes. People just don’t stop and then they complain about the animals,” said Livingstone. 
    The Wildlife Advocates Collective is wrapping up a long, ultimately successful campaign to have three culverts modified to allow large animals, such as bears, deer and cougars, to cross Highway 14 in Sooke. The group is now extending the campaign to the rest of the Island. 
    In addition to public education, the group is waitlisted for a presentation to the provincial Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services in an effort to persuade government that making highways safer for animals saves money and human lives.
     
    Making highways safer for animals saves money and lives
    On Vancouver Island, between 2016 and 2020 there was an average of 2,300 crashes each year involving an animal and an annual average of 190 injured humans according to ICBC statistics. Throughout the province, there is an average of 9,900 crashes involving animals every year. 
    There is no tally of the number of animals killed and, even when a hit is reported, many animals will crawl off the road and die in the bush. 
    Despite Vancouver Island’s prolific wildlife, the only current underpass for large species is on Highway 19 near Courtenay—constructed as part of the 150-kilometre Vancouver Island Inland Highway Project—and it is clear that many more are needed, according to Livingstone. 
     

    Elk in Juan de Fuca area near Victoria, BC (photo by Gary Schroyen)
     
    “Even the new Malahat improvements did not include an undercrossing for large species. This is insane as [an employee of] Emcon [the highways maintenance contractor] has told me they pick up so many dead and dying deer near the Shawnigan turnoff, which is a known corridor for deer, bear and elk,” said Livingstone, who also wants more illuminated highway signs warning drivers when animals are on the road. 
    “Now there’s a whole pile of land for sale on the right side of the Malahat where the deer are stuck. They are not thinking, they are not moving forward on creating specific passages for large species like other provinces and countries are doing,” she said. 
    The Netherlands, for example, has more than 600 wildlife crossings to protect badger, boar and deer populations, including one that crosses a river, railway line and sports complex; in Longview, Washington, the Nutty Narrows Bridge—a rope bridge over a road—is specifically designed for squirrels. On Christmas Island in Australia, a crab bridge allows 50 million red crabs to follow their traditional migratory route. 
    In BC a number of smaller tunnels, usually culverts, are used by species such as raccoons and rabbits and there is an amphibian undercrossing near Tofino, but they are unsuitable for larger species. 
    For the Highway 14 campaign, the Wildlife Advocates Collective, spearheaded by Livingstone and Lisa Love, enlisted help from wildlife advocate and photographer Gary Schroyen, who took photos of animals near Highway 14. As well, Jane Hansen, a conservation GIS analyst, mapped all reports of wildlife in the West Shore area, whether calls to the Conservation Service or an animal hit on the highway.
    Hansen looked at the big parks around West Shore, such as Goldstream, Sea-to Sea, East Sooke, Matheson Lake, Roche Cove and Sooke Hills Wilderness Area and found a landscape criss-crossed with roads and privately-owned land without the corridors that wildlife populations need. 
    “So, how are these animals supposed to move between these parks safely?” she asked. 
    Using ICBC statistics, Hansen mapped 434 wildlife collision reports in Sooke between 2015 and 2019, of which 313 were on Highway 14. The reports do not give the species of animal, Hansen said. “But you can pretty well assume that it’s not going to be a squirrel or a raccoon or a skunk. It’s going to be a big enough animal that someone is going to phone in a report,” she said. 
     
     

     
    Chart by Jane Hansen using ICBC statistics on Westshore wildlife collisions, with map of wildlife collision reports, 2015-2019.
     
    Animal underpasses were not included in the initial budget for the Sooke highway improvement project, which will see four kilometres of the heavily-travelled road widened to four lanes with a median barrier.
    But growing awareness of wildlife safety, helped by a petition, organized by the Wildlife Advocates Collective and signed by almost 3,000 people, put the issue on the front burner for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. In May, the Ministry announced that the project, scheduled for completion next year, will include three “wildlife-related structures.”
    Two of the enhanced culverts will be near Connie Road and the third will be east of Glinz Lake Road.
     

    Cougar in Juan de Fuca area near Victoria, BC (photo by Gary Schroyen)
     
    Instead of the traditional round steel culverts, the tunnels will be square with a gravel base, which is an important element as animals such as deer do not like walking on concrete, said Livingstone, who conducted a home experiment on preferred surfaces for deer. 
    “They do not like cement—their hooves slip on it, especially in the winter and then they can’t get away from a car and that’s how a lot of them get hit,” Livingstone said. 
    “So, call me crazy, but, on our five-acre property we laid down a concrete slab that was about 50 feet by 70 feet,” said Livingstone. Deer, which usually used the area, shied away from the concrete and then started using an alternate route where Livingstone had laid down mulch. 
     
    Ministry has little budget for wildlife protection
    Dr Leonard Sielecki, manager of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s wildlife program, said the lack of underpasses and overpasses on Vancouver Island is historic and the push for change reflects evolving attitudes towards wildlife. 
    “What you are looking at is a legacy of the past and not a reflection of the present or the future,” he said. 
    That legacy is “environmentally unsustainable highway systems created at a time when public expectations and government regulations were focused largely in increasing safe mobility for road users,” according to the ministry’s Wildlife Program brochure. 
    But, although those expectations have changed, money for the wildlife program is tight, with a budget—unchanged for the last decade—of $825,000, from the more than $500-million spent each year on provincial highway operations. 
    One key to creating viable wildlife crossing programs is partnering with local businesses and Livingstone is hoping companies will be willing to donate to specific projects. 
    That could be a win for everyone, providing jobs for fledgling surveyors, biologists and even artists, as well as creating awareness of species at risk, she said. 
    Sielecki applauds the efforts being made by Livingstone and her group and said the growing awareness is a reflection of changing public attitudes. 
    “I have been in this position for 25 years and the changes that have occurred over that time have been phenomenal. There is support for wildlife protection at all levels from the minister down,” he said. 
    The ministry’s wildlife program is unique among transportation ministries and agencies in North America as it emphasizes raising wildlife awareness and, especially as climate change alters wildlife habits, connectivity for animals is becoming increasingly important, Sielecki said.
    For example, when the ministry was made aware of a toad migration near Duncan, staff worked with sign companies and maintenance contractors to come up with graphics for a toad migration, advising drivers to take an alternate route. 
     

    Wolf in Juan de Fuca area near Victoria, BC (photo by Gary Schroyen)
     
    “People were very considerate and conscious about the wildlife migration,” Sielecki said. 
    However, there are, inevitably, bottom line considerations. Constructing animal underpasses in situations such as Highway 14, where construction work is ongoing, is different from digging an expensive and traffic-disrupting tunnel under an existing highway. 
    The Ministry of Transportation and Highways said the Highway 14 conditions for building underpasses are “optimal,” meaning that the cost is about $250,000, a small fraction of the $120-million spent since 2017 on making the main highway to Sooke safer for drivers. 
    Cost always has to be a consideration, said Sielecki, adding that BC’s underpasses and overpasses are utilitarian compared to cadillac versions in areas such as Banff National Park, where overpasses are funded by the federal government. 
    “It’s not that we don’t want to do things, we have to be responsible for taxpayers dollars and do the most good with the funding we have available,” Sielecki said. Different, less expensive measures are employed besides building tunnels. Mountain goats were kept away from a busy highway when the ministry created an appreciated salt lick well away from it.
    There are about 20 large animal underpasses and overpasses in BC, most in places such as Kicking Horse Canyon and the Okanagan Connector, and the ministry is looking at retrofitting wildlife tunnels in places such as Highway 3, between Sparwood and the Alberta border, Sielecki said. 
    One of the most satisfying aspects of the program is looking at images from wildlife cameras, showing animals using the crossings, said Sielecki, pointing to a video of a mother moose teaching her calf how to use an underpass. 
    “We have a wealth of wildlife that most jurisdictions in North America don’t have. Animals ranging from badgers to bison,” Sielecki said. 
    Getting them safely across the roads is challenging. “But it is rewarding,” he said.
    Both the Wildlife Advocates Collective and Sielecki are collecting data from the public on where animals are crossing so the best decisions can be made on warning lights and wildlife crossings. 
    The Wildlife Advocates Collective is on Facebook. You can also contact  Dana Livingstone at 250-642-0220 or danalivingstone55@gmail.com. Leonard Sielecki of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is at leonard.sielecki@gov.bc.ca.
    Judith Lavoie is an award-winniing journalist specializing in the environment, First Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith

    Katłįà Lafferty
    A NEW CULTURAL REVITALIZATION PROJECT aims to reconnect W̱SÁNEĆ people to their larger island territories— beyond so-called Vancouver Island.
    “It’s all about reconnecting,” says Peter Underwood, a youth from the W̱SÁNEĆ Nation who has been working with the Rainforest Conservation Foundation and the W̱SÁNEĆ leadership council to connect people back to their islands. 
    “It’s really important that we know that those islands are our homelands, too, and that we are all islanders, more than just on Vancouver Island,” Underwood tells IndigiNews. 
    W̱SÁNEĆ territory includes several so-called Southern Gulf Islands in the Salish Sea, including S,DÁYES (Pender), S,ḴŦAḴ (Mayne) and ṮEḴTEḴSEN (Saturna). 
    The ṮEṮÁĆES Revitalization Project, a partnership between the Southern Gulf Islands Community Resources Centre (CRC) and the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board (WSB), aims to share traditional knowledge about W̱SÁNEĆ homelands, for youth, community members, and visitors.
    Through a series of five educational videos—to be owned and used by the WSB—the project  will incorporate W̱SÁNEĆ traditional knowledge and the role ṮEṮÁĆES (islands) play as a part of ÁLEṈENEȻ (the larger W̱SÁNEĆ homeland). 
    Central to the educational project is the question “Whose land is it?,” states a CRC press release published in July.
    “The W̱SÁNEĆ people have been too long separated from the Islands as a result of the oppressive impacts of colonization and the failure of the settler population to recognize our unceded inherent rights,” says W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council director of operations Gord Elliott in the release. “This project supports the resurgence of the W̱SÁNEĆ people in our traditional Homeland.”
    The videos will also be used in community forums for the Southern Gulf Islands to “enhance the developing community to community relationship necessary for progressive reconcili-action in building more resilient and sustainable communities,” the release states.
    The name ṮEṮÁĆES (pronounced “tlu-tla-chus”—“u” as in fun, “a” as in ape) means “islands,” Underwood explains, which comes from an oral story. 
     

    Peter Underwood  says, “To reconnect with our islands is to reconnect with our relatives there.” (Photo by Alex Harris)
     
    “The meaning of the word is that the islands are our relatives, the relatives of the deep. To reconnect with our islands is to reconnect with our relatives there,” he explains.
    Underwood says islands within W̱SÁNEĆ territory would have felt “a little separate from the W̱SÁNEĆ people, because we don’t have active reserves out there.” 
    “A lot of people don’t even know that we have reserves out there and if they do they don’t know where they are because they are very small and uninhabited,” he says.
    At one point, there were year-round villages on the islands, but when people were placed on reservations, they were taken from the islands and the land was sold off, he explains. 
     
    Whose land is it?
    The ṮEṮÁĆES Steering Committee received matched funding from the Real Estate Foundation of BC in the amount of $75,000 as a follow-up to the successful ṮEṮÁĆES Climate Action Project that took place in 2019-2020, according to the release.
    Additional funding is provided by a number of community partners including the W̱SÁNEĆ Leadership Council, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, UVIC Living Lab Project, and the South Pender Historical Society with the Capital Regional District.
    One of the videos will feature a presentation by Nick Claxton and John Price on the key findings in their paper: “Whose Land Is It?: Rethinking Sovereignty in British Columbia.” Another will feature an animated version of the ṮEṮÁĆES creation story, and the three others will share W̱SÁNEĆ perspectives on each of the three Southern Gulf Islands”: S,DÁYES (Pender); S,ḴŦAḴ (Mayne) and ṮEḴTEḴSEN (Saturna).
    Underwood says there’s a growing number of non-Indigenous people who are starting to make space for Indigenous histories and stories. For example, South Pender Island now has a display of the 13 moons of the W̱SÁNEĆ calendar by artist MENEŦIYE, he says. 
    Some people believe that the history of a place starts when the island is named with an English name, for example, but as Underwood explains, “There’s so much more to it.” Pender Island was originally one island before it was colonized, he says.
    The San Juan Islands are also part of the W̱SÁNEĆ homelands, but when the colonial continental borders were implemented, the W̱SÁNEĆ people become separated, he says. It’s this kind of valuable insight, rooted in traditional knowledge, that will be provided by Elders through the ṮEṮÁĆES  project, he adds. 
    “It’s really important that we know the history of those lands because the W̱SÁNEĆ peninsula is only a small part of our territory. We include the waters and islands, too.” 
    “The Islands, our relatives, have provided a way of life for our people for thousands of years and W̱SÁNEĆ law creates a reciprocal relationship of care and stewardship between W̱SÁNEĆ and ṮEṮÁCÉS,” Underwood says. 
    This responsibility is absolute; we are obligated to care for these islands, not only through our own actions but by protecting the islands against harmful actions by others. This project supports our exercise of this deep responsibility.”
    Katłįà (Catherine) Lafferty is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with IndigiNews. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. Katłįà, a member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, has authored two books and served as communication manager of Akaitcho Treaty 8 Tribal Corporation, and is pursuing a law degree at the University of Victoria.

    Leslie Campbell
    SINCE THE FIRST DAY OF ARRESTS at the Fairy Creek old-growth defence blockades, the RCMP have been employing vast “exclusion zones.” On July 20 a BC Supreme Court judge ruled those exclusion zones are not legal, according to a lawyer for the Rainforest Flying Squad.
    Justice Douglas Thompson told lawyer Matthew Nefstead that the RCMP may arrest and remove people who violate an injunction order, but may not deny access to everyone simply based on the possibility that someone may violate the order in the future.
    Justice Thompson agreed that the order issued April 1 by Justice Frits Verhoeven was clear in its protection of public access and the right to participate in lawful protest, and that important liberties were being compromised by the RCMP’s enforcement actions.
    Chief among these actions are the RCMP’s checkpoints and geographically extensive exclusion zones—which have ranged up to 10 kilometres—which have limited the public from getting anywhere near the forest defenders’ logging blockades. This has meant the public could not show support or engage in civil disobedience by standing on the road. The exclusion zones also meant that media representatives were limited to having to be escorted in by RCMP members, at times the RCMP chose, in order to get close to the blockades and arrests. Those representatives had to prove to the RCMP they were credentialed. (Media access was the subject of another court application, which was also ruled on favourably by Justice Thompson, who stated the RCMP must: “keep in mind the media’s special role in a free and democratic society, and the necessity of avoiding undue and unnecessary interference with the journalistic function.”)
     

    Will RCMP gates at Fairy Creek blockades come down soon? 
     
