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    Rochelle Baker
    Cruise ships using dirty scrubber systems on Canada's West Coast spewed out nearly half of the 88 million tonnes of acidic wastewater and toxic metals generated and dumped into the ocean in 2022, new data sparked by a Stand.earth complaint shows.
    CRUISE SHIPS ARE JEOPARDIZING endangered southern resident killer whales by dumping billions of litres of polluted wastewater into the ocean, new federal government documents reveal.
    There was a 14-fold increase in the total number of ships employing scrubber technology in coastal waters between 2018 and 2022, recent data submitted by Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) to an international environment organization revealed.
    In 2022 alone, a total of 466 ships with scrubbers discharged more than 88 million tonnes of acidic wastewater loaded with heavy metals and other pollutants along the West Coast, according to ECCC estimates. Many of those pollutants include toxic contaminants listed as one of the top concerns in recovery plans for the 74 remaining endangered southern resident killer whales, said Anna Barford, shipping campaigner for Stand.earth Canada.
    The new details on scrubber pollution came to light in the ECCC response document after Stand.earth filed a complaint to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), an international forum through which Canada, the U.S. and Mexico address shared environmental concerns.
    Stand.earth’s complaint alleges Canada is failing to enforce existing laws, especially under the Fisheries Act, to prevent scrubber pollution from cruise ships and other vessels from harming the marine environment, Barford said.
    “There’s no longer any plausible deniability from Canada that scrubbers are not harmful, or that scrubbers discharges should be allowed,” she said.
    “We know now we need to be doing better for whales and for our communities.”
    Scrubbers are exhaust-cleaning technology that draws fresh seawater to “wash” regulated pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide and other carcinogens and toxic metals, from a ship’s exhaust. That water is then flushed into the ocean.
    The devices are a loophole for shipping companies to continue burning cheaper dirty heavy fuel oils while still complying with the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) sulfur emissions standards.

    Cruise ships on Canada’s West Coast produced nearly half of the 88 billlion tonnes of polluted scrubber wash water dumped into the ocean despite making up only a small percentage of the number of ships using the dirty technology. (Photo of a cruise ship in Victoria Harbour by Rochelle Baker, Canada's National Observer)
    Cruise ships are the top offenders, accounting for nearly 46 per cent of all scrubber pollution despite making up only five per cent of the total number of vessels using the technology, ECCC data shows.
    The Stand.earth complaint to the CEC is the first involving Canada and part of a concerted push for more accountability and transparency by the federal government on scrubber pollution, Barford said, particularly on the part of Transport Canada, the agency responsible for regulating pollution from shipping.
    “Having that reply from Canada, about the incredible volume of [toxic] criteria contaminants coming out of scrubbers going into critical habitat, that's important information for us,” she added.
    An estimated 26,000 kilograms of toxic metals associated with burning of fossil fuels were “scrubbed” and discharged in the form of wash water along the West Coast in 2022, especially large amounts of vanadium, nickel, copper and lead, the ECCC report showed.
    The scrubber pollution also contained hundreds of kilograms of PAHphe, carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that are particularly harmful to aquatic life.
    Copper, lead, PAHs and cadmium are considered key culprits behind the declining numbers of Chinook salmon, which are the primary food source for southern resident killer whales.
    More than 26 million tonnes of scrubber wastewater were dumped into the whales’ critical habitat in the southern Salish Sea in 2022, including more than 8,000 kilograms of toxic metals. Cruise ships were responsible for approximately 44 per cent of the pollution, according to the environment ministry.
    The billions of litres of scrubber wastewater also compound ocean acidification — already pronounced on B.C.’s coast — that hinders marine species such as oysters, clams and crabs from forming their protective shells in the early stages of life, Barford added.
    It’s extremely frustrating because the problem of scrubber wastewater is entirely preventable, she stressed, citing California, Denmark and other European Union nations as jurisdictions where ships are mandated to burn cleaner fuel or prohibited from using scrubbers or dumping wastewater.
    Stand.earth and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society’s B.C. chapter (CPAWS BC) released a public report Monday urging Transport Canada to create more stringent regulations to close the loophole for scrubber pollution and other lax cruise ship wastewater rules, especially in marine protected areas (MPA) and highly sensitive ecosystems.
    Transport Canada issued a set of temporary regulations last June, however, Barford said the new but inadequate standards around cruise ships’ discharge of sewage and greywater failed to address scrubber pollution in any way.
    Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez has the opportunity to plug the gaps permitting the ongoing contamination of some of Canada’s most sensitive coastlines when he extends or renews cruise ship wastewater regulations again next month, she said.
    That cruise ships aren’t banned from dumping massive volumes of scrubber water, sewage and greywater — which includes kitchen water, laundry detergent, cleaning products, food waste, cooking oils and grease and microplastics — into marine protected areas is another gaping regulatory hole, she added.
    The regulations as they currently stand pose a significant threat to the creation and protection of the pending Great Bear Sea MPA network, said Kate MacMillan, ocean conservation director at CPAWS BC.
    Exemptions built into the current cruise ship discharge regulations also mean approximately 35 per cent of the proposed ocean conservation network along the central coast can be “toilets” for untreated sewage and greywater, the Stand.earth report suggests.
    The cruise ship industry is booming and if left unaddressed, the wake of pollution on the coast will only increase, Barford said. Vancouver, the busiest port of call for cruises on the coast, is expecting at least 329 cruise ship visits this season, as well as a two per cent jump in passenger visits over 2023’s record of 1.24 million.
    The report urges Canada to designate no-discharge zones for sewage and greywater, treated or untreated, in the Great Bear Sea and other conservation areas, ban outright scrubber wastewater discharge in all Canadian waters and pair the measures with a rigorous third-party on-board monitoring program.
    Ocean conservation areas don’t only preserve hot spots of biodiversity, they also sustain cultures and communities along the length of the coast, MacMillan said.
    “It’s not just orca health we are worried about,” she said. “These contaminants are dumped into waters where people fish and harvest shellfish to feed and support their families.”
    Neither Transport Canada nor the office of Pablo Rodriguez responded to an interview request or questions.
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer.

    Matteo Cimellaro
    For some First Nations, the choice between economic self-sufficiency and environmental and climate concerns has arrived at a crossroads as the Coastal GasLink pipeline nears operation, critics say. 
    COASTAL GASLINK, the disputed pipeline opposed by Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership, reached mechanical completion in November. It will soon carry millions of dollars worth of liquified natural gas (LNG) to floating facilities on the northern coast of British Columbia for exports to Asia. First Nations are emerging as key players in the West Coast gas boom lauded by Ottawa and Victoria. Floating LNG facilities are already proposed by the Nisga’a and Haisla Nations, while other nations are sitting on major prospective gas fields.
    The coastal nations are counting on LNG to uplift their communities after 150 years of impoverishment and degraded social conditions unleashed by colonial policies and land dispossession. However, they face criticism from environmentalists and other regional First Nations for the climate and environmental consequences of a massive expansion of new gas infrastructure.
    On Monday, Shell Eastern Trading (Pte) Ltd., agreed to become the first purchaser of natural gas from Ksi Lisims LNG, a proposed project led by the Nisga’a Nation in northern British Columbia. The Singapore-based company hopes to purchase two million tonnes of LNG annually from Ksi Lisims, or one-sixth of its production. Ksi Lisims plans to begin exports in 2028.

    Cedar LNG graphic outlining the project's positions. (Graphic via Cedar LNG media kit)
    Nisga’a joins the Haisla Nation, which is further along with its Cedar LNG facility that is being co-developed with Pembina Pipeline, a Canadian oil and gas company.
    It’s essentially about becoming self-sufficient, Candice Wilson, environmental manager for Haisla First Nation, said in an interview. “We can be self-governing, provide services on our own and not have the limitations of policy and regulation that the federal government implements.”
    Millions of dollars of gas revenue carry the promise of independence for the First Nations, which have long been dependent on colonial governments in Victoria and Ottawa. Often, relationships with provinces and Ottawa can be fickle for First Nations since they can change with each passing budget or government. Economic independence could also give First Nations more power and influence with government officials.
    Wilson said the “economic benefit would be very far-reaching.”

    A Cedar LNG team member speaks with Haisla environmental manager Candice Wilson. (Photo via Cedar LNG media kit)
    She sees the goal of the LNG facilities as economic reconciliation, a phrase gaining more traction in First Nations, provinces and Ottawa.
    The definition is broad and encompassing and can span from inclusion in Canada’s resource economy to more ancestral economic activities and ecosystem revitalization.
    Wilson’s definition includes all three through the First Nations Climate Initiative (FNCI), led by the Nisga’a, Haisla and three other First Nations. The initiative seeks to alleviate climate change and poverty, according to the organization’s website.
    Part of the initiative’s climate plan is based on nature-based solutions, an umbrella term for funding ecosystem conservation and restoration through carbon credits. Haisla has already restored five streams in their territory and hopes salmon numbers will increase when the streams are fully rehabilitated, Wilson said.

    A diagram from the First Nations Climate Initiative’s Climate Action Plan. (Screenshot)
    The credits are purchased by the First-Nations-led LNG facilities, ostensibly to make them carbon neutral. The theory goes that carbon emitted by fossil fuel development can be mitigated by purchasing carbon credits in other projects that restore the environment’s carbon-storing capacity.
    But carbon credits are often criticized as a way to extend the life of fossil fuels beyond the timeline that climate scientists warn will result in catastrophic tipping points.

    An artist rendering of Cedar LNG.  (Photo via Cedar LNG media kit)
    Environmentalists and other regional First Nations poke holes in the initiative’s plan on the grounds that massively expanding gas infrastructure in the region will lead to a net increase in global heating and harm the local environment.
    Glen Williams, president of the Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, whose nation is currently in a land dispute with Nisga’a, questions how LNG facilities can claim to be carbon neutral, citing that “there’s no real basis for that.”
    “[Ksi Lisims] is going to contribute to global warming, and it’s gonna be disastrous in the drought conditions that we’re experiencing now,” Williams said.
    “It’s unfortunate that an alternative could not be found for the economic stability in their communities,” he added.
    To the south, marine harvesters in Haida Gwaii told Canada’s National Observer last year that they feared the potential impact of a boom in tanker traffic on the coastal environment they depend on for harvesting and tourism.
    “The impacts are cumulative, and each additional ship that crosses this region increases the pressure on Haida Gwaii,” Council of the Haida Nation President Gaagwiis (Jason Alsop) told Canada’s National Observer at the time.
    John Young, B.C. transition analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation, said as a settler, it is inappropriate for him to suggest “how Indigenous Peoples should proceed — on LNG or anything else.”
    However, from a climate science perspective, he worries gas development in the province will slow progress on Canada’s transition. He describes the situation using three L’s: gas locks in emissions, locks out renewables and locks up capital needed for a truly clean economy.
    If all five proposed LNG projects on the West Coast are developed, they will produce around 30.3 megatonnes per year, blowing through the province’s 9.3-megatonne oil and gas industry emission target, Young said.
    Then, there is the Montney Play, which sits on the territory of Blueberry River First Nation in B.C. The gas field is one of the largest in North America and one of the biggest carbon bombs in the world, meaning it would become Canada’s largest source of greenhouse gases and among the highest-emitting places globally.
    Gas will eventually become a stranded asset in an electrified world, devaluing the LNG facilities operated by First Nations, Young warns.
    Beyond markets, Young says the climate crisis is the biggest existential threat to humanity and must be curtailed, particularly by sidestepping a major gas boom.
    But for some First Nations, who have survived the existential threat of colonialism since contact, the opportunity of gas promises the road to prosperity, wealth and influence, irrespective of Ottawa or Victoria.
    “Beating climate change is all about having real dialogue and figuring out what the solutions are,” Alex Grzybowski, the facilitator of the First Nation Climate Initiative, said. “We don’t have all solutions, but we have some. We’re promoting them and trying to develop them.”
    With files from John Woodside. Matteo Cimellaro is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, funded by the Government of Canada. This article first appeared in Canada’s National Observer on January 12, 2024.

    Rochelle Baker
    Federal inaction means West Coast harvesters still flounder with unfair fishing regulations, says a parliamentary committee. 
    FISHERIES AND OCEANS CANADA faces a wave of criticism in a recent report by the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO), which reiterated a call to equalize fishing policy on the coasts. 
    For the second time in five years, the committee is pushing the fisheries department (DFO) to make changes so only Canadian fish harvesters with actual “boots on deck” of a boat can own fishing licences or quota on the West Coast. 
    The key recommendation is one of 19 stemming from a recent study by the committee on the effect corporate and foreign ownership of commercial licences and quotas is having on Canadian fisheries. 
    On the Pacific coast, there are no limits around ownership of commercial licences or quota which unlock entry to fisheries and profits in the sector.
    Yet in the Maritimes, DFO has crafted regulations to limit corporate control and ensure licences remain in the hands of independent harvesters, so fishers and coastal communities benefit from the industry.
    Speculation and skyrocketing prices for commercial fishing licences and quota (a share of allowable catch) is locking out independent operators from making a living in B.C. waters, said harvesters, First Nations, academics and unions testifying at the committee. 
    Meanwhile, corporations, processors, foreign and domestic investors, or retired fishers benefit, while active fish harvesters must increasingly lease licences and quota at prices or under contract conditions that are unsustainable or put them in the red. 
    The risks of foreign ownership and corporate concentration must be addressed before the nation’s fish and seafood is controlled from boardrooms, here or abroad, rather than by Canadian fishers, the committee stated in its report.
    “The resources in Canada’s oceans should benefit, first and foremost, the Canadian coastal communities that depend on them.” 
    DFO should develop new criteria around Canadian ownership of licences and transition to the new system in seven years or less, the committee recommended. 
    The need to tackle longstanding concerns about the lack of transparency around who owns and controls commercial licences, quota, and vessels and the need for a public registry was also highlighted in the report.  
    Aside from making it impossible to determine the level of concentration in the industry, poor transparency means the sector could be targeted by criminal elements, the committee heard.
    Not knowing who owns key resources makes Canadian fisheries vulnerable to foreign state actors, organized crime, and money launderers, Peter German, a former RCMP deputy commissioner, told the committee.
    As a result, the committee also recommended the sales and purchases of vessels, licences and quota, involving lawyers representing anonymous clients, be scrutinized by FINTRAC, the federal intelligence agency monitoring suspicious financial activity. 
    In addition, deals that might result in an individual or corporation acquiring 20 per cent or more of any given fisheries market should trigger a review by the Canadian Competition Bureau, the committee said. 
    Results from a DFO survey — aimed at determining who benefits directly or indirectly from access to commercial fisheries — was released in September after committee hearings were already finished. 
    Results suggest the level of foreign licence holders or vessel owners on the West Coast is minimal at around two per cent based on responses from 80 per cent of those that held 88 per cent of those licences, the survey report stated. 
    However, before the results were released, the survey was roundly criticized as “flawed” by fish harvesters and many others testifying to the committee. The nationality of someone who “holds” a commercial licence or quota doesn’t translate into who actually “owns” or controls them, critics stressed. 
    Processors, corporations and investors — foreign or domestic — with deep pockets can own licences and quota that they then lease to a Canadian fish harvester or employee. 
    Though the harvester becomes the “holder” of a licence or quota, they can still be locked into lower fish prices or supply agreements with seafood buyers or processors that own those items. 
    How much quota or licences are concentrated in corporate hands will remain unclear if companies don’t have to declare ownership of those assets but can seemingly distribute them to be ‘held’ by harvesters or boat operators, Sonia Strobel, CEO of Skipper Otto Community Supported Fishery, told the committee. 
    In the survey report, DFO acknowledged the complexity and range of leasing practices wasn’t captured “as the intended scope was focused to provide a snapshot of foreign ownership of the named licence holder only.”
    In addition to a general call for DFO to develop policies to buoy the next generation of fishers, especially in Indigenous communities, the committee recommended Ottawa create a specific fisheries finance agency, similar to Farm Credit Canada, within five years. 
    The new report’s findings mirror the outcome and many recommendations from a 2019 investigation by the committee into fisheries regulations and equity issues on the Pacific Coast. 
    There was a disappointing lack of progress over the past five years on a “made in B.C.” plan reflective of East Coast policies that limit corporate control and stipulate only active harvesters can possess licences, the report stated. 
    Only a single employee had been specifically dedicated to advance a complex set of goals, the committee noted, stressing DFO must prioritize enough resources and staff to move forward with the recommendations. 
    There is risk tied to inaction on foreign ownership and concentration in fisheries, the report concluded, citing questions posed by Greg Pretty, president of the Fish, Food, and Allied Workers union. 
    “Will the future of our fishery be vibrant and sustainable—composed of thousands of small businesses in the water that continue to contribute to the rich fabric of culture and our country’s economy?” Pretty asked. 
    “Or will it be controlled by a small handful of companies, processed offshore or internationally, removing the wealth of our sustainable resources from the adjacent communities that depend on them, in order to serve another country’s bottom line?”
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter. This article first appeared in Canada’s National Observer.