    Justice Thompson was responding to an application last week from Elders for Ancient Trees to amend or clarify the injunction the BC Supreme Court granted to logging company Teal Cedar Ltd on April 1. Thompson’s oral judgments today, on applications for access by the Elders and by the coalition of media groups, will be followed in the coming weeks by written reasons.
    “This is a major victory for the public and anyone who wants to express their disapproval of the destruction of some of the last irreplaceable old growth in the region,” said Susan Gage, a spokesperson for Elders for Ancient Trees. 
    The application was prompted in part when a bus carrying 15 elders was forced to back down a logging road three kilometres in the rain after they were turned away from reaching a logging blockade in the Fairy Creek area on June 15.
    “We hope the RCMP will respond immediately to this court order and remove their blockades and checkpoints,” stated Gage. FOCUS contacted the RCMP for comment but did not hear back by publishing time.
    Saul Arbess, another elder involved in the application, noted that in past forest defence actions, such as at Clayoquot and Walbran, RCMP behaviour has been more respectful of people’s right to protest. “Each morning, supporters would be allowed to attend the blockade. The police would come and read the injunction to everyone and then ask, ‘Will you step aside?’ Those who did not want to be arrested would step off the road; those willing to be arrested would remain on it and be removed and arrested by the officers.”
    But in the Fairy Creek blockades, as in Wetsuwet’en, it’s very different, noted Arbess. Huge exclusion zones enforced with blockades and checkpoints established by the RCMP, block access to everyone  on long stretches of logging roads—all on public land. Even tourists have been unable to get through.
    Lawyer Matthew Nefstead, who represented the elders group, told media it seems clear based on the wording of the injunction and oral reasons by Justice Frits Verhoeven that the intent of the injunction was to ensure access to the area for the public and for peaceful protest while also clearing the way for ­industry. The judge stated: “The protestors are free to protest, demonstrate, and attempt to influence the government in any lawful way they may choose.”
    Instead, Nefstead said, the exclusion zones prevented people who wanted to visit the area to participate in lawful protest, with no intent to violate the injunction, from being allowed to enter.
     

    These people were able to walk through an exclusion zone set up 10-12 kilometres from Waterfall blockade camp in late May. The RCMP chose not to arrest anyone that day.
     
    Lawyer Noah Ross told FOCUS in May that “Exclusion zones are only legal in certain limited circumstances in which there are serious public safety risks. It’s explicitly not allowed by the injunction,” said Ross. “It appears that the RCMP are once again willing to enforce exclusion zones that are not legally justified in order to make their job easier. They’re willing to overlook people’s civil rights in order to give industry access to their logs,” Ross stated. “It’s not legally justified.”
     

    This opinion was confirmed by the BC Supreme Court
     
    Even with the restrictive exclusion zones, well over 440 people have been arrested at the Fairy Creek blockades trying to prevent clearcutting of old-growth forests. With the new ruling against the zones, it seems likely more citizens will be able to show support and risk arrest in doing so. (In other legal news, arrestees may now face criminal contempt of court charges rather than just civil.)
    Leslie Campbell is the editor of FOCUS. She has visited Fairy Creek blockades three times, including in late May when she and hundreds of others—were able to walk past an RCMP checkpoint due to the sheer numbers and Pacheedaht elder Bill Jone’s advocacy. That story is here.  

    Rochelle Baker
    DAVE NIKLEVA WALKS THE SHORELINE of a Cortes Island beach nudging oysters with the toe of his boot.
    “Dead. Dead. Dead,” Nikleva mutters as he goes along.
    The shellfish farmer stoops over to pick up one bigger specimen for inspection before tossing it back on the beach.
    The stench along this stretch of Gorge Harbour at low tide is tremendous. But it was even worse two weeks ago when a record-breaking heat wave cooked thousands upon thousands of oysters in their shells in the final days of June.
    “They still had meat in them then,” Nikleva said.
     

    Cortes Island shellfish farmer Dave Nikleva surveys the damage after a recent heat wave decimated his oysters.
     
    A perfect storm of extreme heat paired with extra-low midday tides left Nikleva’s south-facing oyster lease baking in the sun for six hours at a time.
    BC clams and oysters were reduced to stinky goop after they got cooked in a recent heat wave.
    Now many of the feathery shells of the baby spats and small to medium oysters are empty having already been picked clean by crabs and gulls.
    But some of the bigger oysters are still dying. Shells still mostly closed, they gush water and putrid goop when disturbed.
    Nikleva’s oysters are just a fraction of the one billion marine intertidal animals that likely perished on the shores of the Salish Sea during the extreme heat event.
    “I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Nikleva, who has been producing oysters and clams for 35 years.
     
    Oyster farmers on the front line of climate change
    BC’s shellfish producers have been struggling with the slow burn of climate change for years as warming waters spur harmful bacteria and ocean acidification, among other changes, in the marine ecosystem.
    “If you went back 20 years ago and told farmers they were going to experience 20 per cent mortality, they would have thought that was crazy,” said Jim Russell, executive director of the BC Shellfish Growers Association.
    “But now that's kind of normal. And this normal keeps changing.”
    But the record-breaking heat saw some areas on the typically temperate coast reach close to 40 C—double the seasonal average. And it led to some catastrophic losses for many shellfish farmers.
    But those losses appear to be varied, depending on local conditions, said Russell, adding a full understanding of where and who suffered the greatest hits won’t be known for another couple of weeks.
    In addition to the damages reported in Gorge Harbour, the hub of shellfish aquaculture on Cortes, there appears to be some big losses in Baynes Sound next to Denman Island and in Okeover Inlet on BC’s mainland.
    It’s concerning since Baynes Sound produces more than 50 per cent of the shellfish coming out of BC, Russell said.
    And Okeover Inlet is reportedly the hardest hit, with some farmers with beach leases reporting up to 100 per cent mortality.
    “It’s quite devastating for some of the farmers that have talked to me.”
     
    Shellfish producers already battered by COVID-19
    BC produced 9,684 tonnes of shellfish, valued at 27 million, in 2019. Oysters alone generate 56 per cent of that revenue.
    The West Coast is big nationally, too, growing over half of Canada’s oysters and clams.
    It remains to be seen how badly the sector will be impacted by the heat wave, Russell said.
    But the nasty irony is that shellfish farmers had already been hobbled by COVID-19, which shuttered restaurants and export markets last year
    Many producers left last year’s oysters stockpiled on their beach to sell when markets improved as the pandemic lifted, Russell said.
    Now, some farmers will take a double hit.
    Plus, it takes two or three years to raise an oyster to market size.
    “It’s devastating when you consider the crop cycle, and they’ve lost all three years,” he said. “It’s going to be a major setback.”
    After preliminary surveys, Nikleva figures he has seen at least a 30 per cent die-off along his seven-acre stretch of beach. And mortality among the prized, smaller half-shell oysters destined for restaurants appears even greater.
    Nikleva lets out a sarcastic snort when asked if there are any government programs to help oyster farmers weather crop disasters.
    He figures he’ll lose a third of his income off this beach for the next three years.
    Yet, he considers himself somewhat fortunate since not all his shoreline oyster sites are directly exposed to the sun, and his deep-water oysters, growing on trays suspended from rafts, are OK.
    Despite his losses, Nikleva is glad the heat wave and its dire impacts have truly seized the wider public’s attention at last.
    “I’m glad we’re talking about climate change,” he said, “We’ve been breaking heat records year after year for decades. It’s happening, and we’re not immune.” All food producers are struggling to adapt to the changing climate, he said.
    If faced with low tides and extreme heat again, Nikleva is considering using a pump and to spray seawater over the oysters to cool them. Or experiment with mesh pouches or bags for the oysters to see if they provide extra shade and retain some pooled water.
    Scientists are also at work to mitigate the impacts of climate change on the shellfish industry.
    Ocean acidification, which occurs as increasing carbon in the atmosphere gets absorbed by the ocean, poses a problem for shellfish, said Timothy Green, a researcher at Vancouver Island University (VIU).
    Acidification drops the levels of calcium carbonate in the water that baby oysters and other shellfish need to build their shells.
    Oysters are also vulnerable to increased levels of bacteria and new pathogens brought about by warming oceans and global transport, said Green, a Canada Research Chair in shellfish health and genomics.
    Studying the genetics of shellfish adaptation to climate stressors and disease, Green is running a selective breeding program to make the Pacific oyster more resilient.
    Three years into the project, Green hopes he’ll see some results at the five- and 10-year mark.
    The research team is also experimenting to see if various types of farming practices can drop the mortality rates associated with climate change.
    “We need to come up with solutions,” Green said. “It hurts that we can’t help industry and say, ‘here’s the solution’ just yet. But that’s the end goal.”
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada's National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