    Rochelle Baker
    The humpbacks’ rebound is a good news story from a number of angles. Iron-rich whale poo fertilizes the ocean, supercharging the food web and the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. 
    WHALE RESEARCHER Jackie Hildering and her colleagues never imagined their work on humpbacks would capture the attention of the globe’s premier documentary series.  
    Or that whale poo would be of such interest to Planet Earth — BBC’s famous nature show. 
    “It’s surreal,” said Hildering, co-founder of the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS). 
    The team was left blinking in surprise at the first call in 2018 about helping the show film a novel humpback feeding strategy identified by MERs in the waters off Vancouver Island. 
    “That there was interest from something that is as big as Planet Earth III was beyond our imagining,” Hildering said. 
    Now B.C.’s humpbacks are featured in Episode 7 of the latest BBC series as heralds of hope for both the planet and people, she said. The episode explores some of the impacts when human civilization and the animal kingdom intersect.
    The recent return of humpbacks to B.C. waters after being hunted to near extinction, the whales’ clever adaptation to a changing food web, and the myriad ways whales benefit the ocean ecosystem will be showcased, Hildering said. 
    “The story is that the humpbacks of northeastern Vancouver Island are giving hope to planet Earth,” she said. 
    “This is what happens when you give space for nature.”  
    Getting the ‘big picture’ on whale poop

    BBC Planet Earth filmmaker Fredi Devas interviews Christie McMillan of MERS while in B.C. filming humpback whales. (Photo courtesy of MERS)
    MERS and the BBC film crew plied the waters of northern Vancouver Island in Hildering’s small boat for six weeks over the course of two summers to get compelling footage that highlighted the importance of protecting the whales. 
    A key objective was to document humpbacks that were trap feeding — a preferred fishing technique used by some whales that return every year to the region's waters to feed, she said. 
    But an inordinate amount of time was also dedicated to filming the humpbacks defecating. 
    “Everything comes down to poo,” said Hildering with a laugh. But whale waste is no joke, she stressed. 
    Planet Earth producer and director Fredi Devas agreed poo was part of the big picture when looking at all the ecosystem services whales provide. 
    Emerging research suggests that nutrient-rich excrement from humpbacks and other great whales not only fertilizes the marine environment but can also help mitigate global warming by locking up carbon from the atmosphere, Devas said.

    Iron-rich whale poo fertilizes the ocean, supercharging the food web and the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. (Image courtesy BBC's Planet Earth III)
    A process known as the “whale carbon pump” is triggered when iron-rich fecal plumes released to the ocean’s surface spark an explosion of phytoplankton, which absorbs carbon dioxide.  
    In turn, these plankton feed other marine species, like krill or small fish, which also lock in carbon and act as food for an array of other marine animals — including whales. 
    Long-lived whales also store carbon in their massive bodies for upwards of a century. Even in death, the massive marine mammals serve the ecosystem, sinking to the deep ocean where the carbon in their bodies remains trapped or taken up by animals that feed on their carcasses. 
    An early study in the Antarctic Ocean alone suggested the poop of a pre-whaling population of about 120,000 sperm whales could trap 2.2 million tonnes of carbon a year. 
    A more recent study in the same region indicates that if populations of five different species of baleen whale hadn’t been decimated through commercial hunts, 400,000 tonnes of carbon would remain trapped upon their deaths as deadfall on the seafloor each year. 
    While populations are rising with the scale-back of industrial whaling, climate change could curb whale recovery and their carbon capture potential. 
    Carbon captured from whale deaths will likely reach 170,000 tonnes per year with a worst-case scenario of warming of up to 5 C by 2100. But twice the amount of carbon could be stored without global warming. 
    It’s astonishing what climate gains might be achieved by simply protecting great whales and helping them reach historic population levels, said Devas. 
    “It’s this incredible good news story from the natural world that excites me enormously,” Devas said. 
    Dancing the ‘Conger Line’ 

    Conger, the humpback first spotted using the new technique of trap feeding, is a main character in BBC Planet Earth's look at humpbacks. (MERS photo)
    The B.C. coast, where you can capture images of eagles in the sky, bears wading the shore, and whales leaping from the water at a single location makes it a top destination for wildlife filmmakers, Devas said. 
    However, it’s always an extra thrill to document new animal behaviour — like humpbacks trap feeding, a tactic that surfaced just over a decade ago, he said. 
    “Those animals are doing something no other humpbacks around the world are doing,” Devas said. 
    “So it was a great way to get into our story with something that is very, very new.” 
    Humpbacks in Vancouver Island waters typically lunge feed — where they rush into a dense school or “ball” of herring with their mouths open to capture as many fish as possible, Hildering said.  
    But in 2011, the MERS team observed some surprising behaviour by a well-known humpback named Conger. 
    The whale was hanging vertically in the water, barely moving, with his mouth wide open at the ocean surface. Researchers could see right into the roof of his mouth while he occasionally waved his pectoral fins toward his jaws. 
    It turns out Conger had devised an energy-efficient feeding technique to capture fish that weren’t packed densely together, Hildering said. 
    The unique method involves the whale lounging in the water, mouth agape, while fish fleeing seabirds seek shelter inside their massive jaws. 
    The whales then use their fins to push the fish further inside to trap their meal. 
    Conger may have been one of the first to use the tactic but now 32 whales have learned to trap feed from one another, Hildering said. 
    Conger is definitely a “main character” in Planet Earth’s story on humpbacks, with a lot of time dedicated to following his activity on water. 
    “With the focus on him being the first trap feeder, we often kept him in our sights,” Hildering said. 
    “We laughingly referred to it as the ‘Conger line.’” 
    Depth of MERS humpback knowledge invaluable

    Whale researchers Christie McMillan and Jackie Hildering of MERS were excited to promote humpback conservation with BBC's Planet Earth. (MERS photo)
    Hitting the waters with Hildering and MERS’ other co-founder, Christie McMillan, meant the BBC crew secured amazing shots due to the researchers’ depth of knowledge on the humpbacks in their region, Devas said. 
    Their intricate understanding of the whales as individuals with unique traits meant the team could film a range of behaviours. 
    In one instance, Hildering spotted a young whale named Hilroy making a bee-line towards an older male named Corporal floating on the surface, Devas said. 
    Noting this was unusual, Hildering gave Devas the heads-up so he could be ready with his camera. 
    As a result, Devas captured an amazing shot of Hilroy leaping clear out of the water right next to the older male. 
    “I never saw a humpback breach right next to another individual again during that six weeks of filming,” he said. 
    It wasn’t clear what kind of impression Hilroy was trying to make, but Corporal remained unmoved by the spectacle and the younger whale soon swam off. 
    Lots of other questions about whale behaviour surfaced during filming, Devas said. 
    In another instance, the crew was filming in Blackfish Sound when a cruise ship sped through a narrow channel with its immense bow wake buffeting Merge, a humpback nearby.  
    “Merge then breached out of the water nine times in a row,” Devas said, adding it’s not entirely clear why the vessel's ripple effect triggered that reaction or how the whale felt. 
    To add to the mystery, Conger (who was relatively close by) joined Merge and the pair swam in tandem in a looping pattern for upwards of 45 minutes, he said. 
    “They swam side by side, surfacing at the same time. Diving at the same time, just going round and round,” he said. 
    The incident underscored the need to take measures to mitigate key whale hazards like vessel strikes and noise pollution by creating slow zones or protected areas for humpbacks, Devas said. 
    “Was Conger helping Merge calm down?” he asked. 
    “These may be anthropomorphic feelings … but we just know so little about humpback whales. 
    "We’re just scratching the surface of understanding of this species.” 
    Planet Earth III’s Episode 7 “Human” airs on Dec. 3 in Britain, Dec. 16 on BBC America and April 21 on BBC Earth in Canada. 
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with Canada’s National Observer

    Michelle Gamage
    New opioid prescription guidelines aim to reduce opioid-related harms 
    IN LATE NOVEMBER 2023, the BC Centre on Substance Use published a new set of guidelines, replacing the previous clinical guidelines from 2017. The 2017 guidelines were published around a year after a public health emergency was declared in 2016 in response to a sharp increase in toxic drug deaths.
    A lot has changed since then, including an increase in research on opioid agonist treatment, or OAT, and what does and doesn’t work for patients, said Dr. Paxton Bach, an addiction medicine physician and co-chair of the guideline writing committee.
    The toxicity and unpredictability of the toxic drug supply has also increased. According to the BC Coroners Service, 1,495 people died from unregulated drugs in 2017. As of just September, 1,836 people have died so far this year.
    This update will hopefully make more people interested in starting opioid agonist therapy, Bach said.
    “OAT is the gold standard for the single most effective treatment for reducing non-prescribed opioid use, overdoses and mortality,” he added.
    The BCCSU defines opioid agonist treatment as prescription opioids that reduce opioid-related harms, reduce how often a person uses opioids sourced illicitly, and improve their mental health, social functioning and quality of life.
    In B.C., OAT includes opioids taken orally, such as Suboxone, methadone and Kadian. As of Wednesday, OAT also includes extended-release buprenorphine, which people can get as an injection at a pharmacy once every four to six weeks.
    It is estimated that 100,000 people in B.C. have opioid use disorder and around one-quarter of them are already on some form of opioid agonist therapy, Bach said.
    That means there are 75,000 more people in the province who could benefit from this therapy but haven’t yet tried it or stayed on it.
    Bach said one of the biggest changes is how the new guideline allows for more flexibility around missed doses and take-home doses, which he said patients had reported as the top reasons why they didn’t stay on OAT.
    These are powerful opioids and if patients get sick or are away and miss several doses, there is a risk that they will have lost some drug tolerance, he said.
    “We want to ensure the medication doesn’t put anyone at risk but we also know decreasing a dose unnecessarily can be destabilizing for a patient and can make people stop taking OAT entirely,” he said.
    The new guidelines work to balance the risk of patient destabilization and the risk of patient safety, he added.
    They also relax the rules around when a patient can take extra doses of OAT home with them.
    As these medications are highly regulated, most people need to go to a pharmacy every day to get their prescription, which they consume on-site, supervised by a pharmacist, Bach said.
    “This is a huge barrier for patients and an enormous cost on our system. In total, requiring [patients] to go to the pharmacy daily costs B.C. around $30 million per year,” he said.
    Daily pharmacy visits are that much more taxing for people in remote or rural communities, said Jess Lamb, co-founder and project co-ordinator of the East Kootenay Network of People Who Use Drugs. If a patient lives an hour away from their pharmacy, they have to drive 14 hours in a week to get vital medication, she said — and the cost of gas isn’t cheap.
    The new guidelines allow patients to access take-home doses more quickly than before, and call for a more collaborative decision-making process around what medications a patient will be on.
    Previously, it was recommended that a doctor first prescribe a patient Suboxone and, if it didn’t work, that they try prescribing methadone and Kadian as a final option.
    That was taxing for patients, so now they will be able to talk with their doctor about the effects of different medications and work out what would best help them right away, Bach said.
    The dosing recommendations for each medication have also been increased to better match the potency of the illicit street supply, Bach said.
    This is an important update, Lamb said. She personally has had to spend a lot of time advocating for the medication and dose she wanted from her OAT and safer supply to avoid getting sick. This update could help people avoid a situation like hers in the future, she said.
    Lamb celebrated the updated guidelines. But she added she was concerned that not all clinicians will read or respect these updates and patients will still have to fight with their primary care provider to get the medication they need through OAT.
    Guy Felicella, a peer clinical adviser with the BCCSU, also applauded the updates.
    “These new guidelines will make treatment more appealing,” he said.
    Felicella said he tried OAT back when he used drugs. The dose then was so low that it was laughable, he said.
    Empowering patients to ask for and get the medication they need at the dose they need will go a long way to helping patients want to try OAT and stay on it, he said.
    Hannah Dempsey, project co-ordinator with the BC Association of People on Opiate Maintenance, said she’s waiting to pass judgment until she can read through the entirety of the new guideline, which is 258 pages long.
    The association has been advocating for patients to have more access to take-home doses and to not have to take urine tests to stay in the program, which she said are degrading and stigmatizing.
    She also echoed Lamb’s concern that physicians will be able to interpret guidelines however they want to. “Guidelines are not policy,” she said.
    To stop overdoses during the toxic drug crisis requires many different harm reduction initiatives, like investment in safe consumption sites, take-home naloxone kits, meaningful access to a regulated supply of drugs and a significant overhaul of the current addiction treatment system, Bach said. More work needs to be done to address the reasons people use drugs, too, such as homelessness, poverty, mental illness and racism, he added.
    All of that is beyond the scope of clinical guidelines for doctors, however, he said.
    Michelle Gamage is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with The Tyee.

    Rochelle Baker
    Victoria Harbour and Prince Rupert Harbour are the top toxic hot spots of 100 tested sites.
    NEWLY IDENTIFIED TOXIC METAL HOTSPOTS on the West Coast further threaten endangered killer whales and their key food source, a recent study shows.
    Southern resident killer whales and the chinook salmon they depend on for survival are both already in a dangerous state of decline, said Ocean Wise research scientist Joseph Kim.
    Less food and more boat traffic, noise and pollution all jeopardize the survival of the remaining 75 members that make up the unique population of killer whales. The orcas ply the coast from California to Alaska but primarily frequent waters around southern Vancouver Island, Washington state and Oregon in the U.S., and the Salish Sea on both sides of the border.
    The majority of coastal chinook stocks in the whales’ core range are also struggling as a result of habitat destruction, overfishing and climate change. 
    However, exposure to high levels of mercury, cadmium, lead and copper in critical habitats only compounds the concern and threats to the salmon and the orcas, Kim said.  
    An extensive sediment survey from nearly 100 locations along the B.C. coast also assessed six toxic metals in areas where juvenile chinook live, feed and grow before heading out to sea, and the whales feed on the salmon.  
    The source, mix and concentration of toxic elements in sediment can vary depending on a location’s conditions — like air and water currents and the types of human activities taking place, said Kim, the study’s lead author.  

    Maps of concentration hot spots (top left to bottom) for mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd), arsenic (As), nickel (Ni), copper (Cu), and lead (Pb) from recent coastal sediment research. Kim, Delisle, Brown, et al (2023)
    The research is part of the long-standing Ocean Wise Pollution Tracker program, the first coast-wide contaminant-monitoring program in Canada. 
    The program aims to monitor the buildup of chemicals in the marine ecosystem over time to identify the source of the worst pollutants with risks to marine life and maps where they are found.
    Victoria Harbour and Prince Rupert Harbour are the top toxic hot spots, with an overlap of problematic metals as well as other worrisome chemical contaminants, which are likely tied to industrial and urban activity in these highly populated areas, the tracker shows.
    Lead levels in sediment were especially high in Prince Rupert and Victoria harbours compared to the rest of the coast, the recent study showed.
    Victoria Harbour’s mercury levels are also high enough to likely harm small seabed creatures at the base of the food chain for salmon and, ultimately, whales. 
    Victoria Harbour also has high levels of some toxic industrial chemicals used as flame retardants in things like plastic, textiles, manufactured goods and polystyrene foams in the construction industry that can get into the ocean by leaching from landfills or into wastewater systems, past research for the pollution tracker shows. 

    Illustration showing how toxic pollutants can compound in the food chain of killer whales. (Miller et al. 2020) / Ocean Wise
    Relatively high concentrations of mercury were also measured in Burrard Inlet, Prince Rupert Harbour, and Haida Gwaii, according to Kim's latest study. 
    “I can’t really say what comes from one specific source or another,” he said, adding contaminants can be a mix depending on the type of industrial and urban discharges. 
    Mining, metal smelters, refineries, pulp and paper mills, sewage, stormwater, runoff from roads, ship traffic and corrosive paint on vessels can all build up contaminants.
    Toxic metals also have natural sources that accumulate in coastal sediments — think forest fires, volcanoes or eroding bedrock.
    Less-populated sites like Haida Gwaii, Vancouver Island's coast, Georgia Strait and B.C.’s north and central coasts are also hot spots for mercury, cadmium, arsenic, nickel, copper and lead, the study noted.
    Sampling at the Bischof island chain near Haida Gwaii and Ardmillan Bay near Bella Bella had the highest concentrations of cadmium, also at levels likely to impact microscopic seabed marine life. 
    It was a surprise to see such high levels in a remote area like Haida Gwaii, Kim said, adding the cadmium concentrations might be the result of a natural source for the metal. 
    But cadmium is also tied to metal smelting and fuel burning and the wastewater is readily absorbed by plankton, with toxic effects throughout the food chain at high levels. 
    However, many pollutants and toxic metals can often travel great distances on air and ocean currents and accumulate more in some spots than others, Kim added.
    “The characteristics of the sediment and characteristics of the pollutants themselves can have a combined effect.” 
    The levels of toxic metals in the study were compared against Canadian sediment quality guidelines to determine risks to salmon and whale habitat. 
    The survival rate of juvenile chinook can drop due to toxic metals in the sediment where they reside and if they don’t die, these metals can accumulate in their bodies and affect the whales that eat them, Kim said. 
    Toxic metals like mercury and other persistent contaminants can also build up in the endangered whales through nursing and be absorbed through the lungs or the skin. Mercury can build up in an orca’s liver and brain and cause anorexia, loss of co-ordination and death. 
    Identifying where toxic metals build up, particularly from human activity, illustrates the need to curb the source of pollutants and possibly clean up operations to reduce the risks to chinook and the whales, the study concluded. 
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada's National Observer. Opening photo: Southern resident killer whale eating salmon, by Astrid Van Ginneken / Center for Whale Research.