    Melissa Renwick
    WHEN JEFF COOKE FIRST HEARD that the remains of 215 children were found buried in an unmarked grave at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, he was pained with heartache. 
    As the Huu-ay-aht elder thought of all of those children who never made it home, he said he was reminded of his own experience at the Alberni Indian Residential School and the possibility that more burial sites remained uncovered. 
    “It’s pretty emotional,” he said. “Particularly for survivors of residential schools.”
    Since the missing children were located in Kamloops last month, Tseshaht First Nation elected chief Ken Watts said he’s received at least one call every day from survivors with leads to potential sites.
    After consulting with hereditary chiefs, residential school survivors, council and staff, the nation applied to Ottawa, requesting some of the $27 million federal funding being made available to help communities locate children who died at residential schools.
    There are 139 recognized residential schools in Canada. If the $27 million was distributed equally among them all, Tseshaht would receive less than $200,000.
    “It’s probably not going to be enough to do it right,” said Watts. “I’m hoping they go beyond that…it’s really important to honour those children that never made it home.”
    Ontario recently pledged $10 million to investigate residential school sites, however, the BC government has not yet made such an announcement (as of June 23).
    “We are working closely with [the] federal government to support requests from First Nations,” said the BC Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. “With respect to investigations at other former residential school sites, we have received several requests and are working through what is needed.”
    As First Nations determine the next steps, the ministry said they will be taking guidance directly from the communities.
    “Each child has been forever taken from a family and a community that loved them,” said Premier John Horgan in a statement about the burial site at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. “This is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions. And it is a stark example of the violence the Canadian residential school system inflicted upon Indigenous peoples and how the consequences of these atrocities continue to this day.”
    Right now, Watts said the nation needs the funding to hire someone to help with the research and to answer phone calls from survivors. 
    “We need to hear the stories, do the scanning, come back with a report, determine next steps and make sure it's all grounded in our culture,” he said. “It’s not just running a machine through our territory—it’s cleansing the space and cleansing the people that go in to do that work so they don’t have that negative energy on them.”
    Part of the research will include identifying every student who attended the Alberni Indian Residential School in Port Alberni, said Watts. 
    “We owe it to the people that were there,” he said. “Whether they’re with us now, or they’re gone, or they never made it home, we need to honour them.”
    Similar to a war memorial, Watts said they would like to commemorate every student who attended the school, including a special list of the names of the students who never returned home. 
     

     
    Jack Thompson was sent to the Alberni Indian Residential School when he was eight years old. The abuse from three of his supervisors began during his first year at the school and persisted throughout the 10 years he was there.
    The Ditidaht elder is still filled with anger. In part, because he never got to confront his abusers before they passed. 
    As he continues to care for his open wounds, the 73-year-old said he hopes that finding the children who went missing from the Alberni Indian Residential School will help others heal. 
    “It will help when these kids find their way back home,” he said. “Rightly where they should have went.”
    Buildings from the former residential school still stand within the community of Tseshaht, like the Maht Mahs Gym. 
    Watts described Tseshaht’s territory as a hub for Nuu-chah-nulth people. Cultural gatherings are often held in the gymnasium, but when residential school survivors see the building, many are triggered, said Watts.
    “It’s such a reminder,” he said. “It’s an open wound that we hope we can take down someday—sooner rather than later.”
    Recently, the Daylu Dena Council in Lower Post, a remote town near the BC-Yukon border, received $11.5 million in federal funding and $1.5 million from the Province to demolish a former residential school building. A cultural centre is planned to be built in its place.
    Watts is following their lead by seeking funding from the federal and provincial governments to do the same.
    “I believe [they] have an obligation, both morally and financially, to help us do the important work we need to do,” he said.  “If you're a survivor from northern BC, and you want to come back to the site and reclaim who you are, it’d be nice to know that there’s a facility there to support you and your work.”
    Indigenous people across Canada have heard horror stories about residential schools for decades. 
    “A lot of people knew about the abuse,” said Watts. “People knew that a lot of children didn’t make it home…but these aren’t just stories anymore. This is real. This is solid evidence that the horror stories they say are true.”
    Even though the Alberni Indian Residential School was placed in Tseshaht territory without the nation’s consent, Watts said they now “have a responsibility to support [the families] to get the answers they need and deserve.”
    “There’s lots of work to do and this is just the beginning,” he said. “It’s going to be tough, but it will provide some relief.”
    Melissa Renwick is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter working with Ha-Shilth-Sa. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

    Judith Lavoie
    IN THE WILD, MINK HAVE A NATURAL TERRITORY of up to 2,500 hectares, where they swim, run, hunt and socialize. In BC’s mink farms, they live their whole lives in small cages which many British Columbians view as inhumane. In the past year, health experts have raised alarms about the spread of viruses, including COVID-19. For all such reasons, many organizations, as well as some NDP MLAs are urging the government to ban the farms.
    Scattered around the Fraser Valley are nine active mink farms, which, last year, contained 57,130 adult animals, bred to be killed and skinned. One chinchilla farm also continues to operate, while several mink farms are currently inactive. 
    The mink are usually bred in March, with kits arriving in June—about five per female. Most are killed—or, in fur farm language, pelted—before their first birthday. In 2018, according to the BC SPCA, over 260,000 mink were killed for their fur in the province. 
    Most of the fur is sold overseas, largely to countries such as Russia and China, where it is made into coats or trim for clothes. Some also goes into products such as eyelash extensions, cell phone cases or makeup brushes.
     

    American mink at Clover Point, Victoria (photo by Daniel Lacy)
     
    For years, troubling photos of animals, contained in wire cages for their entire life and often self-mutilating, have drawn criticism, and while animal welfare questions remain top of mind for many critics, COVID has given new resonance to pleas to shut down the farms. 
    In January 2021, the same month 1,000 mink were culled on a BC farm following a COVID outbreak that killed more than 200 animals, the World Health Organization warned about the link between mink farms and COVID. 
    Since then, COVID has been found in two more mink farms. At the most recent one, a total of five mink tested positive, with whole genome sequencing indicating that the B.1.618 variant (named the “triple mutant”) was detected in the animals.
    “The presence of this virus in the mink farms may have an important impact on livelihoods, public health and wildlife, contributing to widespread socioeconomic disruption,” says the WHO bulletin. As well as concerns about animal welfare and the danger of spreading COVID, fur farms pose a risk of spillover to native wildlife which may affect biodiversity, the WHO warns. 
    “Why are we taking this risk when it is so unnecessary?” asks Lesley Fox, executive director of The Fur-Bearers. 
    “These animals are not raised for food, there is no social or economic benefit of having fur farms. If anything, they have been a real drain because we now have three cases of COVID being found on BC fur farms and, every time that happens it’s more time and money spent and it pulls away resources that are needed elsewhere,” said Fox. 
     

    Wire cages used for mink farming. The Fur-Bearers website has video footage here (warning: disturbing for animals lovers). The Canada Mink Breeders Association websites features videos of model mink farms, but they all use small wire cages.
     
    Fox also noted ongoing concerns about effluent from farms affecting food crops or entering local waterways. “There’s a lot of runoff. You have tens and thousands of individuals pooping and peeing all day long, living in wire cages little bigger than a sheet of paper,” she said. 
    “With COVID, not only is there no social or economic benefit, it’s a flaming liability. This should raise the eyebrows of every politician in the province. This could have a catastrophic impact on our communities and our wildlife,” she said. 
    A statement from the Agriculture Ministry said that the Province, with the help of WorkSafe BC, has ensured all mink farms have robust COVID safety plans in place, with surveillance for infection in mink and farm workers. “We have had a national risk assessment that shows, with these safety measures in place, risk is manageable,” it says. 
    Ministry staff inspected the farms in summer and fall last year and will inspect them again this year, in addition to being in regular contact “to ensure that all necessary precautions are being taken to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 through human to animal or animal to human transmission.” 
    Fox scoffs at the idea that all the animals are checked daily for their health and welfare as the organization estimates there is a ratio of one full-time employee for every 1,000 animals. 
     

    Lesley Fox of The Fur-Bearers Association: “fur farming…has lost its social licence,”
     
    “It seems improbable that the requirements in both the National Farm Animal Care Council Codes of Practice and BC’s Fur Farm Regulations are being met with such a disproportionate staffing to animal ratio,” Fox said in a letter to the ministry.
    Other troubling questions about ministry oversight have been uncovered by The Fur-Bearers persistent freedom of information requests. One farm could not locate a COVID safety plan and there is no documentation of an animal health management plan for the chinchilla farm where the animals are killed by electrocution, Fox said. 
    “How does this fur farm have a permit without having met the requirements?” she asked. 
    “That is straight up non-compliance with their own legislation. It’s akin to giving someone a driver’s licence and then teaching them to drive.” 
    Farm cash receipts for BC mink in 2018 totalled more than $12.8 million and the industry employs about 150 people, according to background information from the agriculture ministry. 
    However, since 2014, the industry has received $6.5-million in taxpayer dollars from the AgriStability program adding to growing incredulity that the industry continues to have government backing. 
    Claims that the $6.5 million amounts to a subsidy are denied by the ministry, which said the AgriStability program helps protect farmers from financial problems such as drops in market prices and increases in expenses. 
    The fund pays out when there is a minimum 30 percent drop in profits compared to the previous five years. 
    “The purpose of the program is to help farmers manage severe losses which may jeopardize the viability of their farm businesses,” says a ministry statement. 
    Fox wonders why the government would help fund an industry which she believes is in its twilight years. 
    “We don’t subsidize industries such as rotary phones and cassette tapes anymore and I would argue fur is in the same category,” she said. 
    With few jobs at stake, many of which are seasonal and low-paying, fur farming is not an economic driver and it should be simple to transition the farms and workers to other agricultural jobs, Fox argued. “It’s low-hanging fruit,” she said. 
    Sara Dubois, chief scientific officer for the BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) said fur farming should not be treated in the same way as other farm operations as it does not put food on the table and requires keeping a wild animal species in inhumane conditions. 
     

    Sara Dubois of BC SPCA of mink farm conditions: “It’s the worst thing I have seen in my 20-year career.”
     
    COVID outbreaks, added to other problems, should have ended the conversation around government support for fur farming, she said. 
    “I wonder why the Province is protecting them to this degree…I think we need to be very clear that this is not the sort of farming that British Columbians want to support with their tax dollars,” Dubois said. 
    Among concerns is the ability for COVID to spread to wild mink or feral cats and, as there have been outbreaks on the farms, it is difficult to have faith in the bio-security measures, according to Dubois. 
    Then there are the conditions under which the animals live. 
    “It’s the worst thing I have seen in my 20-year career,” said Dubois, who takes particular issue with the cage space and methods used to kill the animals. 
    Federal Codes of Practice allow mink to be gassed with carbon monoxide, while foxes on fur farms, which are more common in other provinces, are killed by anal electrocution to avoid marking the skins. 
    Wire metal cages are often stacked on top of each other, with waste dropping from one level to the next, and, in hot weather, mink can die from heat stress, Dubois said. “These are semi-aquatic animals that love to swim and they are denied that natural instinct,” Dubois said. 
     
    LAST YEAR, MORE THAN 19,000 British Columbians signed a petition calling for a moratorium on mink farming. A September 2020 poll, conducted in the US and Canada by Research Co, found that support for killing animals for fur stood at 12 percent in BC—the lowest number registered in both countries.
    “The public does not support fur farming and [the industry] has lost its social licence,” said Fox. 
    Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Lana Popham has deflected questions in the Legislature, pushing responsibility for the ongoing operation of the farms on to health officials. 
     

    Agriculture, Food and Fisheries Minister Lana Popham
     
    “Currently we are focused on mink in relation to COVID. We will continue to take direction from the public health officer, but there are no other discussions at this time,” Popham said when asked earlier this month about the future of mink farming in BC. 
    But as opposition to fur farming grows, even some New Democrat MLAs are distancing themselves from government support for the industry.
    New Democrat MLA Aman Singh, MLA for Richmond-Queensborough, questioned Popham in the Legislature about the future of mink farming and Tweeted: “We need to stop exploiting these animals in fur farms. The exploitation of animals for our vanity or as trophies is just inhumane.” 
    Bowinn Ma, North Vancouver-Lonsdale MLA, Tweeted that she abhors fur farming of animals for cosmetics or fashion and said she has talked to Popham about the issue. 
    BC’s fur farms have drawn criticism and pleas for government to shut down the industry from remarkably diverse groups beyond The Fur-Bearers, BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals—including the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), celebrity Pamela Anderson, infectious disease physicians, and scientists such as David Suzuki. 
    UBCIC leaders questioned why, when other countries shut down mink farms, BC allowed the resumption of breeding at mink farms in March, including at quarantined farms. 
    UBCIC vice-president Don Tom said BC should be following the lead of countries such as the Netherlands and France. 
    “The time is now for the Province to follow suit and issue a moratorium on mink farming, including immediately suspending breeding programs,” he said in a prepared statement. 
    About 20 countries have either banned or are phasing out fur farming. In Denmark, one of the world’s leading fur producers, 17-million mink were culled to curb a COVID mutation. 
    Grand Chief Stewart Philip, UBCIC president, said fur harvesting should align with Indigenous ethics, conservation and stewardship and BC’s fur farming industry does not come close to those goals. 
    “UBCIC does not condone the industrial breeding, confinement and slaughtering of minks for international luxury markets especially as, notwithstanding the current public health risks, mink farms have long been implicated in cruel and inhumane fur farming practices that have led to unacceptable animal welfare outcomes,” Philip said. 
     

     
    ALAN HERSCOVICI, FOUNDER of TruthAboutFur.com usually speaks on behalf of fur farmers, but did not return phone calls and an email from Focus. 
    However, in an opinion piece, published in May in The Province newspaper, Herscovici wrote that BC mink farmers follow codes of practice developed with veterinarians, animal scientists and animal welfare authorities, under the auspices of the National Farm Animal Care Council. 
    “Claims that these hardworking BC farm families would mistreat animals or keep mink in unsafe or miserable conditions are unjustified and insulting,” wrote Herscovici.
    The Canada Mink Breeders Association also argues that mink farming is safe and humane, and that fur is a “green" product.
    Herscovici wrote that mink farming is part of BC’s agricultural heritage. But for Fox and other critics, it is not part of the province’s heritage that should be preserved—especially in light of the serious consequences to human health, animal welfare and the environment. 
    “When animals are sick, we are sick. When we treat animals poorly, there is a real impact on humans and our environment,” she said. 
    Critics of fur farming are puzzled that, even if government is not willing to shut down fur farms on animal welfare grounds, they are ignoring the concerns of infectious disease experts. 
    A letter signed by 14 BC infectious disease specialists, sent in late March to Popham and Health Minister Adrian Dix, documents the risks of respiratory viruses being transmitted between humans and animals, especially in intensive breeding facilities where thousands of animals are confined. 
    “We request that you urgently review the licensing and permits for the breeding and confinement of mink on fur farms in British Columbia, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the letter says. 
     