    Michelle Gamage
    Elizabeth May fell ill at an event on June 29, but didn’t get proper medical care until July 5, and didn’t find out she’d had a stroke until after Aug. 5.
    ELIZABETH MAY was standing on the University of Victoria auditorium stage on June 29, congratulating a recent high school graduate, when a “sudden, unbearable, excruciating pain” hit her, like someone had “hit the side of my head with a two-by-four.”
    “It felt like my head was going to split in two,” said the leader of the Green Party of Canada.
    May’s assistant helped get her home and gave her some Tylenol, worried she might be experiencing a migraine.
    The pain was so bad, May said, she couldn’t see straight. She was “violently ill,” so she took a COVID test, which was negative, and went to bed and slept for 24 hours.
    She’d been working 51 days in a row, often churning through 19-hour days leading up to Parliament’s summer recess.
    At first, her husband thought she was just exhausted. It would be six days before May saw a doctor, and not until she was discharged from hospital that she learned she’d had a hemorrhagic stroke.
    A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery bleeds or bursts in your brain. It is less common than an ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot restricts blood flow to the brain.
    May, who is 69, hasn’t had a family doctor since her last doctor retired eight years ago. It used to be that when a doctor retired, they’d refer you to a new physician, she said. Now you sit on a wait-list, as she and her husband have for the last five years, and hope you can be connected with a new family doctor.
    Around one million British Columbians don’t have a family doctor.
    Being a federal party leader doesn’t offer a “fast track” when it comes to public health, May said. “I have to wait like everyone else.”
    Because she hasn’t had a doctor for so long, May said, she doesn’t know what caused her stroke or if there were warning signs.
    May said she now knows she has extremely high blood pressure, but she doesn’t know if that caused the stroke or is a result of it.
    After May had slept for several days and was still experiencing impaired vision, her husband called 811 to speak with a nurse, who connected them with a doctor over the phone. The doctor recommended they go to Victoria General Hospital and said he’d call ahead so they could skip the emergency room lineup.
    But when they arrived no one was expecting them, and after five hours in the waiting room, May asked her husband to take her back home so she could sleep.
    A friend then recommended booking a walk-in appointment at a Shoreline Medical Society clinic.
    When May finally met with a doctor there on July 5, they sent her directly to Saanich Peninsula Hospital, where she was immediately admitted.
    She was discharged July 9 and got an MRI on Aug. 5. The MRI confirmed she’d had a hemorrhagic stroke.
    “There was a fair bit of time of not knowing,” May said.
    The doctor she met at Shoreline Medical has become her family doctor, May said. “He called me and said, ‘You need to know how lucky you are. You could have died but you didn’t. It doesn’t look like there’s any damage; you just need to rest and recover,’” she said.
    May said she doesn’t seem to be suffering from any lasting effects of the stroke, reporting her mood, health, energy and physical and mental well-being to be high.
    It shouldn’t take having a stroke to get a family doctor in Canada, May said. Her husband, John, who is 76, still doesn’t have a family doctor.
    May’s ideas on how to fix public health
    May has some ideas for how to fix public health so other Canadians don’t have to go through the same thing she did.
    She’d like to see a nurse’s station established at Parliament to check the blood pressure and vitals of MPs as they work long, stressful hours with little sleep.
    At the federal level, she’d like to see the government ask for “accountability” about how provinces and territories spend their Canada Health Transfer payments.
    May points to a Globe and Mail column by Andrew Coyne in which he calculated that federal transfer payments rose by 50 per cent per capita, after inflation, over the past two decades, while hospital wait times increased by 50 per cent over the same period.
    Money provided by the federal government for health care doesn’t have to get spent on health care, May said, adding the money is occasionally spent on tax cuts, for example. This is a critique repeated in Coyne’s column.
    She’d also like to see the federal government crack down on private health-care services. “Walmart, Telus telehealth — anything that offers health care to Canadians for money is a threat to public health that shouldn’t be allowed,” May said.
    When contacted to respond to these critiques, Mark Johnson, a spokesperson for Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, said provinces and territories are already required to report on their health care under the Canada Health Act Extra-billing and User Charges Information Regulations. Provinces and territories are also required to meet criteria and conditions for hospital and physician services under the Canada Health Act to get their “full” Canada Health Transfer funding, he said.
    The federal government’s role in health care is one of support more than management, Johnson added. But work is being done across the country to increase the number of training seats for physicians, nurse practitioners and nurses, including adding new medical schools at Simon Fraser University, Toronto Metropolitan University and the University of Prince Edward Island.
    Johnson said that last month federal, provincial and territorial ministers of health and mental health and addictions met in Prince Edward Island and committed to a study looking at how to meet future health-care demands over the next decade.
    At the provincial level, May said she’d like to reduce bureaucratic spending and increase investments to bolster the local health-care workforce. A lack of residencies and funding for training hospitals means young Canadian doctors are having to go to school or work internationally because there are no jobs for them here, she said.
    B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix pushed back against that claim.
    Right now 80 per cent of B.C.’s medical graduates stay in the province, he said, compared with Alberta, which holds on to 60 per cent of its graduates. Around 20 per cent of medical graduates from Alberta come to practise in B.C., and around eight per cent of B.C. graduates go to Alberta.
    B.C. is also making “significant” changes to “the ways we pay physicians, train and retain them,” Dix said.
    Over the past five years, Dix said, the University of British Columbia has added 60 new postgraduate medical education positions in family medicine, cancer, surgery, maternity, seniors care and mental health and addiction, and this year it is adding 30 new positions for family medicine and 40 new undergraduate medical school seats. By 2028 there will be 48 new postgraduate medical education residency positions, he added.
    The new Simon Fraser University medical school in Surrey expects to be accepting students by 2026, he said.
    B.C. has also been working to increase how much it pays doctors.
    On a personal level, May said she’s going to start taking breaks when she’s tired, rather than trying to push through fatigue.
    “Going forward, I can still be the hardest-working MP without putting my life at risk,” she said.
    Michelle Gamage, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

    Rochelle Baker
    Four First Nations are hailing a landmark agreement with a logging company that will increase their role in forestry operations on northern Vancouver Island. 
    THE TLOWITSIS, We Wai Kai, Wei Wai Kum and K’ómoks First Nations and Western Forest Products (WFP) announced Tuesday they’ve crafted a deal with the First Nations paying close to $36 million for a 34 per cent interest in the company’s mid-island forestry operations, part of WFP’s wider Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 39. 
    The new partnership involves 157,000 hectares of forest — or Block 2 of TFL 39 — within the First Nations’ territories on northeastern Vancouver Island near Campbell River and Sayward. 
    The deal — which allows the logging of 904,540 cubic metres of timber annually and includes a long-term agreement guaranteeing timber supply for WFP’s coastal manufacturing operations — will likely be finalized in early 2024. 
    The agreement is a significant step forward for First Nations historically excluded from the forestry sector and any economic benefits despite stewarding healthy, abundant forests for millennia before colonization, said Dallas Smith, president of Na̲nwak̲olas Council, which helped conclude the agreement along with its four member nations.  
    The deal comes after decades of work by the member nations looking to achieve sustainable management of forests in their territories, Smith said, noting the long process involved five premiers and approximately 11 different WFP chief executive officers. 
    “Any journey takes time when you bring in other partners. It takes patience. It takes collaboration, it takes relationship-building,” Smith said. 
    “I applaud the [First Nations] for taking this step. I acknowledge Western for stepping up into the partnership and thank B.C. for helping make this happen.”
    The agreement will transfer forestry tenure into First Nations’ hands and ensure they help devise land use plans that are sustainable for future generations, Smith said. 
    The First Nations’ decision-making around land use to ensure forestry is sustainable will build on previous projects, such as the cultural cedar protocol that protects monumental trees to create totem poles, traditional big houses or canoes. Forestry operations will be monitored by a growing team of Indigenous Guardians, he said.

    Wei Wai Kum Chief Chris Roberts and Dallas Smith, president of Na̲nwak̲olas Council, speaking on a new forestry deal between four First Nations and Western Forest Products on Tuesday. (B.C. government photo / Flickr)
    However, moments of conflicts helped spur change and sped up the negotiation process, Smith said, citing Wei Wai Kum Chief Chris Roberts’ courage and refusal to back the renewal of forestry operations in the nation’s territory until its interests and concerns were addressed. 
    “Sometimes these relationships take some friction to push them over the line,” Smith said. 
    Concerns around the wealth of resources being drained from traditional territories with no benefits and decision-making power for First Nations had been raised repeatedly over generations, Roberts said in a statement. 
    “We took a stand four years ago that this must stop,” Roberts said. 
    “We could not support the replacement of forest licences in our territory that don’t have commitments to address our concerns.” 
    After “at least two years in the trenches,” a shared commitment to achieve sustainable management of the land base resulted in the agreement, Roberts said at the press conference. 
    “We feel encouraged … that our territory and our lands and resources are being managed in the way they were intended to be by our Creator.” 
    In addition to generating economic benefits for the First Nations, forestry revenue tied to the agreement will continue to drive the region’s economy and create predictability for Western’s forestry operations and more employment for contractors and workers in the sector, he said. 
    Both Roberts and Smith praised the B.C. government for its commitment to reconciliation, saying the provincial incremental treaty process, legally enshrining the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), and former premier John Horgan’s promise to increase First Nations’ role in the forestry sector helped seal the agreement. 
    Historically, the forestry sector has been characterized by conflict, racism, court battles and short-term transactional relationships, Premier David Eby said. 
    But partnering to boost First Nations as stewards of their territories will drive stronger communities and greater economic development on northern Vancouver Island where forestry is the lifeblood of the region, Eby said. 
    “This announcement today means that these benefits are on the way for communities in northern Vancouver Island now, rising the tide so that all boats are lifted.” 
    Steven Hofer, WFP president and CEO, said the deal is a template for sustainable, successful forestry operations that will share economic benefits.  
    “We’ve worked together to pioneer a new model of shared business ownership in a way that we believe is unique, not just in our sector, but among established companies all across Canada,” Hofer said. 
    Reconciliation, adhering to UNDRIP and shifting operations to a stewardship model is the future framework for forestry operations, he said. 
    “We recognize that our future lies not only in the products that we make, but the relationships that we build,” Hofer said. 
    The agreement is the second partnership Western has crafted with First Nations.  
    The first was a 2020 deal that saw the Huu-ay-aht First Nation purchase controlling interest in TFL 44 on western Vancouver Island in the Port Alberni region. 
    More agreements are expected as Western continues to engage with other First Nations with TFLs in their territories to foster reconciliation and ensure clarity in the sector and continued access to timber and supply for its operations, Hofer said. 
    “From our perspective, this is the path forward of how our industry needs to operate here in British Columbia,” said Hofer. 
    “When we think about our business and the traditional territories that we operate on there is no other option.” 
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer.

    Judith Lavoie
    The proposed plan is vague, rushed and alarming say those concerned about grizzly bear conservation.
    TEARS STREAMED DOWN Trish Boyum’s face as she watched a relaxed mother grizzly bear flop on to her back and nurse her cubs, unconcerned about the proximity of Boyum and a Zodiac full of bear watchers. 
    “She was just across the river channel from us, eating grass and when the cubs wanted to nurse, she laid down and nursed them basically right in front of us…Her trust in us at that moment was just so, so heartwarming,” said Boyum, a wildlife photographer and marketing director for Ocean Adventures, her husband’s boat-based bear-viewing company. 
    But, for the last two months, bear watching for Boyum has been tainted with fear that the grizzlies that she and her guests have grown to know, could, once again, be hunted for their heads, hides and paws. 

    Mama Grizzly with young triplets (Photo by Trish Boyum Nature Photography)
    “It is pretty hard to understand the mentality of someone that gets joy out of killing something so beautiful that has done nothing to them…The thought of someone coming in there with a gun and killing that mom and any of her cubs is just soul-destroying—and our guests feel the same way,” said Boyum, who has watched that mother grizzly and several generations of her cubs for 24 years. 
    Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework: “watered-down science” 
    The Province is gathering input on a draft Grizzly Bear Stewardship Framework, with the stated aim of improving conservation efforts and identifying knowledge gaps. 
    But the document has alarmed conservation groups who say the framework could open the door to reinstating the grizzly bear trophy hunt which, after years of bitter political battles and growing public distaste for trophy hunting, was banned by the NDP government in 2017. The exception is Indigenous people are allowed to hunt grizzlies for food, ceremonial or social purposes.

    Grizzly cub learning to eat barnacles from its mother (Photo by Trish Boyum Nature Photography)
    Apart from the vague content of the Stewardship Framework, the public input process is flawed, said Brian Falconer, Raincoast Conservation Foundation director. 
    The initial deadline for responding to the document was August 18, but, after an extensive letter-writing campaign, it was extended to September 8 and then to October 6. However, some organizations say that still does not allow enough time for thoughtful feedback. 
    Falconer believes the questionnaire reduces a complex issue, that will affect grizzly management for generations of bears, to, sometimes inappropriate, multiple choice answers.  
    “It really dumbs down a lot of the responses,” said Falconer, who is also concerned that much of the document is based on assertions, rather than science, with no links to source material. 
    Karen McAllister, Pacific Wild executive director, said the timing of the release, when most people involved with grizzly bears were out in the field, immediately raised suspicions about the intentions of the Stewardship Framework. 
    “The timeline was insane. They put it out in the middle of summer with about a month for everyone to read a 75-page document and then fill in what they called a simple survey,” McAllister said. 
    “We had one of our staff biologists go through it and it took them three hours, so thinking that someone without any knowledge of science or grizzly bears in general might be able to wade through this document was ridiculous,” she said. 
    McAllister and others are worried about the Framework’s vagueness, lack of emphasis on conservation or habitat protection and references to the ban being an ethical decision, rather than one based on science. 
    “There’s a big concern that this is a sort of underhanded way of reinstating the grizzly bear trophy hunt,” said McAllister, noting that the ban has never been enshrined in legislation. 
    “They sidestep all the science, or lack of science.…We’ve got the second slowest reproducing land mammal in North America, a species listed as special concern under SARA (Species at Risk Act), a species that’s been extirpated from 50 per cent of its original range so one would think it is not just ethics. Even if it was about ethics, we’re talking about a majority of the public who find killing grizzly bears abhorrent,” McAllister said.
    The concerns are echoed by other conservation organizations who believe that, aided by pressure from pro-hunting organizations such as the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. and B.C. Wildlife Federation and by what is seen as a hunting culture in the Forests Ministry, the document could lead to licensed hunting of grizzlies, especially in northern B.C. 
    “The Province, in this document, asserts, without much scientific basis, that many of the northern population units in B.C. are of ‘very low conservation concern’ implying that they could likely withstand pressure from a licensed hunt,” Falconer said. 
    “I believe, really strongly, that, as conservationists, wildlife managers and as humans, that our focus should be on healthy populations and avoiding the impacts that have led other populations to the brink of extinction.” 
    Bear biologist Wayne McCrory, founder of the Valhalla Wilderness Society, is disappointed the “watered-down science” of the Framework and accompanying Together for Wildlife Strategy fail to address issues raised in a scathing 2017 Auditor General’s report that criticized management of the trophy hunt, the lack of a management plan and the need for habitat protection.
    “There’s a lack of any action plan in the Framework to move forward on what needs to be done…the need for more habitat protection and a grizzly bear management plan,” McCrory said 
     The lack of direction and concern about phrases such as the hunt being “currently closed” were echoed by Falconer. 
    “They acknowledge that human induced mortality is the major concern, they acknowledge that habitat loss and habitat fragmentation is really, really important, but they don’t offer any solutions for that—no policy changes or pursuit of policy changes that would reduce the fragmentation of grizzly habitat. Most of that is in forest practices and there’s a fundamental conflict of interest to start with when you house the ministry of wildlife in the Ministry of Forests,” Falconer said. 
    Pro-hunting lobby and some First Nations against ban
    A ministry spokesperson, in an e-mailed answer to questions from Focus, said the hunt remains closed to all licensed hunting “and changes to that approach are not being considered at this time.” 
    The focus of the Stewardship Framework is about broader grizzly bear stewardship principles, according to the ministry. 
    A spokesperson for the Guide Outfitters Association of B.C. said no one was available to speak to Focus, but guide outfitters have claimed loss of income and business since the grizzly ban, which they say was a political decision and not based on conservation science. 
    Earlier this year, guide outfitter Ronald Gordon Fleming and the company Love Bros. and Lee, a company run by Fleming, were given the go-ahead by B.C. Supreme Court to lead a class action lawsuit against the B.C. government over its decision to ban the hunt. 
    The B.C. Wildlife Federation website says the organization “fully supports the return of a science-based grizzly hunt” and is committed “to working with First Nations to restore the grizzly bear hunt in B.C., governed by science-based management.”
    However, the Federation is critical of the Stewardship Framework saying the Province has consistently reduced funding to renewable resource management, has failed to set objectives for grizzly bear recovery, and continues to make wildlife management decisions based on political expediency rather than available evidence. 
    Action to protect grizzly habitat is almost non-existent and research and data collection have ground to a halt, even though “evidence points to habitat disturbance as a main driver of grizzly bear declines, not hunting,” according to the BCWF website.
    Although most Indigenous communities are against hunting grizzlies and the Union of B.C Indian Chiefs has stated that trophy hunting goes against Indigenous practices, some, such as the Tahltan First Nation, in northwest B.C., want the hunt reinstated.
    Tahltan Central Government President Chad Day told The Narwhal in 2020 that the sport hunting ban has thrown the ecosystem out of whack, resulting in shrinking caribou, moose and salmon populations.
     Also, the Framework notes that the Nisga’a Final Agreement “includes allocation consideration for the purposes of licensed harvest of grizzly bear.”
    The document acknowledges that, while some Indigenous communities have a deep understanding that grizzly bears should not be hunted and some have benefited economically from bear-viewing, other communities have suffered economic losses from the closure of grizzly hunting.
    “Some Nations have expressed interest in reinstating a licensed hunt to provide a source of local income,” it says. 
    “Should licensed hunting be considered in the future, it would require a more detailed and focused review of Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives, science and policy.” 
    Regional boards at risk of being dominated by hunters
    One of the major concerns is a plan to set up regional wildlife advisory boards.
    In other jurisdictions, such local committees usually end up being led by hunting organizations with a vested interest in predator control and trophy hunting of bears, McCrory said.
    “The whole government design of the Grizzly Bear Framework document and the way it is deceptively worked on the topic of grizzly bear hunting informs me enough to conclude that the formation of these local committees is a backdoor way for the government to reinstate grizzly bear trophy hunting and let the committees help deflect the flak from the majority of British Columbians who are opposed to the grizzly bear trophy hunt,” McCrory wrote in a letter to B.C. Premier David Eby and government ministers. 
    Falconer is worried that local committees would be dominated by industry and pro-hunting factions and questions how local committees and local stewardship plans, would mesh with provincial plans.
    “They could say they are not bound by provincial law—we would like to do this with habitat or whatever—and it could potentially be very destructive, as it has been in Alaska where (a similar system) has been very bad for bears,” he said.
    Local committees would also shut out the larger community, where people with an interest in bears or who find hunting grizzly bears is morally, ethically and ecologically abhorrent, would not have a say, Falconer said.
    Amber Peters, a wildlife biologist and campaigner working with Valhalla Wilderness Society, said that, although the Together for Wildlife Strategy, with local people making decisions about wildlife, sounds appealing on the surface, the devil is in the details and could certainly result in hunting and trapping organizations or groups with a vested interest making bear management decisions.
    “It’s big money for a small number of people (if they are allowed) to kill grizzly bears . . . We should have qualified biologists making these decisions,” she said.
    Any consideration of grizzly bear management must also take into account the big issues, such as loss of habitat, wildlife corridors, forest fires, failing salmon runs and climate change, Peters said.
    Larger issues and checkered history
    Those larger issues have left the bears increasingly under stress, agreed McCrory. 
    “I have witnessed starving grizzlies on the south coast from lack of salmon due to clearcut logging of watersheds and mortality resulting from Atlantic salmon farms; prime grizzly bear habitat areas eroded by clearcuts, roads and backcountry recreation tenures awarded by the Mountain Resource Branch; old growth bear den trees floating in log booms on the south coast from lack of old-growth protection,” McCrory said in a letter to Premier David Eby.
    The e-mailed statement from the Forests Ministry said the Framework was developed in collaboration with, or with input from, leadership, community members and knowledge holders from approximately 85 First Nations governments and Indigenous groups. 
    “A key learning from that process was the different First Nations have different approaches to grizzly bear stewardship. Regionally based planning recognizes and honours this reality,” it says. 
    About 15,000 grizzly bears—half the Canadian population—are believed to live in B.C, but that number is questioned by some conservation organizations. Populations in some areas have been extirpated and about 15 populations are highly threatened or critically endangered. 
    The trophy hunt killed between 250 and 300 bears a year and a 2016 David Suzuki Foundation study, using government figures, found that, between 1975 and 2016 humans killed 13,804 grizzlies, with most deaths attributable to trophy hunters.
    The ban came with a checkered history. The NDP initially announced a moratorium on grizzly trophy hunting in 2001, but the New Democrats were almost wiped out in the next election and the governing Liberals immediately reinstated the hunt claiming the ban opened an urban-rural divide.
    In the intervening years it became clear that British Columbians were overwhelmingly against the hunt and that the increasingly popular tourist attraction of bear watching was much more lucrative and brought more to government coffers than bear hunting.
    Finally: the ethics of killing a sentient being
    Conservation groups agree that the science clearly indicates there should never be a return to trophy hunting, but there are also ethical and moral considerations.
    Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said, if the hunt is re-opened, it could lead to unforeseen problems. 
    “Grizzlies, like other non-humans, don’t like being harassed and killed and other bears might see and feel what is going on,” he said in an e-mail to Focus.
    “Grizzlies are sentient, feeling beings. They’re extremely intelligent, but, more importantly, they have rich and deep emotional lives. They feel their own pain and that of others and they shouldn’t be killed for fun, trophies or sport. I can’t understand why anyone would enjoy killing bears for the hell of it,” Bekoff said. 

    Grizzly mom with yearling cubs at sunset (Photo by Trish Boyum Nature Photography)
    Trish Boyum of Ocean Adventures said that, contrary to stories of grizzlies being fearsome killers, her interactions have shown that the bears are peace-loving, emotionally intelligent animals.
    “[They] do not deserve to be killed for cash, kicks, trophies and certainly not as a guise for management or stewardship,” Boyum said. 
    “I’m forever humbled by and grateful for the trust of these beautiful bears and for all that they continue to teach us about who they really are,” she said.
    You can comment—until October 6, 2023—on the draft strategy and how you feel about the grizzly hunt here.
    Freelance journalist Judith Lavoie has spent over 30 years as a reporter in the Greater Victoria area. She has won four Webster awards and has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award and a Michener Award. She enjoys exploring stories about the natural world and Indigenous issues, along with the politics around them.

    Michelle Gamage
    Deaths continue to mount from toxicity in BC's illicit drug supply. Are current policies helping?
    DR. BONNIE HENRY met with local government representatives from across the province in September to talk about decriminalization and to call for all levels of government to continue to fight against stigma when it comes to the ongoing toxic drug crisis.
    Stigma pushes people to use alone or without harm reduction services which can lead to fatal overdoses, and criminalization disproportionately impacts racialized people who use drugs, she said.
    Henry was speaking at the first day of the annual general meeting of the Union of BC Municipalities.
    “This is not a criminal or moral issue. It is a health and public health issue,” Henry said. “Decriminalization is part of what is needed to stem the tide of deaths.”
    As of July 2023, 12,739 people have died from toxic drug poisonings in B.C. since the public health emergency was declared in April 2016, with 1,455 dying so far this year, according to the BC Coroners Service.
    Henry also said decriminalization is a “pilot and is not perfect.”
    Decriminalization, which launched in January 2023, allows people 18 years and older to possess up to a combined 2.5 grams of opioids, crack and powder cocaine, meth and MDMA without risk of arrest, criminal charges or confiscation. The pilot will run until Jan. 31, 2026.
    Decriminalization isn’t legalization, Henry stressed, meaning stores are not allowed to sell these drugs and police can still arrest a person suspected of trafficking.
    On Monday, the Province’s decriminalization policy was amended to prohibit possession of illicit drugs within 15 metres of a playground, spray pool, wading pool or skate park.
    Karen Ward, a drug policy analyst and advocate who was not at the Union of BC Municipalities meeting, is deeply critical of the provincial attempt at “so-called decriminalization” and said these amendments feed into stigma against people who use drugs.
    “Who uses drugs in a wading pool? It’s ridiculous,” said Ward. People only use drugs in public places if there is no safe indoor place to do so, like an overdose prevention site, and because they want to make sure if they overdose someone will see them and be able to help, she added.
    “Decriminalization needs to involve a reallocation of funds that is currently spent criminalizing people and instead spend it on housing, funding overdose prevention sites, health care and social programs that prevent people from using drugs in the first place,” Ward said.
    When people complain about decriminalization they’re often confusing drug use, crime, poverty and homelessness, she added.
    “Living outside is terrible and awful and people use drugs to cope — it’s a consequence, not a cause,” she said. “Decriminalization is not the cause of these issues or of toxicity deaths.”
    Some municipalities pushing back on decriminalization
    At the UBCM meeting, most representatives for local governments agreed something needed to be done to reduce the death toll from the toxic drug supply but not everyone agreed with how decriminalization had been rolled out.
    Concerns raised by municipalities included not having enough resources to offer adequate overdose prevention or harm reduction services, public safety, theft, vandalism, the normalization of drug use, discarded drug paraphernalia, human waste, litter and no longer being able to arrest people for public drug use.
    To push back against decriminalization, Campbell River passed a public nuisance bylaw this summer, which prohibited using drugs within 15 metres of playgrounds, sports fields and courts, bus shelters and most city-owned facilities.
    Some municipal representatives said they believed they didn’t have the power to open overdose prevention sites, or were being hindered by provincial rules that prohibit indoor smoking.
    Inhalation is the most common way for people to die from overdose in B.C. right now according to the BC Coroners Service, with 60 per cent of toxic drug deaths in July 2023 happening after someone smoked their drugs. In January this year that number was 73 per cent of all toxic drug deaths.
    At a press conference last week, Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, deputy chief medical health officer of Vancouver Coastal Health, said people are choosing to smoke their drugs when possible because it allows them to control their dose in hopes of mitigating their risk of overdose. They can smoke a little, wait a bit to see if they overdose, and smoke a bit more, he said, compared to injecting drugs when you take the entire dose at once. Unfortunately due to the high potency and unpredictability of the drug supply people are still overdosing, he said.
    Dr. Bonnie Henry said provincial rules do not prevent municipalities from opening overdose prevention sites.
    “I think it’s being used in some communities as a way for councils to not allow OPS [Overdose Prevention Sites],” she said.
    Brittany Graham, executive director of the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, who was also not at the UBCM meeting, said both local and provincial governments are passing the buck when it comes to building local harm reduction services.
    “Whether its decriminalization, regulation or prescribed safer supply, one government is always blaming another for why they can’t do things,” she said.
    Graham said governments often download the responsibility for creating local harm reduction services to non-profits, which are already time- and resource-strapped. Governments can also still reject non-profit’s plans, she said.
    At the September meeting, both the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions as well as many municipal representatives acknowledged how issues around poverty and homelessness can get lumped in with drug use and decriminalization.
    Henry said she doesn’t want to see drug use around children, but added “we can’t arrest our way out of this.”
    She stressed “the solution is not to go back to arresting people, especially when they look homeless,” and noted her concerns around how there are not enough places for people to use safely in the province.
    There are 47 overdose prevention sites in B.C., including 19 with inhalation services, according to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions. Between January 2017 and June 2023 there have been more than 4.1 million visits to these sites and 25,530 overdoses were reversed, with one death. In June 2023 there were 67,641 visits to OPS across the province.
    But these existing services are nowhere near meeting the actual needs of people who use drugs, Graham said.
    Most OPS can only fit six to 10 people at a time and are often not located close to where people live, she said. If you have a criminal record you can also be prohibited from going certain places and in a small community this can mean you’re not allowed to visit an OPS, doctor’s office or pharmacy, she added.
    Smithers Mayor Gladys Atrill said it’s particularly hard for smaller communities to offer adequate harm reduction programs, noting how her community may offer a “long list of services” but most are run by just one person.
    When asked how smaller communities could better offer harm reduction services, Christine Massey, deputy minister of the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions, recommended contacting the local health authority to see if an overdose prevention site could be set up at an existing facility, or to use the Lifeguard app. The app can automatically contact emergency services after a person uses drugs if the person fails to respond to prompts on their phone after a set period of time.
    Henry said other innovations include working with peer-based mobile support services in small communities to help overcome long distances to pharmacies, harm reduction services or doctor’s offices.
    If you want to reduce homelessness, garbage and human waste in communities, give people public washrooms and housing, stated drug policy analyst Karen Ward; if you want to reduce vagrancy, offer people jobs.
    ‘Drug use is part of our culture and our society’
    There has been an increase in people accessing treatment since January of this year but it’s not yet clear if that is thanks to decriminalization or because public health has reduced stigma and increased services, said Ally Butler, the assistant deputy minister for treatment and recovery for the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.
    Victoria Mayor Marianne Alto was the only person in the meeting to call for the Province to introduce non-prescribed safer supply to combat the ongoing toxic drug crisis, where people who use drugs could access pharmaceutical alternatives to illicit street drugs at their local pharmacy or other regulated distribution centres.
    “We need to move to legal regulation that acknowledges drug use is part of our culture and our society,” Alto said, noting how drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes are also drug use, just socially accepted forms of it. “We have tried to get rid of drugs for centuries and have failed. We need to acknowledge it’s here and ensure what we use is not going to kill us.”
    Around 5,000 people have been able to get prescriptions for the opioid hydromorphone to take instead of illicit street drugs, but this is “a pilot program that is barely working for the people who can access it,” Graham said. The Province estimates around 100,000 people in B.C. have opioid use disorder, and that doesn’t include people who use drugs occasionally or recreationally, who are also at risk of overdosing from the toxic drug supply.
    “The bigger issue here isn’t that people aren’t worried about drug use in their community— they just don’t want to see homelessness or acknowledge that there are people in their community that aren’t looked after,” Graham said.
    “Decriminalization is about seeing the harms that the actual system is doing to the individual person and addressing those harms at the system level instead of putting everything on that individual person,” she added.
    Both Graham and Ward criticized the government’s lack of creativity when it comes to thinking about decriminalization and what an end to prohibitionist policies could look like.
    Ward pointed to alcohol regulations as an example. In the ’50s an individual needed a licence to consume alcohol and a business needed a licence to sell alcohol, she said. Today the government is involved in every step of alcohol production, distribution, sale and consumption despite everyone being able to make it at home.
    Alcohol regulations are strict but people still choose to follow them and even enjoy going to a bar—which can also be thought of as a supervised, regulated, controlled consumption site, she said. People can order a drink and know the strength and purity of the substance, which allows them to control their dose.
    Imagine if we had similar regulations for all drugs and stores where people could go to safely buy or use regulated drugs, she said.
    “It’s the rule of iron-law prohibition where the greater the enforcement is, the more potent the drugs are,” Ward said.
    “The flipside is the less enforcement you have the more variety of lower-potency substances you get. Imagine if we brought back coca tea — that’s how you counter the sale of more potent substances.”
    Michelle Gamage is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with The Tyee. This reporting is funded by the Government of Canada and available for republication by other media.
    See a comment by a Victoria physician with some concerns about BC's safer supply policies on this site.

    Fairbnb Canada
    The role of short-term rentals in B.C.'s rising rents: a $2 billion impact, according to McGill University study.
    A NEW GROUNDBREAKING REPORT by McGill University Professor Dr. David Wachsmuth has been released that sheds light on the influence of commercial short-term rental growth on British Columbia’s rental costs. The report underscores the need for the Province of B.C. to implement a province-wide short-term rental registry and platform accountability measures to save tenants billions in rent and address housing supply, attainability, and affordability.
    Key Findings
    Utilizing a mixed-effect linear regression model covering major and mid-sized urban areas in B.C., the study unveils compelling insights:
    • In the summer of 2023, approximately 16,810 homes shifted from residential to dedicated commercial (investor-owned) short-term rentals, signifying a 19.1% decline in housing availability over 2022.
    • The rapid resurgence of short-term rentals in 2022 astonishingly contributed to 28.1% of rent increases that year.
    • The study estimates that tenants province-wide bore an extra $2 billion in rent costs between 2016 and 2021 due to the expansion of commercial short-term rentals.
    • The report warns that unless addressed, the housing loss induced by commercial short-term rentals will persist, with renters continuing to shoulder the burden.
    Key Recommendations
    Fairbnb Canada Network encourages B.C.’s Eby government to fulfill its commitment to “establishing new tools for local governments to help them better regulate short-term rentals in their communities”, outlined in its December 2022 Housing Mandate Letter. Fairbnb suggests this must include:
    • Enforcing a Principal Residence Requirement to maintain genuine “homesharing.”
    • Establishing a Province-Wide Registry to track and ensure accountability.
    • Maintaining Platform Accountability to ensure short-term rental platforms will not advertise any rental that doesn't have an approved registration number.
    • Implementing Real-Time Data Sharing for efficient market monitoring within municipalities.
    “Across Canada, our existing stock of affordable housing is disappearing at an alarming rate. New units being built do not meet the affordability levels that Canadians need, and for every new unit built, at least five are being lost to excessive rent increases, renovation, redevelopment, and conversion to other uses like short-term rentals,” says Annie Hodgins, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights. “This report demonstrates the extent to which commercial short-term rentals are exacerbating Canada’s affordability crisis by driving up rents and taking sorely needed units away from renter households. Governments in British Columbia and across Canada must work together to implement regulations to stabilize rent increases and mitigate the impact of commercial short-term rentals on the housing affordability crisis.”
    “This report marks the first time we can quantify the far-reaching effects that the transformation of homes into ghost hotels has on tenants' rents across the province,” said Thorben Wieditz, Executive Director of Fairbnb Canada Network. "It illustrates beyond doubt that limiting short-term rental use to actual home-sharing—by eliminating commercial short-term rental growth—must be part of regulatory efforts to address British Columbia's housing crisis. With Quebec leading the way with landmark legislation following the deadly fire in a Montreal Airbnb earlier this year, we know that effective solutions can be implemented, and quickly.”
    You can download the complete 40-page report here. Fairbnb Canada Network is a Canadian non-profit organization advocating for equitable short-term rental regulations across the country. Comprising voices from tenant organizations, the regulated hotel and B&B industry, property owners, academics, and concerned citizens, Fairbnb's mission is to protect housing security. Originally founded as an informal coalition, Fairbnb emerged in response to the 845% growth in Airbnb listings in Canada since 2012. They call for a robust, nationally-consistent policy framework that balances fair, safe, and respectful short-term rental legislation, without seeking to ban genuine "homesharing." Fairbnb supports tenants and property owners who legally rent spare rooms or spaces in their principal residences, emphasizing compliance with all applicable laws and regulations. Learn more at www.fairbnb.ca.

    Rochelle Baker
    “We need to be thinking about drought response, not as a surprise and emergency, but instead as just a reality of living on the West Coast in 2023.”—Oliver Brandes
    B.C.’s SMALL RURAL COMMUNITIES striving for water security as droughts become the norm still sink or swim without much assistance from the Province, policy experts say.  
    Most of the province has been in the clutches of unprecedented—but long anticipated—climate-induced drought for most of the summer. About 55 per cent of B.C.’s water basins are at Level 5 on the provincial drought scale—the point when adverse socioeconomic or ecosystem impacts are almost certain. 

    Rural residents concerned with water security get little help from the Province as water levels drop and severe summer droughts plague the Vancouver Island region for a third year running. (Photo Rochelle Baker)
    Vancouver Island, renowned for its rainforests, has experienced prolonged severe or extreme drought for the past three summers. In an effort to preserve water for people, fish, livestock and growing food on central Vancouver Island, the province has imposed temporary water restrictions in watersheds for the Tsolum River and Koksilah and Cowichan rivers. Industrial water users and farmers growing water-intensive forage crops have had to shut off their taps. It has also imposed similar measures in the Thompson Okanagan region for hundreds of water licence holders. 
    However, B.C.’s reactive, piecemeal approach at the height of a water crisis is ineffective, said Oliver Brandes, a lead with the POLIS Water Sustainability Project at the University of Victoria. 
    “When your home is on fire is not the time to be thinking about how to fireproof the house,” he said. 
    “We should have been doing a whole bunch of stuff in advance in November, not August.” 
    Droughts are no longer a “surprise” emergency 
    Drought response and water security require comprehensive and proactive advance planning along with clear direction and resources from the Province, says water policy expert Oliver Brandes.