    Mink in cage (photo by Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals)
     
    Dr Jan Hajek, an infectious diseases specialist at Vancouver General Hospital and clinical assistant professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, said in an open letter that “the rapid accumulation of novel mutations as the virus has adapted to this new animal host, have raised local and international concern.” He cites the “large dense populations of animals on mink farms” as providing “favorable conditions for viruses to evolve toward more virulent forms and present an unnecessary risk.”
    Calling for a legislative ban on fur farming both in BC and the rest of Canada, Hajek said that, as mink are also susceptible to influenza, they could act as a “mixing vessel” for future pandemics. 
    Still, the bottom line for many, including Hajek, is a matter of ethics. 
    “In a society that values compassion and recognizes the need to avoid unnecessary suffering, keeping intelligent and sensitive animals in small wire-bottom cages to be used to make luxury coats has long been an ugly spot—and morally unjustifiable,” Hajek wrote in the BC Medical Journal.
    Judith Lavoie is an award-winniing journalist specializing in the environment, Forst Nations, and social issues. Twitter @LavoieJudith

    Michael John Lo
    In July, media organizations are heading to BC Supreme Court to challenge RCMP micromanagement and restrictions.
     
    “I’VE NEVER REPORTED FROM BOSNIA, but I would think that’s what it would’ve been like: Police threatening to arrest journalists just for standing in a road and videotaping what was going on.”
    What Canadian Association of Journalists (CAJ) President Brent Jolly is referring to is a video of a Global News reporter being denied access and threatened with arrest while covering the Fairy Creek blockades, now in their eleventh month.
    Protestors have been blocking logging roads to protect the last vestiges of old growth on the west coast of Vancouver Island, forests vital to the culture and spirituality of the Indigenous peoples of the area, stewards of the ḥahahuułi. Old growth forests are also an important bulwark against climate change and declining biodiversity, and the forest defence has captured the attention of environmentalists across the world.
    Teal Cedar Products, with logging rights in TFL46, won an injunction against the blockades in April. RCMP began enforcing the injunction on May 17, and by mid-June had made over 230 arrests. 
    Since the enforcement began, RCMP have impinged on journalists’ abilities to cover the protests and the actions of law enforcement, citing “safety concerns” and “common law rights” as a justification for their actions. Journalists from all outlets, including FOCUS Magazine, have been micromanaged by police, who seem to have wide-ranging discretionary powers to enforce the injunction for Teal-Cedar.
     

    Media stopped at an exclusion zone (photo by Michael John Lo)
     
    Jolly is now part of a larger coalition of news organizations and press freedom groups that is going to court over what they see as RCMP overreach in media management in the ongoing police operations within the First Nation territories of the Pacheedaht and the Ditidaht. Reporters on the ground are frustrated by arbitrary and inconsistent restrictions placed on them by the RCMP, who have established their own blockades to restrict access to enforce the injunction. As seen at Caycuse and Waterfall camps, these exclusion zones can range across many acres and up to 10 kilometres along logging roads.
    Sean Hern, legal counsel to the coalition that’s bringing the case to the BC Supreme Court, explained that this legal action isn’t a new lawsuit. It’s an application to the court, asking the Justices to “vary” the April 1 injunction to add terms they hope will cause the police to reassess their protocols and prioritize media access in the injunction enforcement area.
     

    Sean Hern, legal counsel to the media coalition asking for greater direction to RCMP to allow unhindered press coverage
     
    “There’s a tension that’s been building over a number of years,” said Hern. The RCMP has used blanket exclusion zones within injunction areas as a tool to limit media access, said Hern, citing the Unist’ot’en raid in 2020 as an example. Recently, these terms have meant that press only has one or two hours of notice for the meeting place for that day’s chaperoned access.
    Reporters would have to be stationed in either Port Renfrew or Lake Cowichan by 6 am to catch the convoy in time—opposite ends of the RCMP blockades. Independent press and student media with limited resources are especially affected by this policy.
    “There’s a lot of frustration up there,” said Hern. “In many instances, [notice] has changed on short notice, [or has] been significantly delayed. Media show up at a meeting point pre-arranged by the RCMP and have to wait there for sometimes hours. Sometimes it simply never happens.”
     

    Tarps used to hide police tactics for removing protesters (photo by Dawna Mueller)
     
    Meanwhile, enforcement action takes place away from journalists. When access is granted, police sometimes hold up tarps to prevent media from documenting arrests, claiming a need to protect “proprietary” policing methods. Sometimes, police do not inform the press of arrests at all. Such behaviour can discourage media attendance.
    Photojournalist Jen Osborne, who has been consistently covering the Fairy Creek blockades, has been denied access or obstructed numerous times when photographing police enforcement actions for Canadian Press, Reuters and independently. “If I get arrested out here [while not on contract], I don’t really have any support. If I become a little more pushy about getting more pictures….” Osborne trailed off, reminded of potential consequences. She’s thinking of leaving soon.
    Level of access seems to have varied from week to week, creating a difficult working environment. The latest incident, where Osborne was not allowed to witness arrests where police allegedly assaulted forest defenders at Waterfall camp, happened on June 14.
    The RCMP media handler didn’t show up, and Osborne was stuck at a parking lot for hours, waiting for access that never came that day. “The officers on the ground were saying, ‘oh we can’t use the radios, it’s not working today,’” said Osborne. “That’s the first time I’ve encountered that out there. The radio always works.”
    Hern noted, “Whether it’s a product of poor administration, or a product of poor administration with the intent to frustrate access, or a product of policy of giving access only when they want to give access, it’s a long way from free access for the press.”
    The qualification that CAJ and company are proposing to add to the injunction—addressed to law enforcers—is as follows: “to not interfere, impede, or curtail media access rights except as where a bonafide police rational that requires it, and in those instances, to do so as minimally as possible, in recognition of the rights and the role of the media.”
    Hern suspects that the RCMP may resist this by arguing that their restrictions are authorized by their general or common law policing rights. Whether that stance is justified will be determined in court in July.
    “It’s really difficult to see what it is that could be so operationally secret or risky that would require the exclusion of the media,” said Hern. “In an urban protest, police officers are making arrests on a regular basis and there’s tons of people around witnessing the event. It’s not clear at all why they want to make these arrests in isolation.”
    A careful balance should be struck between actual policing needs and media access, said Hern, who stresses that this isn’t happening at Fairy Creek.
    “In fact, the police are disregarding the need for that balance and don’t have a sufficient appreciation of the importance of free press access to enforcement activities,” said Hern.
    It’s now up to the courts to make sure that happens.
     
    Controlling the narrative
    Two weeks before RCMP began obstructing journalists in their work at Fairy Creek, Jolly wrote an op-ed in the National Observer. Its title nicely sums up the point that he’s making there: “Canada’s press freedom is in more danger than you think.”
    “I wish I could say I knew it was going to happen,” said Jolly, who laughed at the almost prescient timing of his piece.
     

    Brent Jolly, journalist and president of the Canadian Association of Journalists
     
    “We’ve made the point of going around and hosting international summits, telling emerging democracies and international organizations on how things should operate in regards to media freedom, and yet we still don’t accomplish some of the most basic things here at home,” said Jolly.
    Indeed, the RCMP appear to be taking a page from police forces operating in emerging democracies. Michelle Bonner, a political scientist at the University of Victoria who studies the intersection of policing, protest, and media in Latin America, says that the RCMP is likely employing a time-tested police tactic known as stage managing.
     