    Drought response and water security require comprehensive and proactive advance planning along with clear direction and resources from the province, says water policy expert Oliver Brandes. (Photo submitted)
    The extended drought late last fall set the table for today’s province-wide  crisis and was predictable given the rising pattern of drought over the past decade, he said. 
    The Province regulates the ground and surface relied on by water rural users who aren’t tapped into municipal systems. But typically, the Province only restricts usage when the situation is dire, Brandes said. 
    “We need to be thinking about drought response, not as a surprise and emergency, but instead as just a reality of living on the West Coast in 2023,” he said. 
    Small communities and many First Nations looking to improve water security as climate-induced drought becomes increasingly common still lack the power, capacity or information necessary to monitor, protect or regulate the vital resource they depend on despite long-standing promises for change, Brandes said. 
    Monitoring and mapping important water sources and developing a solid understanding of how much exists, how much is being used and who is using it and when needs to be better understood at the provincial level, he said. 
    “When you have that information, then you can start thinking really about a coherent conservation [approach] and response,” he said. 
    Rural communities left to figure out water security
    Robyn Mawhinney, Quadra Island director for Strathcona Regional District on Vancouver Island, said there’s room for the Province to help develop water security in smaller communities. 
    Most of Quadra Island’s 2,700 residents rely on well water, but there’s little information available for the community or the district to determine how demand and climate change are stressing vital groundwater resources. 
    The Province has determined the island’s single observation well is suffering a large rate of decline, with water levels dropping 12 centimetres annually. 
    To boost the community’s water security and climate resilience, volunteers with Quadra’s Island’s Climate Action Network (I-CAN) have launched a years-long attempt to evaluate water supply and demand. The end goal is to try to determine thresholds for sustainable water use on the island, said Nick Sargent, a retired hydrogeologist and one of the project leads. 
    Quadra is fortunate it has a dedicated pool of volunteers with the expertise to tackle water security issues, but not all rural areas have those resources, Mawhinney said. 
    “Really, [the Province] is asking the communities to figure it out themselves,” she said. 
    “The Province has a role to play in understanding our aquifers and ensuring that our water resources are conserved and managed for the benefit of residents.” 
    Regional districts aren’t able to limit water use or enact conservation measures to preserve groundwater during droughts, Mawhinney noted. 
    The district can pass bylaws that incorporate wise water methods in land use or zoning decisions, she added, but granting water licences and regulating the extraction of groundwater and its use by agricultural, industrial or commercial users falls to the Province. 
    The district can’t implement staged watering restrictions and can only appeal to residents to undertake voluntary conservation efforts, like not watering their lawns or running sprinklers unless residents are hooked into municipal or district water systems. 
    The Province also controls industrial land use, like forestry operations or clearcut logging, which has wide-scale impacts on a forest or watershed’s ability to absorb and conserve groundwater, Mawhinney added. 
    “Industrial forestry regulations need a broader scope, which includes water storage capacity and downstream community impacts,” she said. 
    Some regional governments, like the Regional District of Nanaimo, have developed cohesive drinking water and watershed protection action plans to advance water security. The district has also come up with a rainwater management strategy to mitigate flooding and runoff during storms, protect water quality, and capture rainwater as a resource.
    The district’s Green Building Incentives also provide rebates and incentives for irrigation upgrades, rainwater harvesting, wellhead upgrades, well water testing and septic upgrades.  
    Although I-CAN on Quadra hopes to accumulate quality data to allow for water use decisions, some level of government would ultimately have to shape any regulatory response, Sargent said. 
    Presumably, the Province or the Strathcona Regional District, which are both aware of the community’s efforts, would step up to shape a water budget or water use plans for the island, he said. 
    In the meantime, the community isn’t waiting to take a proactive approach to gather the data it needs to make water-smart decisions as climate change advances. 
    “I guess you can have the attitude [that] it’s all up to government,” Sargent said. “Or you can say, let’s just get on with it, and at some point, the government will get involved.” 
    Province has stepped forward but progress is slow
    B.C. recently committed $100 million to a provincial watershed security fund and is in the final stages of creating a province-wide watershed security strategy, which is due out this winter. 
    The Water Sustainability Act was beefed up in 2016, giving the Province new tools to prioritize essential household and environmental needs during water shortages. 
    But it took six years after those revisions for the Province to impose a long-awaited deadline in March 2022 for historic non-domestic groundwater users to apply for a water licence. 
    Those that didn’t, now face the risk of being ordered to turn off the tap or might lose their seniority access to water to newer users that applied for licences. 
    However, there are still large numbers of unlicensed users—like ranchers, farmers or small businesses—drawing unknown quantities of water. Nor is it clear how much water users that do have licences are extracting, Brandes said.   
    Meanwhile, individuals and households are being told to take shorter showers and water their gardens with dishwater. 
    “I’m happy to do that, but I want to see others reducing. I want it to be done systematically,” Brandes said. 
    “And if you have an unregulated user, they’re basically the equivalent of water poachers, but no one’s enforcing the rules.” 
    For small rural communities and even municipalities with water systems, the Province needs to develop clear guidance through a watershed governance framework that includes direction, funding and resources for local watershed boards or entities, he said. 
    Additionally, incentives or subsidies to adopt prohibitively expensive low-flow appliances or toilets, or to develop community-wide systems, such as large-scale rainwater harvesting with large capacity cisterns, need to be available. 
    “The Province probably has to build capacity, not for every little dinky region to have their own experts, but to provide access to expertise by different communities,” he said. 
    “That would support existing or developing modest [water security] programs that can be then amped up,” he said. 
    “Communities aren’t worth living in if they don’t have access to water,” he added. 
    “But we only take water seriously in the height of drought, and we have very minimal choices at that moment.”

    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. 

    Michelle Gamage
    BC’s status quo approach is not good enough, says a grassroots organization of doctors and teachers.
    By Michelle Gamage, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, and Katie Hyslop
    A WEEK BEFORE the start of school, British Columbia didn’t have an updated back-to-school plan for reducing respiratory infections in schools, including COVID, flu, cold and RSV, says a grassroots organization of doctors, teachers, nurses, scientists, academics and parents.
    Despite the release of her own study last year showing 80 per cent of kids and youth in the province have contracted COVID at least once, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has maintained schools are not a meaningful site of transmission.
    Protect Our Province BC challenges this by citing an American-Taiwanese study that found 70 per cent of in-household virus transmission began with children, especially when school was in session.

    Protect Our Province BC says the Province should should pay attention to the southern hemisphere, where respiratory illness season is already well underway—and where countries have seen premature winter breaks, the return of mask mandates and high rates of hospitalization for influenza in children. Photo: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International Public License
    The Health Ministry was asked, in August, for their strategy for reducing respiratory illness transmission in schools this fall. They responded with an email statement that outlined their strategy. This includes an updated vaccination campaign starting sometime this fall that is expected to target the XBB.1.5 variant, also known as the Omicron subvariant “kraken,” following the latest advice from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization. The kraken variant first started making headlines in January 2023. The Ministry said the vaccine will protect against many closely related subvariants.
    According to the World Health Network as of July 30, 2023, 7.9 per cent of COVID-19 cases in B.C. were with the XBB.1.5 variant (an additional 9 per cent were with the XBB.1.5.44 variant and 2.2 per cent were with the XBB.1.5.59 variant). The largest single variant was EG.5.1, nicknamed the “Eris” COVID variant, which made up 18 per cent of the total cases.
    “We’re into the EG.5.1 now,” said Dr. Lynne Filiatrault, co-founder of POP BC. “Where is this [COVID strategy] posted? What has been sent to schools? What has been sent to parents and families?”
    The Health Ministry says it is also following the National Advisory Committee on Immunization that recommends people get their next booster this fall when a booster that provides the “best protection” will be available.
    In late August Reuters reported that Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are aimed at the Kraken XBB.1.5 variant but also “show promise” against the Eris EG.5.1 strain.
    Masking will remain optional in schools, student and staff absenteeism will be monitored and mechanical ventilation systems or HEPA filters will be used in all classrooms in the province, including portables, the Ministry told us. An updated Communicable Disease Guidance for K-12 document is underway by Public Health, they added.
    The Ministry also said it would distribute COVID-19 rapid tests to schools this fall as part of a “transition” away from PCR tests and that there would not be school-wide vaccination programs for COVID-19 because “we’ve heard clearly from families that parents want to be there when their child is vaccinated and children want their parents there too.”
    This is exactly what the Province said about schools last September, representatives of POP BC say. But high rates of absences for teachers, school staff and students last year show the strategy wasn’t enough to keep people from getting sick, they say.
    The provincial plan is also behind the times when it comes to tackling the latest COVID strain, POP BC says.
    COVID-19 hospitalization rates are currently up in Canada and in the United States, where some schools have already closed because of infection rates for COVID and other communicable diseases.
    The public has stopped paying attention to COVID, teacher and POP BC co-founder Jennifer Heighton said. It’s important that the government get the message out that COVID is still here and long COVID has lasting health consequences for kids and adults, she added, beyond the 30 days B.C. COVID mortality reporting considers people to be impacted by COVID.
    “The general public has no idea it’s not like a cold or flu,” Heighton said, adding COVID infections have been linked to increased rates of heart attacks among adults under 45, while adolescents with multiple COVID infections are at an increased risk of developing Post-COVID conditions, better known as long COVID, that include chronic fatigue, organ swelling and Type 1 Diabetes.
    “Two weeks before school starts, people think that COVID’s benign, that if you’re vaccinated you’re fine, that we’re in a different stage of the pandemic, when actually, we never left,” Heighton said.
    Preparing for the next wave
    Protect Our Province tracks COVID through the American Centre for Disease Control, a Walgreens Pharmacy COVID tracker in the U.S., waste water trackers in B.C. and Canada, and the Mortality Tracker for excess mortalities in Canada.
    They say B.C. should pay attention to the southern hemisphere, where respiratory illness season is already well underway. In Chile, school mask mandates have returned. In Uruguay, winter break began two weeks early because of high infection rates from multiple viruses. In Australia, Filiatrault added, children are making up 80 per cent of hospitalizations from multiple respiratory illnesses this season.
    POP BC’s strategy for reducing COVID, flu and RSV transmission in schools includes improving school ventilation systems to the latest standards set out by the American Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers; installing CO2 monitors in every classroom and publicly reporting the results; a new mask mandate for schools, specifying KN95 style or higher protection; admitting COVID is airborne and transmitted through aerosol spray; redistributing the federal government’s stash of rapid antigen tests to schools and families; and ensuring early vaccination of all kids and families for COVID and influenza.
    “If the government is saying they’re doing enough for ventilation, they’re wrong,” said Heighton, pointing to increased teacher, school staff and student absences last year.
    “That tells you that the ventilation within those classrooms is not enough, because why else was there illness spreading like wildfire in these classrooms?”
    According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, influenza season peaked early last year, around the same time there was a spike in RSV infections, as well as COVID, a situation POP BC refers to as a “tripledemic.”
    Six children died of influenza in the province over a two-week period last fall. From 2015 to 2021 an average of 1.5 kids died from influenza in a year.
    While there is no current mask mandate for B.C. schools, the Ministry says masks remain an important tool in preventing infection “and should be used in situations where it makes sense to do so,” in addition to getting vaccinated and washing your hands.
    But with only 16 per cent of kids under four, 20 per cent of five- to 11-year-olds and 15 per cent of 12- to 17-year-olds fully vaccinated in B.C., masks are even more important, POP BC says. Without a mandate and public information campaign, people won’t wear them.
    Kids under four need two doses to be considered fully vaccinated, five- to 11-year-olds need three doses and 12- to 17-year-olds need four doses.
    “It should not be politicized the way that it is,” Heighton said, adding similar public health campaigns have already been done for using sunscreen.
    POP BC questions the quality of school ventilation
    Since 2020 the provincial and federal governments have spent $219.4 million helping schools upgrade air ventilation and filtration in their buildings, the Health Ministry noted in an emailed statement.
    It added, “all classrooms and portables in B.C. have mechanical ventilation systems or standalone HEPA filtration units” and school districts conduct regular inspections of HVAC systems. “School districts are recommended to have the capacity to use MERV-13 filters in their HVAC systems,” the ministry added.
    The ministry also said all school districts are “expected” to meet the indoor air quality standards set by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, adding school districts are responsible for assessing and monitoring their own air quality.
    In 2023 to 2024 the province will allocate $41 million to upgrade HVAC systems in 101 schools in B.C. as part of a larger $261.1 million fund for school maintenance projects, the ministry added.
    But POP BC questions government’s claim that schools are properly ventilated. There has been no public accounting for how and where money invested in ventilation was spent or whether ventilation systems have the appropriate HEPA or MERV-13 filters to prevent COVID transmission, they said.
    School districts have released their own ventilation information, but they vary in terms of detail, Filiatrault noted. For example Surrey School District 36’s site tells you exactly what kind of HVAC filters are used in each room of every school in their district. While some rooms use MERV-13 filters, which are recommended by the BC CDC for COVID prevention, many use lower rated MERV-8, MERV-9 and MERV-11 filters.
    The Vancouver School District 39 information is broken down by school, but the details provided are about ventilation assessments and upgrades, not a classroom-level breakdown of filters used. This September will be the fourth time schools have reopened since the pandemic was declared in March 2020, said Filiatrault, “and yet parents still don’t know ‘what is the air quality in my kids’ school, in the shared spaces, let alone what is the air quality in my kid’s fully occupied classroom?’”
    While the Ministry maintains they require schools to follow the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers ventilation standards, POP questions whether they are following the most recent version, ASHRAE 241, released earlier this year. The Ministry said it is currently reviewing the update and will update its own guidance documents if required. In an emailed statement, the Health Ministry stated they are reviewing ASHRAE 241.
    POP BC wants carbon dioxide metres in every classroom to measure classroom air quality and flow, with reporting on school air quality made publicly available, like the Boston school district does.
    Heighton already uses a CO2 monitor in her classroom—in addition to a portable HEPA filter and personally masking at all times—and she noticed CO2 levels go down when her classroom windows are open.
    “If you don’t have enough new air coming in, then the CO2 levels will go up and up,” she said, adding it is a good indication of how well your HVAC system works.
    “Crowded, close, closed and poorly ventilated” is what the virus cares about, Filiatrault said, adding that describes B.C. schools. Especially since masks are no longer mandatory for students or staff.
    Filiatrault and Heighton recommend parents send their kids to school with masks, stay up to date with vaccines, stock up on fever-reducing medicines and rapid tests, and keep their kids home when sick to prepare for the coming school year.
    “Masks and cleaning the air are variant-proof,” Heighton said.
    This article was first published in The Tyee. Michelle Gamage is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with The Tyee. Such journalism, funded by the Government of Canada, is produced under a Creative Commons Licence, so Canadian news media organizations can republish the material for free. Katie Hyslop co-authored this article. 

    Judith Lavoie
    After two decades leading the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, and cheerfully fighting on behalf of the Earth and the communities that depend on its health, Calvin Sandborn is retiring (sort of).
    CHOOSE OPTIMISM, CHOOSE LOVE, live a life of purpose. That’s Calvin Sandborn’s strategy for coping in a world faced with increasingly dire environmental crises including climate chaos, forest fires and the biodiversity crisis.
    “I would argue that, in the struggle ahead, we must be guided first by love—by a love of nature and by love of all our brothers and sisters, including those we don’t agree with on everything,” Sandborn, 73, told guests at his I’m-really-not-retiring party. 
    After two decades leading the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre—a non-profit organization which delivers pro bono legal assistance to Indigenous, environmental and community organizations and individuals fighting for conservation and sustainability—Sandborn is stepping down as ELC legal director. 
    However, he will continue to work on issues with environmental groups because there is so, so much work still to do, he said. 
    The gathering in honour of Sandborn drew a who’s-who of environmental activism—veteran environmentalists, politicians and up-and-coming environmental lawyers—representing decades of campaigns to make B.C. a better place to live. 
    At the centre of many of those campaigns, which, often against all odds, pushed governments and corporations to make changes, were the investigations and reports of Sandborn and his ELC students. 
    The need for mining law reform, the scourge of plastic pollution, agricultural pesticide use, right to roam, and water sustainability are among the many topics which came under scrutiny by Sandborn and his students. 
    “And we’ve had lots of wins. The urban air quality is better than it was in the 1960s by far and you don’t have problematic levels of lead—we’ve gotten lead out of the gasoline and you can eat the crabs in Cowichan Bay when you couldn’t in the 1990s,” Sandborn said in an interview. 

    Sandborn with community members
    At the heart of all the conservation campaigns has been love of nature, he said. 
    “We have seen the photos of Earth from space—a fragile blue-green emerald with a very thin layer of air, water and land that supports the only known life in the universe. We have stood open-mouthed as orcas leapt out of the ocean. We have seen the heron silently stalk fish in a shallow lagoon at dawn. We have seen the salmon runs—tragic as Shakespeare, joyful as Easter. We have watched eagles clenched together, riding the updraft. Indigenous people have taught us to recognize Sister Cedar and they have taught us to welcome the Trout Children and all of our relatives,” he said. 
    BC’s Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Murray Rankin has known Sandborn since his days of social justice activism in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. The friendship continued through Sandborn’s time at West Coast Environmental Law, the Commission on Resources and the Environment (CORE), the Forest Practices Board and then the—initially unpaid—position at the ELC. 
    “He’s been responsible for so much law reform,” Rankin said in an interview, adding that Sandborn’s unquenchable optimism has marked most of the campaigns. 
    “I think he feels that the only way to keep your head above water is to inspire younger people and you inspire younger people not with doom and gloom, but with the possibility of significant reform and his career is a testament to that…. His whole message is ‘be happy and engage,’” Rankin said. 
    In addition to optimism, Sandborn is unfailingly sincere, he added. 
    “What you see is such an authentic person—that’s what I love about Calvin. He’s the same for everybody and in every circumstance,” he said. 
    Despite his reputation for optimism, Sandborn concedes that the environmental future looks grim at a time that Canada is on fire, the public—despite all evidence—remains divided about whether climate change is real and environmental crises threaten to upend the world. 
    But there is still hope, he insists. 
    “We cannot surrender to climate fear, we cannot afford the luxury of pessimism, the stakes are too high for hopelessness,” he said.
    “Such a people person, such a connector”
    Over the years the biggest source of Sandborn’s optimism has been the procession of bright, enthusiastic students that have cycled through the program and the committed clients, dedicated to protecting the environment, who have come to him with issues that need addressing. 
    “And the work we have done with Indigenous people has been so fascinating. Just learning another way of looking at the world and another way of understanding our relationship with nature,” he said. 
    With his mix of charisma, passion, a knack for digging out details and unerring media savvy, Sandbar has inspired generations of students. 
    “I always tried to run the ELC like a summer camp,” said Sandborn when asked about the strong loyalty and motivation of his students. 
    “The guitar was important. I would pull it out in class or when we had dinners or whatever. The other thing is going for walks… I think people do think better when they are walking and it’s kind of a communal activity,” he said. 
    Erin Gray, now a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law marine team who chose to study at UVic because of the ELC, said Sandborn is incredibly passionate about environmental conservation and training the next generation of environmental lawyers. 
    “He totally dedicates his life to both endeavours. He has achieved an amazing amount in his career,” she said. 
    “He’s such a people person, such a connector.” 
    Sandborn built up the ELC and has left an incredible legacy through his students and the work they are now doing, Gray said. 
    “He has worked on almost any issue you can think of. He focused a lot on climate lately, lots of plastic pollution work and he has done work in forestry and public access to land,” she said. 
    It takes talent to connect with a client, scope out a tangible legal issue that students can work on and then ensure the final product is something that can further the issue and get suitable publicity, she said. 
    “We learned law from him, but also learned how to be part of a campaign and speak to journalists,” Gray said. 
    In addition, there were always the new songs—accompanied by Sandborn’s guitar—relating to social or environmental justice, she said. 

    Calvin Sandborn playing his guitar outside the retirement party at the Gorge Park Pavilion (photo by Arifin Graham)
    Sandborn’s ability to spot a potential news story—and his you-can’t-say-no calls to reporters—were instrumental in raising the profile of issues and his accessible writing style landed his views on the need for environmental reforms on the editorial page of numerous newspapers. 
    One of Sandborn’s high profile campaigns brought author Margaret Atwood into the mix. 
    It started with a 2019 campaign for a national plastics strategy, including a ban on single use plastics, and Sandborn noticed that Atwood was one of the 140,000 people who signed in support of a resolution to Parliament 
    “I wondered if Margaret Atwood would be open to co-authoring something, so I contacted her and she said she would,” Sandborn said. 

    Sandborn holding a not fully recyclable coffee pod 
    That joint article caught the attention of the president of the Keurig Canada coffee company, who claimed the single use K-cup pods were part of the solution to the plastic problem as they could be recycled. 
    It was a claim the company came to regret. 
    “I went and looked at the ads they were running for the Keurig K-Cup pods and I thought ‘well, that’s a pack of misleading stuff,’ so we filed a complaint with the Competition Bureau and they got a $3-million fine and they had to change all their ads and issue correction notices in every newspaper in the country,” Sandborn explained. 
    The Competition Bureau found that the pods were recyclable only in B.C. and Quebec and, even in those provinces, the process was complicated. 
    Atwood was among those who sent letters marking Sandborn’s ELC retirement. 
    Working together to keep this fragile boat from sinking
    Sandborn’s taste for environmental and social justice stemmed from his mother who was a social worker in a notoriously redneck town in California, but, as he started his career in the 1970s, Canada was not on his radar even though his brother, a draft dodger, was living in Vancouver. 
    “I was signed up to go to Africa with the Peace Corps, but they delayed my departure for six months, so I came to Vancouver and I met a woman and never went back,” he said. 
    Before going to law school at University of British Columbia, Sandborn lived in the same Downtown Eastside house as Libby Davies, who later became a prominent NDP MP, and her then husband, social activist Bruce Eriksen. The three activists, appalled at the number of people dying in fires in single room occupancy hotels, began a campaign for sprinklers and then for more rights for those living in the poverty-stricken area, leading eventually to the formation of the Downtown Eastside Residents Association. 
    During law school, Sandborn embarked on a campaign to help farm workers improve their wages and health and safety standards, leading to heated exchanges with farmers. 
    Rankin recalled that someone called the Attorney General’s ministry to say a farmer had been heard saying that Sandborn should be careful or he might find himself face down in the Fraser River. 
    “I’m relieved to say that never materialized, but it gives you some idea of the climate he was working in,” Rankin said. 
    The next high-profile campaign was reform of agricultural chemicals and pesticides, during which Sandborn found himself battling farmers and the Social Credit government.
    “Finally, the regulations were enacted. They saved many lives,” Rankin said. 
    In 1992, Sandborn was asked to join the Commission on Resources and the Environment (CORE). There he he participated in negotiations that which introduced the concept of getting-to-yes. Despite massive controversy, they led to an unparalleled expansion of BC Parks.
    “Getting to yes” remains part of Sandborn’s life philosophy. 
    “We must abandon finger-pointing, sneering, cynicism and blaming other people and invite all people to work together,” Sandborn said. 
    “The fact is that we are all in the same boat, all on the same earth. We need a little less calling people out and a whole lot more calling people in. We need to invite and persuade everyone to work together and keep this fragile boat from sinking,” he said. 
    Polarization and fragmentation, often fuelled by social media, is discouraging, Sandborn admitted. 
    “You know, if we are divided we will fall, so how do we get to that unity to understand that we’re all on the Earth. We’re all in this together, so we have to patch up the hole in the boat,” he said. 
    With his usual optimism, Sandborn sees signs that the ubiquitous obsession with social media and the distraction of devices is starting to change. 
    “In the last five or six years I started to see a positive trend where my brightest students are coming into class and carrying a notebook and pen instead of a device. They have figured out that if you are typing notes on a computer you are basically doing stenography instead of taking it in and learning,” he said.
    ELC job pro bono in first year
    Following CORE, in 1997, Sandborn went to the Forest Practices Board. As legal counsel to the Board, he acted at the request of the Haida Nation and successfully blocked logging of marbled murrelet habitat in the Eden Lake area of Haida Gwaii. But in 2003, Sandborn was one of the casualties of the Liberal government’s massive cuts. 
    The upside of that job loss was a severance package that allowed him to accept a position as senior counsel at the ELC even though there was no money to pay him.
    “But, as Bob Dylan would have put it, there was a simple twist of fate. One day a letter arrived from Quadra Island from one Eric Peterson asking what amount of money would be needed for ELC to have a five-year budget,” Rankin said. 
    Philanthropist Peterson and his wife Christina Munck bankroll the non-profit Tula Foundation which funds environmental initiatives, most of them in B.C. 
    “I am happy to report that the ELC is now in much better financial shape and many people are recognizing its remarkable success” Rankin said. 
    Sandborn never regretted his decision to take on the ELC position. 
    “I am a truly blessed person in that I was given a job that was a perfect fit for me,” he said. 
    Sandborn also found time to pen books such as A Pocket Guide to B.C. Law, Green Space and Growth, Law Reform for Sustainable Development in B.C. and Becoming the Kind Father: A Son’s Journey, a book which explores his relationship with his alcoholic father and sets out the case against patriarchy.
    Longtime environmental activist Vicky Husband said Sandborn has given the ELC 20 years of total dedication. 
    “He took on so many incredibly important issues and he was the driving force. Calvin had a good team and he inspired them,” Husband said.

    Vicky Husband, Green Party MLA Adam Olsen, and Calvin Sandborn (photo by Arifin Graham)
    “He helped his students to understand what their role could be as environmental advocates and many of them have gone on to do really wonderful things. It’s so important,” she said. 
    As Sandborn stepped away from the podium where tributes to his ELC work had rolled in, he threw in advice for the next generation. 
    Build bridges with people and win them over, he said. 
    “Have fun. Dance. Play music. Share joy with others. Love each other. It’s in community that we break the epidemic of alienation that drives environmental destruction,” he said. 
    “The environmental crisis is daunting. The work will not be easy, but take heart. As Martin Luther King told us, the arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice. We shall overcome.” 
    Freelance journalist Judith Lavoie has spent over 30 years as a reporter in the Greater Victoria area. She has won four Webster awards and has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award and a Michener Award.

    Judith Lavoie
    Langford’s municipal political scene is not alone in being “ideologically diverse”—some might say “toxic.” Is there a way to move towards constructive conversations?
    FOR MOST BRITISH COLUMBIANS, last October’s municipal elections are a fuzzy memory likely to provoke little more than a yawn.
    In Langford, however, where the election of a new mayor and, with one exception, a rookie council, that election is regularly revisited and bemoaned by passionate supporters of the previous council, led for almost 30 years by former mayor Stew Young.
    Regular demonstrations outside City Hall demanding council step down or be recalled (there is no municipal recall process in B.C.), a handful of people pushing time limits for speaking to council, a smattering of conspiracy theories, a forum provided by a Facebook group, and a Victoria radio talk show host who some claim is fanning the flames, are creating volatility as the new council deals with unprecedented financial pressures.
    Online posts on the Our Langford Facebook site blame the new council for everything from killing development—even though this council has not, so far, turned down any projects and in fact Langford has experienced the highest number of housing starts for the first four months of the year since incorporation (CMHA)—to homeless people moving into the area. 
    “Under Stew Young’s council we felt safe in our community,” says a post accompanied by a photo of a bike pulling a tarp-covered trailer of possessions.
    Our Langford describes itself as “a group that is appreciative and grateful to previous councils historical 30 years of monumental achievements in the City of Langford.”
    Several startling posts, such as comments that Lillian Szpak—the only survivor from the previous council—should be in jail or encouraging in-person or on-line trolling of councillors, were recently removed, while others, such as those speculating about Mayor Scott Goodmanson’s business acumen and unflattering photos of councillors, remain.
    Former councillor Denise Blackwell, who was defeated in the last election, said she is appalled at the vitriol directed at the new council.
    “It’s terrible. It’s like they are in some sort of a cult and nothing will do but getting Stew [Young] back. They are not giving these new people a chance at all….  The new people seem quite calm and reasonable,” Blackwell said, adding that many problems the new council is experiencing, such as the need to raise taxes “can be laid right at the feet of the old council.”
    Blackwell, who opposed many of Young’s initiatives during the last mandate, said the over-the-top opposition seems to stem from five or six people and others “just pile on.”
    Mayor Goodmanson said in an interview that the antagonism is disconcerting, especially when it slides into personal attacks, but he emphasizes that everyone is entitled to their political opinions and council aims to address genuine concerns while correcting misinformation.

    Langford Mayor Scott Goodmanson
    “People can have a difference of opinion and we can still have a respectful dialogue. I want people to come to City Hall and feel that they are listened to, understood and respected,” Goodmanson said.
    But, a small group that predicted before the election that Langford would be destroyed if the old mayor and council were voted out, remain a vocal presence.
    “They’re still fighting the previous election,” Goodmanson said.
    “There have been references to us being a political insurrection and we are occupying City Hall and lots of references that they think we are an illegitimate council and there is no proof that we were elected,” said Goodmanson, adding that he is particularly concerned about comments attacking City staff.
    “We have an awesome staff. They are virtually the same staff that ran for years under the previous administration,” he said.
    Goodmanson does not attribute the criticism to any one person or group, but social media posts, even when inaccurate, are difficult to counteract.
    For example, the Our Langford masthead shows lit windows at City Hall with the initial post claiming there were secret, late-night budget meetings.
    But Goodmanson said the photo shows City staff poring over information from Engineers and Geoscientists B.C. about structural problems with the RidgeView apartment building. The next morning the 11-storey building was evacuated because of safety concerns.
    “My awesome staff got together late at night on Sunday working on a plan so they could hit the ground running on Monday,” Goodmanson said.
    Attempts by Focus to contact someone involved with the Our Langford site were met with a refusal from one member, as well as an email to Focus editor Leslie Campbell from another complaining about biased and inaccurate coverage of the former mayor and some council members. That member complained of being targeted on line by people they believe to be part of Langford Voters—a Facebook group that usually supports the new council.
    “Frankly speaking, I am tired of being BULLIED and harassed online and in person, it has been detrimental to my health and my wellbeing. Thus, I would hope that you would neither condone nor support such behaviour nor inflict further harm and/bullying upon myself or others in our group, by publishing such an article otherwise I will have no choice but to seek legal advice immediately,” the person wrote.
    Community members on the “other side” were also somewhat reluctant to talk with Focus on the record, but in an email, one person referred to an “intense backlash”  against the “greener” turn in local government, adding “one of the key rallying cries of the Our Langford movement is that ‘our city has been taken over by those woke outsiders from Victoria and Saanich’.”
    12.4 % tax increase provokes rage with some
    While opposition to the new council has been simmering since October, the unprecedented property tax increase functioned as a new lightning rod. Langford, which previously enjoyed tax hikes of under three per cent, is now looking at 12.4 per cent, provoking howls of outrage from some residents.
    Reasons for the increase include spillover from the previous council using amenity accounts (funds charged to developers as a condition of rezoning) and surplus funds to keep taxes low, something described in the 2023 budget presentation as a policy that, although legal, has “significant challenges to its sustainability.”
    The figures show borrowing from surplus and reserves dramatically increased in 2020, 2021 and 2022 to keep taxes low during the pandemic.
    The aim now is to “bring tax revenues back up to a level that can fund ongoing operations”  and build up depleted accounts as a financial bulwark, according to the City’s financial plan.
    In addition to the overarching problem of inflation, major expenses include an additional $950,000 subsidy—equivalent to a 2.5 per cent tax increase—to keep the YMCA-YWCA recreation centre operating under a contract negotiated by the previous council in 2013.
    That contract means that, even if the Y pulls out, the City remains on the hook for the building lease, at a cost of $2-million a year for the next 18 years, which is why negotiations are underway to borrow $30-million to buy the building.
    Some of the increase is directly related to growth of the city. Langford’s population grew by 31 per cent over the last five years, with census figures showing the City had 46,584 residents in 2021. Four additional RCMP officers are needed to bring the police-population ratio up to 1.750, which, at a cost of $700,000 amounts to almost two per cent of the budget. Nine additional firefighters and six additional city staff, are also needed to cope with the demands of Langford’s rapidly growing population.
    Even with the 12.4 per cent tax increase—amounting to an average of $240 per property—Langford residents will still pay taxes significantly below those of most BC municipalities of a similar size, including Victoria and Saanich. Property taxes for the average home in Langford were $1,858 last year. In Victoria they were $3,322; $4,638 in Oak Bay, and $3189 in Saanich (see page 27 of the financial presentation).
    Councillor Keith Yacucha, one of the new council members, who teaches economics at Camosun College, described the 2023 budget as a no frills, operational budget.
    “The analogy is that, for a homeowner, you know that, at one point in your house’s life, the hot water tank is going to go. At some point you’re going to have to redo the roof and you’re going to have to paint. You have the option to put aside a little bit of money each month or you can just wait until it happens,” he said.
    “Unfortunately, here in Langford, our hot water tank went, our roof went and we needed to repaint in the same budget cycle.”

    Langford Councillor Keith Yacucha
    The decision to use amenity funds to keep property taxes low in previous years was a valid policy choice, but it is money that could have been used to provide public amenities, such as parks, for all Langford residents including the many renters, Yacucha said.
    Yacucha, like other councillors, is anxious to ensure council hears legitimate concerns from residents and said he does not want to marginalize any group.
    “But, the difficult part is being able to differentiate between legitimate outrage and the rage farmers,” he said.
    With approval of the tax hike, criticism on the Our Langford site hit the stratosphere, with comments peppered with attacks and accusations of “fake public meetings.”
    Former Mayor Young did not return calls from Focus, but previously told Black Press Media that he would resign if he had to hike taxes to that extent.

    Councillor Lillian Szpak
    Szpak, who often opposed Young when she sat on the previous council, said taxes were kept low in previous years for political gain and now supporters of the previous council are responding with deeply personal misinformation and distortion of facts.
    Despite the negativity, the attacks are not affecting council’s work, Szpak said.
    “We focus on all the positivity that we’re hearing from the community, because it’s a very small group that is waging this letter writing and email campaign,” she said.
    “What this council wants is to always take the high road….We have a mandate from the electors and, the fact that this faction is not accepting it, is just so Trumpian,” she said.
    Social media and talk radio provide fertile ground for conspiracy theories and thrive on pitting people against each other, Szpak said.
    So, how to deal with it?
    “We have to protect democracy…I don’t want to over-simplify it, but I think it really does come down to making sure we can give facts and write responses that are respectful to these residents even if they are full of hyperbole and all sorts of accusations—and that is what this council is doing,” Szpak said.
    Langford plans to start its own Facebook page (“Let's Chat at Langford”) in the near future to try and ensure that people can obtain accurate information, she said.
    Kim Speers, assistant teaching professor at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Administration and chair of the Victoria chapter of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, said Langford is not the only community facing such problems.
    “There are some communities that are very ideologically diverse in terms of what they think the role of government should be,” she said, adding that the anonymity of social media complicates the discourse and the pandemic seems to have exacerbated divisions on what people believe governments should or should not do.
    “I wish we could all just take a course on how to interact with each other again because I think we are all a bit rusty and crusty and we are seeing this in the local government world,” she said.
    “It does seem that the election has not ended, and it’s OK that people disagree, but it [should be] disagreeing in a respectful, constructive manner and not being threatening or degrading. It’s having a constructive conversation on how to come up with solutions to address problems,” Speers said.
    “You might not agree with the outcome, but, hopefully, you can agree with the process,” she said.
    Other B.C. communities facing problems with local government—often with disagreements between councillors or issues with a small group of residents—include Tahsis, Lions Bay, Harrison Hot Springs and Kamloops.
    Last year, the president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, Laurey-Anne Roodenburg, described a “period of extreme toxicity in public life,” partially fuelled by misinformation on social media, with councillors and staff facing coordinated attacks. 
    Ontario requires municipalities to have an integrity commissioner, who helps with relationships between the public, council and administration, and it is an idea that could be considered locally, Speers suggested.
    The balance usually involves ensuring there is a good public engagement process, with protection for minority rights, but for the public to appreciate that councils are elected to make decisions, Speers said.
    Sarah Plank, who worked on the campaign to elect the Langford Now slate of new councillors, said change is hard for people who have strong beliefs and loyalties, but the political atmosphere in Langford is not healthy.
    “People spoke with their votes and now we have to find a way forward. That’s how democracy works,” said Plank, who has lived in Langford for 20 years.
    “I think we should be able to join together in a way that is constructive and creates the kind of healthy, thriving community that we all want,” she said.
    Freelance journalist Judith Lavoie has spent over 30 years as a reporter in the Greater Victoria area, including 20 with the Times-Colonist. She has won four Webster awards and has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award and a Michener Award.