    Michelle Bonner, PhD, political scientist at the University of Victoria, studies the intersection of policing, protest, and media
     
    Bonner said that there are academic studies that detail how RCMP have previously not only stage managed where journalists could go during protests to ensure positive coverage, but also instances where RCMP have attempted to preemptively paint protestors in a criminal light ahead of time to influence coverage. There isn’t any indication that the RCMP has done this here, but Bonner believes there’s evidence that stage management is happening at the Fairy Creek blockades.
    She’s also struck by the lax oversight for the RCMP’s discretionary powers given by the injunction. Bonner is concerned about the term “recognized media outlets,” a poorly explained requirement of the RCMP for journalists looking to join the media convoy. A recent (and standard) email from RCMP to media stated: “Reminder—identification may include ID, business card, or photo ID from your media agency, a letter from your Editor/News Director confirming employment or other proof of media employment. As always there is limited cell reception at the access control areas, so please print out any letters or proof of employment prior to traveling to the check point.”
    In a statement to FOCUS, the RCMP claimed to have taken a “liberal approach” to media identification: “We have worked with a number of individuals who are freelancers or belong to non-traditional media outlets, such as internet publications.”
    But Bonner said, “There should not be limitations on what media is acceptable and what is not acceptable. If anyone wants to act as a citizen journalist, they can do so. Qualifications should not come into that.” Such authority gives the RCMP the power to silence some voices over other voices, noted Bonner. 
    RCMP acknowledged “instances of miscommunication or delays” during their early days of enforcement, but say that these have “generally been worked out” after consultation with stakeholders.
    RCMP also told FOCUS that police escorts are needed to “guide media in through the forest service network safely,” and to coordinate with onsite RCMP commanders to determine the level of access that is given to media on that day.
    “Police often use the safety of journalists as a reason to keep journalists behind police lines or in places away from where the protests are happening,” said Bonner. “For freedom of the press, ideally what you want is journalists making that decision for themselves as to what is safe and what is not safe rather than the police making that decision.”
    This sentiment is echoed by Hern: “Safety in the abstract is unhelpful. Is it the safety of the officers or is it the safety of the media personnel? If the safety is the safety of the officers, the question that arises is: how are the officers’ safety affected by members of the media being present?”
    Bonner suggested the control of media is more about image management: “[At protests] there’s always a possibility that it will end up making the police look bad. Police are concerned about their image and want to have public support in their actions.”  
    At peaceful protests, there is simply no need for police management, said Bonner. Restrictions on media, she noted, limit the ability of the public to have a well-rounded understanding of what’s happening.
    It’s important that journalists resist police pressure to control the narrative when they can, said Bonner. She gave an example of how news could become complicit: during the 2019 Chile protests, clever police stage management funnelled news coverage into being a mouthpiece for the police. Protestors were portrayed as criminals, looters, vandals, and eventually drug traffickers, even though the majority of people on the streets were peaceful protestors with legitimate grievances. “When these discourses are heard and are dominant in the media… then political leaders can say that public opinion is in support of these actions against the criminal threat of protestors.”
    In Chile, that has led to the deaths of 36 people and thousands of injured protestors. More than 400 people had eye injuries from police firing rubber bullets, with 29 completely blinded.
     
    Egregious violations of media access around indigenous land issues
    As the president of the CAJ, Jolly gets a national view of the state of press access in Canada. What he sees may not be as dire as the situation in Chile, but it isn’t encouraging either: Jolly’s seen “dumbfounding” examples of obstruction and obfuscation at nearly all levels of the government.
    During our interview, he rattled off a list of names and places where RCMP have prevented journalists from doing their work in recent years.
    The most egregious violations seem to happen when Indigenous peoples begin asserting their rights contrary to the wishes and interests of property developers, pipeline companies, and government.
    For example, the 2020 raid on Unist’ot’en camp in Northern BC, where the Wet’suwet’en have been resisting oil pipelines on their territory, saw guns drawn and journalists detained during a paramilitary raid. There, RCMP utilized an exclusion zone, functionally similar to Fairy Creek’s access and control areas, as the justification for denying press access. An investigation by the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP into RCMP conduct at Unist’ot’en remains unresolved, stuck in administrative limbo.
    Later that year, Canada would also see the arrests of journalists Karl Dockstader and Courtney Skye in Caledonia, Ontario, where the Haudenosaunee are resisting property developers who are violating a 1784 land treaty.
    There is also the case of Justin Brake, who was arrested in 2016 covering a protest where the Innu and Inuit protested against the Muskrat Falls megadam project in Central Labrador. He is perhaps the only journalist in Canadian history to have faced dual criminal and civil charges while doing his job. That case would last for almost four years, until charges against Brake were dismissed in the highest court in Newfoundland and Labrador.
    That court ruling by Justice J. Derek Green repeats a Canadian Supreme Court ruling that frames journalism as the sustainer of the public exchange of information, vital to modern Canadian society.
    Justice Green then goes further to note: “That makes freedom of the press to cover stories involving indigenous land issues even more vital.”
    As Canada grapples with its identity as a country built on cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples, conflicts around Indigenous rights will only gain heightened attention.
    “You would think that the RCMP would take the time to develop a strategy around this [after Wet’suwet’en],” said Jolly. It’s unacceptable when journalists are obstructed and threatened while reporting on matters of the public interest,” he added. “By the virtue of their very restrictions, they’re creating mistrust.”
    Jolly says that the Fairy Creek application ruling could have a long-term impact on journalism and the public interest.
    “The Supreme Court of Canada has described the role of the media in Canadian society as vital, special, essential, and emphasized it in many cases as to how fundamentally important a free press is to democratic society,” said Hern. “That’s what’s at stake.”
    The case will be heard in the third week of July before Justice Douglas Thompson in Nanaimo, with virtual proceedings.
    “I’m a bit concerned that it’s taking a little bit longer [than usual]. But this is the process—we just have to go along with it,” said Jolly.
    Meanwhile, the Rainforest Flying Squad say that blockaders are facing an increasingly aggressive RCMP, who are now conducting overnight raids when there are no media present.
    Michael John Lo was recently senior staff writer for the Martlet and has joined FOCUS Magazine. He recalls needing a police escort of two during a 40-minute walk to retrieve his lunch from his vehicle parked just outside the exclusion zone during his trip to Caycuse. See his report on that visit and the first week of arrests at Fairy Creek here.

     

    Rochelle Baker
    THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT RELEASED the broad strokes of its plan to save plummeting wild salmon stocks on the West Coast on June 8, 2021.
    Federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan outlined the initial framework and guiding principles for Ottawa’s $647.1-million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI), announced as part of the recent federal budget.
    Four key areas form the foundation of the strategy: conservation and stewardship, enhanced hatchery production, harvest transformation, and integrated management and collaboration, Jordan said.
    Some BC salmon conservationists say the plan’s pillars and funding are positive, but the devil is in the details. Concerns raised include the use of hatcheries, the need to establish recovery plans, ensuring First Nations are true partners in the process, and that the entities steering the process are independent.
    “Overall, it’s a positive announcement,” said Aaron Hill, executive director of Watershed Watch Salmon Society. 
    “We’re cautiously optimistic that it’ll move things in the right direction.”
    Many wild salmon stocks in BC and the Yukon are on the verge of collapse and bold action was necessary to reverse the trend, said Jordan, noting some populations have suffered declines of 90 percent.
    “The challenges facing Pacific salmon are enormous, but they’re not insurmountable,” Jordan said.
    “With the development of the historic Pacific salmon strategy, we will deploy the resources on a level that meets the scale of the crisis head on, and we will turn the corner.”
    The four pillars support a strategic and co-ordinated long-term response rooted in collaborative action, she added. 
    “This is not a top-down approach,” Jordan said, adding Indigenous peoples, provincial and territorial governments, harvesters, stewardship partners, academia, environmentalists, and other stakeholders will be relied on to execute and guide the strategy. 
    The plan aims to develop stronger science and habitat restoration, stabilize and grow salmon populations and sustainable and reliable fisheries, as well as deepen communication and co-ordination between partners.
    The funding is dedicated to conservation initiatives on the ground, Jordan said, adding the salmon strategy isn’t a new report or study. 
    Ottawa is partnering with the BC government on conservation through the province’s Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) to fund projects on the ground immediately, Jordan said.
    In the recent budget, Ottawa committed a further $100 million to the $143-million program.
    Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) will also begin planning and consultations to build new hatchery facilities to provide critical assistance for at-risk salmon stocks, Jordan said. 
    “We’re starting work immediately to consult with First Nations and local organizations to determine exactly where these hatcheries should be located to deliver the biggest impact,” Jordan said, adding DFO will take strategic steps to ensure that hatcheries won’t compromise wild fish stocks.
    Strategic work with existing hatcheries will enhance their efforts where needed and aim to support economic opportunities for recreational fishers, she added. 
     

    Aaron Hill, of Watershed Watch Salmon Society, is wary of using hatcheries as a tool to boost declining wild salmon stocks.
     
    Hill expressed concern that using hatcheries to support fisheries will further erode at-risk stocks by reducing the genetic fitness of wild salmon, and would see hatchery fish competing with endangered populations in the marine food web already under increasing duress. 
    “There is a need for hatcheries in some cases to rescue wild salmon runs from extinction,” Hill said, adding he’s pleased Jordan suggested DFO will take a conservation approach to their use.
    “But the best way to do that is through a biological risk-assessment framework—something they currently have—but which is in a bit of a shambles and needs a massive overhaul,” he said. 
    DFO also urgently needs to develop science-based recovery plans for specific at-risk salmon populations, as required by 2019 changes to the Fisheries Act, Hill said. 
    Bob Chamberlin, a former vice-president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and a longtime advocate for wild salmon, said he wants Ottawa to abandon just consulting First Nations and work at a government-to-government level to enact the strategy. 
    Doing so is particularly relevant as Ottawa undertakes legislative changes to bring Canadian laws in line with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), he said. 
    “This is one of those vital opportunities to get it right the first time, and create space for First Nations partnerships to develop and implement salmon restoration,” Chamberlin said. 
    Work is already underway to co-ordinate a First Nation salmon restoration framework in BC to identify priorities, he added
    “That’s the work I’ve been doing for the past six months. I’ve talked to First Nations across BC and the support is overwhelming.”
    As part of the strategy, a federal Pacific salmon secretariat will be developed to caretake and integrate the data collected under the initiative, Jordan said.
    A restoration centre of expertise for Pacific salmon will also be created to provide technical expertise to support restoration efforts by salmon stewardship groups.
    “This [centre] will break down silos, increase communication, and we will learn from these groups to ensure we are focused in the right direction and the right areas, and adapting as time progresses,” Jordan said. 
    To be effective, Hill noted, both the proposed secretariat or the centre of expertise shouldn’t be overseen by the DFO, which also regulates salmon farms in BC waters and might potentially ignore or suppress science suggesting the operations pose a threat to wild stocks.
    “The idea of a Pacific salmon secretariat could be a great thing, but I’m concerned it might just be a sort of administrative function within DFO,” Hill said. 
    “We’d really love to see something that’s arm’s length.
    “I don’t think we'll see a good outcome if they’re the ones that are also in charge of rolling out this whole initiative and overseeing it.” 
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
     
     

    Matt Simmons
    BC auditor general flags BC’s inadequate management of lands, fish and wildlife
     
    BC IS FALLING SHORT on its commitment to protect fish and wildlife habitat, according to a report released by the Province’s auditor general on May 11, 2021.
    The audit of the Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development’s Conservation Lands Program identified several deficiencies, including: a lack of strategic direction ensuring government collaboration with Indigenous communities; a failure to sufficiently monitor and enforce rules on conserved lands; and a need to update management plans for species and habitat.
    “Overall, we concluded that the ministry has not effectively managed the program,” Michael Pickup, auditor general, said in a statement. 
    Pickup noted the program—which was developed over half a century ago to provide a framework for theProvince to work with non-profit organizations, federal agencies and First Nations—has not revisited its goals or strategic planning for over 30 years. He also found the program lacks clarity of purpose, leaving government staff working on local or regional conservation programs without clear directives.
    The report noted that even on conserved lands, the Province isn’t doing enough to regulate public use, stating that “hundreds of unauthorized activities had occurred on conservation lands” between 2009 and 2020. Infractions ranged from motor vehicle use in prohibited areas to illegal harvesting activities.
     
     
    The auditor general outlined a series of recommendations, including cementing a strategic plan for the program and addressing the need to be more transparent with the public. The Ministry of Forests acknowledged its shortcomings and said in a statement it is already working on a number of initiatives to address the audit’s findings.
    “Ministry staff are currently working on a strategic plan for the Conservation Lands Program that will detail our actions to fully address the auditor general’s 11 recommendations,” a ministry spokesperson wrote in an email. “The new strategic plan will include input from the existing Conservation Lands partners, the minister’s Wildlife Advisory Council and the First Nations-BC Wildlife and Habitat Conservation Forum.”
    As for when the public can expect to see the ministry implement the recommended changes, Pickup said at a press conference that decision is at the discretion of the Province.
    “Most of the responses to these recommendations indicate what they are going to do but they don’t actually indicate a specific timeline to have things done,” he said.
     
    BC conservation management “outdated” as species suffer declines
    The report comes as steelhead and salmon populations in watersheds across the province struggle to survive, caribou herds are extirpated and numerous species suffer from habitat fragmentation and the impacts of climate change. As Sarah Cox reported in The Narwhal, there are thousands of species at risk in BC and, despite this, the current government reneged on its promise to enact species-at-risk legislation. 
    One of the Conservation Lands Program’s key tools to address the needs of at-risk species and important habitats is the designation of wildlife management areas, but the audit flagged a number of problems with BC’s management of those areas, noting around 70 percent of the plans have not been approved and the average age of the plans is almost 20 years. 
    The audit noted current plans need to reflect current risks, which include the ever-evolving risks associated with climate change.
    The report also pointed out that the Province did not maintain an accurate inventory of its conserved lands, including non-administered conservation lands, which are areas designated for conservation purposes under the Land Act.
    “The ministry needs an accurate inventory of conservation lands to monitor and report on progress and to make informed program decisions,” the report said.
     
    BC working to align conservation with Indigenous values
    The ministry said one of the ways it is addressing the auditor general’s recommendations, while working to meet provincial conservation commitments, predates the report. The Together for Wildlife Strategy, announced last summer, is the Province’s plan for conserving BC’s biodiversity. The strategy outlines five goals and 24 actions to achieve those goals, which involve working closely with First Nations.
    But according to the audit, the ministry “has not supported staff to collaborate with Indigenous Peoples when securing and managing conservation lands.” It added that while the ministry is working to provide training and guidance to its staff, there is a lack of specific direction to collaborate and engage with First Nations.
    In an interview conducted prior to the audit’s release, George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said the Province is working to align its conservation strategy with Indigenous Rights and community interests.
    “We’re working hard to find a way forward that respects First Nations culture and values, that acknowledges and respects the importance of maintaining biodiversity and protecting species at risk, but doing it by developing an approach that doesn’t provide only one path.”
    Matt Simmons is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with The Narwhal. The is Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
     



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