    Rochelle Baker
    The high degree of concentration of ownership by foreign entities of West Coast fisheries licences and quota are “alarming”—and lack of transparency makes them targets for money laundering.
    THE LACK OF TRANSPARENCY about who owns or controls commercial fishing licences, quota and vessels in Canada makes them attractive targets for criminals looking to launder money.
    That warning was issued by lawyer and former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German in testimony at a House committee meeting in late May, 2023.

    In May, former RCMP deputy commissioner Peter German (pictured above in 2019) advised a federal committee that B.C fisheries may be a target for those looking to wash dirty money. File photo / BC government
    German—who authored two explosive Dirty Money reports for the B.C. government detailing the depth of money laundering in the province—spoke to the Standing Committee of Fisheries and Oceans (FOPO) as part of its ongoing investigation into foreign ownership and corporate concentration of fishing licences and quota. 
    German stressed his expertise lies in scrutinizing money laundering, organized crime and corruption, not fisheries policy. 
    However, he noted the lack of transparency and the federal government’s marginal understanding of who owns or controls West Coast fishing licences and quota are red flags that have been raised at FOPO repeatedly.
    Additionally, in B.C. there are no apparent conditions on ownership of licences or quota, which control access to Canadian fisheries, German said. 
    “When you don’t have a transparent ownership system, in which the public is able to see who the ultimate, beneficial owners are of fishing licences and quotas, you are vulnerable to the involvement of [foreign] state actors, organized crime and money launderers,” German told the committee.
    The purchase and sale of West Coast fishing licences and quota were flagged by the province as points for investigation during German’s second report on money laundering in 2019, which highlighted the use of luxury cars and real estate transactions to wash illicit money, he said.
    “It is worth noting that the linkage between fisheries, organized crime and money laundering is a subject which has been studied internationally, including by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime,” German told FOPO. Criminality tied to the fishing industry hasn’t been a focus of major investigation in B.C., according to the 2019 Dirty Money report. 
    However, the high degree of concentration of ownership of West Coast fisheries licences and quota—a set share of allowable catch—revealed during research for the report was “alarming,” German said. As was the degree of ownership by foreign entities and non-citizens. 
    The top four “visible” owners of quota in the groundfish trawl, halibut and sablefish fisheries are foreign entities or individuals who don’t work the deck of fishing boats but own up to half of the B.C.’s quota for those species, the report concluded. Its findings were based on interviews and data from Ecotrust, a public policy group focused on the well-being of rural communities that also presented to FOPO earlier in May. 
    Owners of commercial fishing licences in B.C. are listed in a registry but often as numbered companies, which makes determining who owns or controls the licence difficult, the report said. 
    This protects licence-holders from public scrutiny. On the Pacific coast, there are also no citizenship or residential conditions or vetting of the buyers or the money used to purchase licences, quota or even fishing boats (which can all value into millions of dollars). 
    Money-laundering concerns aren’t as prevalent on the East Coast because the federal government has regulations that limit ownership of commercial licences to local fish harvesters who operate their vessels, German said. 
    As a result of B.C.’s money-laundering investigations, the Province has created a landowner transparency registry to curb money laundering in real estate, German noted. The federal government is also in the process of developing a public corporate ownership registry to tackle money laundering, tax evasion and prevent the funding of terrorist groups. 
    “The same should apply to the fisheries,” German stressed.
    “We cannot simply allow our fisheries to be sold to unknown persons using unsourced funds.” 
    Establishing laws or mechanisms to prevent money laundering will be ineffective unless dedicated staff and funds are also deployed, he added. 
    “It's a case of having enforcement agencies that are resourced and enabled and prioritize this type of work.” 
    Transactions involving fishing licences, quota and boat sales also don’t have to be filed with FINTRAC, the federal intelligence agency monitoring suspicious financial activity, German added.
    “This is regrettable, as it eliminates an important source of intelligence for investigators seeking to ensure that the fisheries are not being used by organized crime,” German said. 
    “Dirty money must be laundered and it will inevitably move to areas of less resistance.” 
    The committee asked German for further detail on the possible links between quota ownership and money laundering uncovered during his investigation. 
    “[There] was an individual who had purchased a large number of quotas and was also a whale gambler in our casinos,” German said, adding that alone doesn’t demonstrate a connection to organized crime. 
    “That’s not a conclusion that we could draw,” he said.
    However, the example highlights potential concerns when the provenance of money used to purchase fisheries and quota—or any other commodity—is vague and unknown, German said. 
    It’s a problem faced in various sectors, including the sale of luxury cars or boats, he said, adding unvetted funds were at the root of B.C.'s casino money-laundering debacle, which ultimately prompted stricter rules in the gambling sector. 
    “Is the source of funds legitimate?” German asked. 
    “Or are the fisheries being used as part of a broader attempt to invest money obtained through crime, or avoiding overseas capital controls or evading taxes?” 
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer.

    Matteo Cimellaro
    “When our title is claimed or staked away without our consent, it erodes our governance. And then when there’s environmental destruction, it erodes our way of life.”
    —Linda Innes, elected chief councillor of the Gitxaała Nation
    AN ONLINE FORM AND $58.75.
    That is what it takes to claim a mining stake in the traditional territory of the Gitxaała Nation, according to a written submission to the B.C. Supreme Court. At no point in the process does the mining claim, accessed through a provincial portal, ask the individual or company applying for it to consult with the nation. 
    For this reason, the Gitxaała Nation is challenging B.C.'s Mineral Tenure Act in a case that will test whether the province's legal commitment to recognizing the rights of Indigenous Peoples has the teeth to change laws. 

    Community members of the Gitxaała Nation stand in front of the B.C. Supreme Court on Friday, May 19, 2023. Photo supplied by West Coast Environmental Law.
    Located on the northern coast of British Columbia, the nation bases its legal challenge on the province’s 2019 Declaration of Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (DRIPA), which enshrines the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in B.C. law. DRIPA was the first law in Canada to adopt the international declaration outlining the rights of Indigenous Peoples around the world. 
    It’s also a case to watch across the country, given the similarity of language between DRIPA and the federal bill that enshrined UNDRIP into law in 2021.
    “Presumably, it would be very persuasive to other courts, considering the federal legislation,” said Jessica Clogg, one of the lawyers representing the Gitxaała Nation. 
    B.C.’s Mineral Tenure Act was passed during the Gold Rush in the late 1800s and remains a colonial carryover, Clogg said. It’s hardly changed; in fact, it has become easier for mining claims to be made. In the past, free miners would have to physically put a stake in the ground to be authorized by the Crown. Now, with a few clicks on an online portal, stakes can be made from the comfort of a desk, Clogg explained. 
    It’s like Amazon for mining claims, but instead, it’s even “easier,” Clogg said. “It’s automatic, you don’t even have to wait for delivery.” 
    The Gitxaała Nation argues the Crown fails to consult with the Gitxaała Nation when issuing these mining claims. The court challenge comes on the heels of the 2015 Yellow Giant Mine tailings breach, in which wastewater flowed into a nearby creek for six weeks. Samples of the water exceeded health guidelines for arsenic, lead and mercury, among other contaminants. The spill has resulted in $2 million worth of cleanup costs. The mining company responsible went bankrupt, and the site has still not been remediated, according to the Gitxaała Nation’s written submissions to the court. 
    A large portion of the written submission from the Gitxaała stresses the importance of the traditional laws of the nation, ayaawx. Linda Innes, elected chief councillor of the Gitxaała Nation, repeats a word used by the Elders of the community regarding those traditional laws: łhumts, or respect, which the province has breached in the nation-to-nation relationship by not obtaining free, prior and informed consent from the nation to grant mining claims.

    A screenshot of a map that was included in the Gitxaała Nation’s written submission to the court. Photo supplied by the Gitxaała Nation.
    Innes describes seeing old, empty oil barrels, trash and other litter around her territory from mining exploration. In 2015, the community was unable to harvest after the Yellow Giant Mine tailings breach. Without harvesting, the community is unable to hold its ceremonial feast, which is one of the most important ceremonies for the traditional laws and language transfer of the Gitxaała nation. 

    A screenshot from the Gitxaała Nation's written submission. The photo is of the Yellow Giant Mine in 2022. The site has still not been remediated. Photo supplied by the Gitxaała Nation.
    “When our title is claimed or staked away without our consent, it erodes our governance. And then when there’s environmental destruction, it erodes our way of life.”
    Innes described her territory as beautiful. On any given day, you’ll see the whales around Banks Island, or lax k’naga dzol. 
    “It's a live place to be,” Innes said.
    Matteo Cimellaro is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, funded by the Government of Canada, working with Canada's National Observer.

    Rochelle Baker
    Birders and biologists are pushing the B.C. government to increase the size and amount of wildlife habitat areas in Vancouver Island old-growth forests to save the threatened marbled murrelet.
    BIRDERS AND BIOLOGISTS are banding together to urge the B.C. government to protect ancient forests on southwestern Vancouver Island in a bid to save threatened marbled murrelet nesting sites. 
    Around a dozen citizen scientists are documenting the rare robin-sized seabird, which raises its young in old-growth forest found in tree farm licence (TFL) 46, which includes the Fairy Creek region near Port Renfrew, said team leader and avid birder Royann Petrell. 
    The Fairy Creek region was at the centre of a series of long-standing old-growth logging blockades a couple years ago, with police making more than a thousand arrests at the site. The conflict peaked in the summer of 2021 and is believed to be the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
    The team of birders has documented murrelets on more than 300 occasions in and around the Fairy Creek watershed, and recorded another 75 sightings in the Gordon and Camper Creek watersheds during the summer nesting season in 2021, Petrell said. 
    The citizen scientists, backed by four murrelet experts on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border, are pushing the province to protect 996 hectares of old-growth from logging to enlarge or create new wildlife habitat area (WHAs) for the birds, which lay a single egg on large moss-covered branches of massive coniferous trees. 
    The proposal submitted in December suggests adding 828 hectares to an existing 603-hectare murrelet habitat area in Fairy Creek to protect nearly all the watershed as well as contiguous forests. The plan also proposes a new 168-hectare WHA in the Gordon and Camper watersheds.

    Map detailing proposed expansions and creation of new wildlife habitat areas to preserve marbled murrelets in TFL 46 on Vancouver Island. 
    Petrell, a retired University of British Columbia scientist who lives in the Comox Valley, visited Fairy Creek out of curiosity in 2021 when the blockades were underway, but never participated in the protests. During her initial visit, she heard western screech owls on several occasions and was motivated to discover what other species at risk of extinction existed in the region. 
    Over time and after she documented murrelets, more and more avian enthusiasts came on board, she said.

    Dr. Royann Petrell (right) and citizen scientists examine images taken in unprotected forest in the Walbran Valley. (Photo: Deborah Freeman)
    “We’re birders, not blockaders,” Petrell said. “We started recording [the murrelets] for proof, and more and more people joined me in doing it.” 
    Petrell said she noticed the province’s digital mapping system didn’t include data on murrelets in Fairy Creek, so she decided she had better register her findings. 
    “The system is only useful if people put information in there,” she said. 
    Forestry companies, such as Teal Cedar, which controls TFL 46, are supposed to determine what threatened species are present in their region when developing logging plans, Petrell said. 
    But wildlife surveys aren’t actually required before logging gets underway, she added. 
    “That disturbed me,” Petrell said. 
    “I said to myself, if surveys aren’t required, I’d better do it because there is so little old-growth forest left.” 
    The province has confirmed it has received the proposed murrelet WHAs submitted by Petrell and her colleagues, but the government has provided no information on whether the proposal will be considered or timelines for a decision on potential action by the province. 
    The marbled murrelet is deemed to be vulnerable on a global scale, with all of Canada’s population found only in B.C. It was first deemed threatened in Canada in 1990, and reconfirmed as such in 2000 and again in 2012. The bird was registered under the federal Species at Risk Act in 2003. 
    Yet, the little bird’s plight has only worsened, not improved, over time, Petrell said. 
    The fast-flying birds, reaching speeds over 70 kilometres per hour, spend most of their time on water and feed on small fish near ocean shores but travel long distances inland to nesting sites. 
    Murrelets are secretive and very hard to spot, given they tend to fly in and out of forests in the hours before dawn; they are largely detected by sound or radar surveys, Petrell said. 
    The global population is found along the length of the North Pacific coast, but it is estimated to be between 263,000 and 841,000 birds, at least 50,000 of which are in Canada.
    They need tall trees greater than 250 years old because fledglings in particular aren’t great fliers and need a high jumping-off point and be able to avoid other trees to remain airborne, Petrell said. 
    Marbled murrelets nest on wide branches, high above the forest floor, and lay only one egg. (Photo: Peter Halasz)
    “They have just one chance,” she said. 
    “If they touch the ground, they can’t get up because their legs are not suitable for walking on land,” she said. 
    The greatest danger to the birds is the continued habitat loss of old-growth forests, estimated to be declining by more than 20 per cent for the last three generations of the birds. Other cumulative threats include increased shipping in coastal waters, being caught in fishing nets, and changing marine conditions. 
    The murrelets’ most recent protection plan, created in 2021, now outlines the need to also protect critical marine and terrestrial habitats. 
    But despite the birds’ long-standing threatened status, projected population losses are expected to exceed 30 per cent over the next three generations of the species. 
    Using the province’s latest 2019 murrelet habitat maps, Petrell has found there is a mismatch between the older, established wildlife habitat areas in TFL 46. On average, only 25 per cent of existing WHAs contain suitable nesting habitats. 
    The creation of the two new WHAs would help save a larger proportion of the old-growth nesting trees, she said. 
    A number of eminent conservation biologists—including Peter Arcese, who helped create previous murrelet recovery plans, and U.S. researcher Martin Raphael, who tracked birds south of the border migrating to the Fairy Creek forests—support the proposed wildlife areas, Petrell noted. 
    There is no valid rationale for continuing to cut old-growth stands on Vancouver Island, said Arcese, a forestry professor at the University of British Columbia, in a statement.
    “Because [their] habitat is extremely rare in B.C., every additional site that is lost reduces the likelihood that marbled murrelets will continue to persist in our region,” he said. 
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, funded by the Government of Canada, working with Canada’s National Observer.

    Judith Lavoie
    Climate change, collapsing runs, and severe imbalance in fisheries are leading to calls for changes to the Pacific Salmon Treaty and even consumer boycotts.
    TAKE A HARD LOOK at that frozen sockeye salmon in the supermarket freezer marked “sustainably caught in Alaska.”
    There’s a good chance the fish was heading home to B.C. spawning grounds when caught by Alaskan fishers and, with many B.C. salmon runs struggling to survive, the claim of sustainability is questionable, even though Alaskan salmon is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.
    “Alaska is increasingly taking a larger percentage of the total catch while [Canada is] curtailing its own fisheries to account for the decline,” said David Mills, Watershed Watch Salmon Society wild salmon and watersheds campaigner.
    Watershed Watch, a non-profit advocacy organization that promotes wild salmon and watershed conservation, estimates a startling 2.1 million fish of Canadian origin were caught in the Southeast Alaskan fishery in 2022, with most caught by the net fishery on the outside waters of the Alaskan Panhandle.
    It is infuriating that, this year, Alaska is closing the fishery on the inside waters of the Alaska Panhandle because of conservation concerns, but the fishery will go ahead on the outside waters, Mills said. “Data has shown that 97 percent of those fish are not from Alaska,” he said.
    As part of the campaign to reduce Alaskan interceptions of B.C. salmon, conservation groups plan to take the case to consumers in Canada and the U.S.
    “If Alaska’s fishery managers aren’t willing to change their behaviour, we’re going straight to their customers,” Mills said.
    The interceptions affect communities as diverse as Revelstoke, Kispiox, Port Alberni and Duncan according to Watershed Watch and SkeenaWild Conservation Trust, which have created an interactive map showing species of salmon intercepted and their home waters.
    The 2022 figures follow a technical report on the 2021 fishery, commissioned by Watershed Watch and SkeenaWild, with numbers compiled from genetic tests and information from the Pacific Salmon Commission, which found fishers in Southeast Alaska caught 800,000 sockeye and an unknown number of chinook and steelhead which are regarded as bycatch. Unlike in the Canadian fishery, Alaskans are not required to report bycatch.

    The 2021 fishery took place at a time when First Nations were not able to fulfill their food fishery quotas and 60 per cent of commercial fishing in B.C. was shut down because of low fish numbers.
    The total sockeye catch in B.C. that year was 110,000 fish. The federal government, looking at severely depleted salmon runs, initiated a fishing licence buy-back program as part of the $647-million Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative.
    Killer whales may get a break
    A recent ruling by a U.S. federal judge could help the situation, but is not sufficient to address the issue. Heralded as a lifesaver for the Southern Resident Killer Whales by the Wild Fish Conservancy, the ruling effectively closes the Southeast Alaska commercial troll fishery, which catches Chinook off the Alaska panhandle. Chinook are considered essential prey for Southern Resident Killer Whales and scientists have concluded lack of food is one of the major reasons the population is struggling.
    U.S. District Judge Richard Jones vacated permits for the fishery after finding that the fishery takes food from endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales and that plans by the National Marine Fisheries Service to prevent salmon from overfishing and protect the endangered whales were too vague.
    Jones concluded that the fishing permits violate the Endangered Species Act by not mitigating the impacts of the fishery and ordered NMFS to rewrite plans for managing the fishery.
    The court ruling came after the Wild Fish Conservancy sued the National Marine Fisheries Service, arguing that the remaining 73 whales need more Chinook salmon if they are to survive.
    Emma Helverson, Wild Fish Conservancy executive director, stated in a news release, “This court decision is the largest victory for the Southern Resident Killer Whales in decades and will be celebrated internationally.”
    “What’s more, by allowing far more wild Chinook to return home to their spawning grounds, this action is also helping to recover and restore wild Chinook from rivers throughout Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, essential to rebuilding both populations in the long term,” she said.
    The ruling is being appealed by the State of Alaska and the Alaska Trollers Association and it is unclear whether the summer fishery will go ahead while the appeals are pending.
    Alaska Governor Michael Dunleavy said Alaska will not tolerate the suspension of its fisheries while other West Coast fisheries “equally or more impactful to killer whales” remain open.
    “If this decision sticks, we will be looking at having all fisheries that affect these killer whales being treated equally under the law,” he said in a news release.
    Amy Daugherty, Alaska Trollers Association executive director has argued that science shows the main reasons for the declining numbers of Southern Resident Killer Whales are habitat loss, such as B.C.’s industrialization of the Stikine and Fraser rivers, pollution, vessel noise and dams—not the small boat troll fishery.
    A new treaty is what’s really needed
    While Alaska, B.C., Oregon and Washington State all harvest salmon hatched in other areas, the high numbers of Alaskan interceptions are fuelling calls for the Pacific Salmon Commission to look at re-opening sections of the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The treaty, dating back to 1985, is not due to be renegotiated until 2028/29.
    The Commission, with representatives from the U.S. and Canada, oversees the treaty, which is designed to manage interceptions of fish and ensure both countries receive benefits equal to the production of salmon in their waters.
    While Canadian conservation groups say Alaska is not sticking to the spirit of the treaty, Alaskans point out that the state is not breaking any rules.

    So that means it is time to change the rules, say critics, including some B.C. First Nations who say the treaty no longer reflects reality as communities struggle to find enough fish for food and ceremonial purposes.
    The Tsilhqot’in Nation is calling on Canada to initiate an independent review of the treaty and for the contentious District 104 fishery, which catches mixed salmon stocks on the outside waters of the Alaskan Panhandle, to be closed.
    Chief Joe Alphonse, Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chair, said it is outrageous that Alaskans are intercepting fish bound for Tsilhqot’in Title Lands.
    “What we are seeing here is nothing less than economic interests trumping major impacts to the wellbeing of the Tsilhqot’in  people,” he said in a news release.
    Nathan Cullen, provincial Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship, whose Stikine riding encompasses iconic salmon rivers such as the Sheena and Nass, frequently gets an earful from constituents about the problem, but the Province’s role is limited as marine fisheries are the responsibility of the federal government. 
    Staff and politicians have discussed the problem with U.S counterparts and Cullen is encouraged that, as federal Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray is passionate about saving wild fish, Canada is will be more assertive at the negotiating table. 
    “The fish don’t wait for 10 years if there’s a problem… The fish move, they don’t carry passports and we have a strong interest in having a good cohesive strategy,” said Cullen adding that wild salmon are iconic to Americans and Canadians and it makes sense for both countries to work together on targeted protections.
    “We are all in this together. We all live downstream of someone else… It doesn’t help if (Alaska) is intercepting 70 to 80 per cent of vulnerable stocks,” Cullen said.
    Interceptions are not the only problem affecting wild salmon. B.C. comes in for heavy criticism for habitat loss due to logging, mining and development. Alaskans point to ongoing concern over B.C. mines on the Alaskan border, some with tailings ponds above Alaska’s most productive salmon rivers, and the continued failure of B.C to clean up the defunct Tulsequah Chief mine which has been leaching toxic acid mine discharge into surrounding waterways for decades. 
    Cullen said changes are underway on this front with the $100-million provincial watershed protection program. “We have stepped up our game significantly in the last little while,” he said.
    Federal Fisheries Minister Murray was not available for comment, but Fisheries and Oceans Canada, in a carefully-worded statement in answer to questions from Focus, said both Canada and the U.S. catch salmon originating from each other’s country and the goal of the treaty is sustainability and conservation of less abundant stocks.
    “Canadian-origin sockeye salmon caught in southeast Alaskan fisheries are primarily captured incidentally in fisheries specifically targeting U.S-origin pink salmon and there are a number of treaty provisions intended to limit sockeye interceptions for specific populations (e.g. Skeena and Nass sockeye,)” says the e-mailed DFO statement.
    But safeguards put in place years ago may no longer be working.
    For example, there are limits on the outer panhandle fisheries until late July to protect sockeye returning to the Nass and Skeena rivers, but those runs have been getting later in the season, meaning fish are swimming through Alaskan waters as the fishery is in full swing.
    While Canadian commissioners believe later returns demonstrate changing conditions, Alaskan commissioners argue that later runs during the last seven years do not necessarily indicate a trend.
    Climate change is making it difficult to accurately predict salmon abundance each year and, while some stocks have record low abundance, others have record high numbers, according to DFO
    So, should both countries consider renegotiating the treaty through the lens of climate change and collapsing runs?
    One point of agreement between the U.S. and Canada is that more information and data is needed before taking drastic steps.
    Ongoing scientific work will help better understand environmental changes and impacts on salmon, said DFO, stopping short of demanding changes.
    “This information will help to inform future management responses including where renegotiation of current treaty provisions may be required in the future,” DFO said.
    John Field, Pacific Salmon Commission executive secretary, said although the treaty is renegotiated every 10 years, annual performance reviews allow for interim changes and the panhandle fishery interceptions were discussed earlier this year.
    While both countries agree that Alaska is adhering to the terms of the treaty and there is little argument about the number of fish caught, there is disagreement on whether interceptions pose a long-term threat to Nass and Skeena sockeye and Chinook, and whether the late run timings are a blip or a long-term trend, Field said.
    “Alaska continues to state that their harvest rates are not posing a threat to the long-term survival of B.C. salmon, whereas the Canadian delegation believes it is a point of concern,” Field said.
    Each country has four delegates and four alternates on the commission, but decisions come down to one vote from each country.
    “It’s like a marriage when you have two spouses disagreeing on how to tackle a problem. You just keep negotiating and figure out a solution that’s acceptable to both,” Field said.
    “It’s not rocket science, it’s much, much harder,” he said.
    Alaska Department of Fish and Game fishery scientist Dani Evenson said the treaty may not be perfect, but it is the best mechanism available for balancing conservation and fisheries.
    “Just about every fishery subject to the treaty is an interception fishery. If there were no interceptions we wouldn’t need this treaty,”  Evenson said.
    “Is it a perfect mechanism? No. When you’re dealing with fish, it never goes according to plan. . .  it’s imperfect science, but it’s the best we have,” she said.
    For example, it is particularly complicated when it comes to Chinook as populations from Oregon, Washington and B.C feed in the Gulf of Alaska and, as they return to their home rivers, fish run a gauntlet of fisheries and predators with Alaska first in line, Evenson said.
    “That’s by far and away the most complicated part of the treaty because it affects us all and covers such a large area and so many jurisdictions,” she said. There are occasional miscalculations when people further down the line do not get the number of fish they were expecting, but pointing fingers is not helpful, Evenson said.
    For conservation-oriented organizations such as Watershed Watch, however, the bottom line is that, in the face of climate change and poor ocean survival, fisheries problems must be addressed. The data makes clear “significant Alaskan exploitation on many BC populations” of salmon. 
    “All of us live in communities that are in a race to conserve dwindling salmon stocks like Chinook and sockeye and all of us are seeing a higher percentage of the catch ending up in Alaska’s nets,” Mills said.
    For more information about the campaign to protect BC’s wild salmon and a link to the report on Alaska’s role, see here.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world and Indigenous issues, along with the politics around them.

    Rochelle Baker
    A new study shows the many reasons—from carbon sequestration and absorption of excess nitrogen and phosphorus to biodiversity preservation—of maintaining healthy kelp forests.
    UNDERWATER FORESTS represent an average of $500 billion annually in benefits to commercial fisheries, ocean pollution removal and carbon absorption, a new international study shows.
    The study is the first to examine the value of kelp’s ocean canopies — found along a third of the world’s shores and on all three of Canada’s coasts, said Canadian co-author Margot Hessing-Lewis, a researcher with the Hakai Institute and the University of British Columbia. 

    Scientist Margot Hessing-Lewis contributed to an international study that found the economic value of the ocean’s kelp forests is equivalent to the GDP of Sweden.
    Kelp forests — with a value equal to Sweden’s annual GDP — are worth about three times more than previously thought. The study provides initial baseline estimates, which are highly conservative, Hessing-Lewis said, noting other economic factors, such as the seaweed’s value as a food source, in pharmaceutical or medical applications or for boosting tourism, weren’t evaluated. 
    Researchers analyzed the distribution of six of the most common kelp forests in eight ocean regions, including fish and seafood surveys, the market value and harvest rates of commercial species as well as the uptake of nitrogen and carbon. 
    The study helps quantify a growing understanding of the importance of healthy kelp forests beyond their vital role in supporting regional biodiversity, she said. 
    “These values are really helpful for policy decision-making or a cost-benefit analysis around the restoration or preservation of kelp systems,” Hessing-Lewis said, adding without such economic evaluation, there’s the risk of undervaluing kelp. 
    As the climate crisis advances, a lot of recent research is focused on kelp forests’ role as a carbon sink, she said. The recent study estimates kelp forests collectively remove at least 4.91 megatonnes of carbon from the planet’s atmosphere each year — the equivalent of Croatia’s annual carbon emissions. 
    Kelp values for fisheries and pollution greater than carbon sequestration
    It is somewhat surprising that kelp’s benefits for fisheries production and the absorption of excess nitrogen and phosphorus in the ocean due to human activity have more significant economic values, Hessing-Lewis noted. 
    “Everyone is talking about kelp and its role in carbon sequestration, but the potential fisheries yield is actually way higher,” she said. “Even the nutrient filtration piece provides more value to kelp than carbon [services].” 
    Nitrogen and phosphorus occur naturally, but excess amounts running off the land from fertilizer use, farmed animal waste, sewage or other human pollution find their way to the ocean. 
    Once there, this “nutrient pollution” acts like fertilizer that can spur the rapid growth of algae — including some types toxic to marine life — which consumes large amounts of oxygen that can also kill animals such as crabs, oysters or fish.
    The value of kelp averaged $73,000 per hectare annually for the uptake of nitrogen and $29,000 per hectare in supporting commercial fisheries, the study said.
    However, the specific value amounts for the beneficial services varied according to kelp types and the ocean regions studied, Hessing-Lewis noted.  

    Map of kelp’s economic value in ocean regions around the world. 
    While the B.C. coast features more than 30 different species of kelp, the most dominant kinds of kelp (Laminaria) were studied, including sugar, giant and bull kelp (Saccharina, iMacrocystis and Nereocystis) on North America’s Pacific coast.  
    Kelp’s highest values for commercial fisheries along the Pacific coast are tied to invertebrates like sea cucumbers, sea urchins and abalone, rather than fish, Hessing-Lewis said. 
    But overall, the kelp values for fisheries in the Pacific region are significant at the global scale. 
    “They’re not top-end but mid-range, and even in B.C., the fish value for kelp is quite high.” 
    Despite the benefits kelp provides, the seaweed forests are withering due to climate change and large marine heat waves on the West Coast in recent years. 
    Having more information on the economic benefits of kelp will encourage governments and communities to protect or restore important areas and include them in future marine conservation sites so the underwater forests stay resilient as the ocean gets warmer, Hessing-Lewis said. 
    The research may prompt new marine management, sustainable development and conservation strategies worldwide, like establishing a credit system for offsetting emissions, said lead author Aaron Eger at the University of New South Wales in Australia. 
    The study isn’t aimed at commodifying kelp forests, Eger said, but highlights the need for more investment in their preservation. 
    “Putting the dollar value on these systems is an exercise to help us understand one measure of their immense value,” Eger said. 
    “It’s important to remember these forests also have an intrinsic, historical, cultural and social value in their own right.”
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative (LJI) reporter with Canada’s National Observer. The LJI is funded by the Government of Canada.

    Rochelle Baker
    Styrofoam, used widely by the marine industry, breaks up into micro plastic beads, and kills wildlife all over BC’s coasts.
    LIGHT, BUOYANT AND CHEAP, polystyrene foam is commonly used for docks, buoys, pontoons at marinas and other water activities throughout Canada. 
    But the plastic, oil-based product is causing a wave of pollution in oceans and waters across the country, says BC NDP MP Rachel Blaney. 
    The federal government needs to ban the use of expanded polystyrene (ESP) and extruded polystyrene (XP), commonly known as Styrofoam, in floating structures in both freshwater and saltwater, said Blaney, the MP for North Island-Powell River.
    Polystyrene foam never breaks down, but degrades into thousands of small puffed plastic fragments that travel long distances and are extremely hazardous to aquatic environments, she said. 
    “It’s just so harmful to our beaches, fish in the ocean and to wildlife on the shores,” Blaney said, adding polystyrene foam is a top complaint from communities in her riding involved in coastal cleanups. 
    “As it breaks into those smaller and smaller microbeads, it’s absolutely impossible to clean up,” she said. 
    “It’s crazy to think in this country that we’re putting foam into the water purposefully — we shouldn’t be doing that.”


    BC NDP MP Rachel Blaney has tabled a motion to ban polystyrene foams when building aquatic infrastructure to prevent a tide of plastic pollution. (Photo submitted)
    Blaney has tabled a motion to ban the use of polystyrene foams to build floating structures and phase out their use in existing ones and has partnered with ocean conservation groups, including Surfrider Canada, on a letter-writing campaign supporting the ban. 
    The federal government included Styrofoam takeout containers when it launched the phaseout of six single-use plastic items in December, Blaney noted.  
    “But there’s just so much more that they could do,” she said, adding it’s not just a coastal issue. 
    “It’s everywhere. Communities across Canada that are inland are having their lakes, rivers and waterways being polluted.” 
    After Blaney submitted a petition to Parliament in the summer calling for a ban, the federal government said it wasn’t looking at prohibiting polystyrene foam in marine ecosystems. However, Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault noted Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) had new regulations obliging shellfish growers to encase any foam floats in hard plastic shells.
    Blaney said while the government doesn’t see the need for further action, coastal communities do. 
    “We see the need,” she said. “I see it all the time in my constituency on the beaches and in the water, so that doesn’t work for me.”
    Banning foam floats a ’no-brainer’

    Even if community volunteers remove large chunks of polystyrene foam from beaches, the most destructive microplastic puffs remain. (Photo by Quadra Island Beach Clean Dream Team)

    Banning the use of polystyrene foam in aquatic infrastructure is a quick and relatively easy way to make a positive impact on marine ecosystems, said Peter Ross, senior scientist and director of water pollution at the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
    “It’s an easy fix, especially when there are alternative materials available. It should be a no-brainer,” Ross said. 
    The degradation of foam, either over time or set loose by stormy weather, is a chronic source of pollution and causes harm to animals that feed along the shore or on the surface of the water, like birds, fish, turtles and even marine mammals feeding or coming up for air, he said. This can lead to starvation or blockages that can eventually kill an animal, he said. 
    “These microplastics float, which is a little bit different than many other plastics,” he said. 
    “When you’ve got these tiny white things floating around, many, many species are going to mistake them for food.” 
    And if the plastic foam beads are “biofouled” — darkened and covered with algae, bacteria, plankton or other organic matter after being in the water for an extended period of time — it’s going to mimic food to an even greater degree, Ross added. 
    “Then it really starts to resemble, and even taste, like natural food,” he said. 
    “It really brings up the risk of surreptitious consumption by some poor creature that thinks it’s actually something nutritious.” 
    Stopping the flow of plastics before they enter waterways and oceans is the most effective way to tackle the scope of the problem, Ross said, adding technology and cleanups can’t keep pace with the amount of pollution entering the ocean. 
    Foam pollution demoralizing for cleanup volunteers  

    Members of BC’s Clean Coast, Clean Waters beach cleanup in the Discovery Islands collect polystyrene foam for transport. (Photo courtesy of Spirit of the West Adventures)
    Quadra Island resident Nevil Hand, who organizes regular beach cleanups in his community, agreed. 
    Large or small, cleaning up foam is especially difficult, said the retired firefighter who organizes the Quadra Island Beach Clean Dream Team. 
    In November, community volunteers cleaned up the island’s beaches, and within a month, winter storms had erased any sign the teams had been there, he said. 
    “This winter, it seemed like an entire marina exploded to the south of us,” he said. 
    “We’ve got big pieces of dock flotation here this year in amounts we’ve never seen before.” 
    Clean team volunteers, now holding a spring cleanup contest, have been stacking up foam debris at beach trailheads for pick up, Hand said, adding it’s unsettling to see how much there is. 
    “Foam is so fragile. It’s disgusting the way it breaks up so easily along our shores,” he said. 
    Some volunteers just found a 12-foot-long piece of foam that they hope will dry out in the coming weeks so they can remove it. 
    “The problem is we can only really deal with the bigger pieces,” he said. 
    “Even then, when we’re handling it, it’s breaking up in our hands and we’re making even more of a mess.” 
    It’s demoralizing because the small pieces are the most destructive to the environment, he added. 
    “That’s what the birds and the fish are going to ingest and [it] will harm our wildlife with stomach poisonings and who knows what.” 
    The environmental costs are high because people and marine industries want to continue using cheap materials, Hand said. 
    “We don’t want to see it used in the marine environment. It just doesn’t belong here.” 
    Rochelle Baker is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Canada’s National Observer. Local Journalism Initiative reports are licensed under Creative Commons. (Top photo courtesy of  Spirit of the West Adventures)

    Judith Lavoie
    Calls for truth, justice and even forgiveness as Tseshaht First Nation reveals painful history at Alberni Indian Residential School.
    AFTER YEARS OF SEXUAL and physical abuse at Alberni Indian Residential School, Willie Blackwater was a mess.
    “I was a chronic alcoholic and drug addict for many, many years,” said Blackwater, a Gitxsan First Nations hereditary chief, who spent almost 10 years at the notorious school.
    Now, after years of healing, Blackwater hopes to help others deal with the devastating information, released last week by Tseshaht First Nation, that researchers have documented 67 children who died while at the school. In addition, surveys using ground-penetrating radar have found 17 potential unmarked graves.
    It is not an unexpected discovery, and researchers, who poured over documents and listened to the accounts of survivors, believe the full number of children who died at the school and the number of graves may never be known.
    “The number you see is a minimum,” said archaeological geophysics expert Brian Whiting from the company GeoScan, which conducted ground scans in the rough terrain on Tseshaht land outside Port Alberni.
    The evidence of graves is indirect, meaning there are geophysical anomalies that could indicate graves, Whiting said. “We don’t see human remains,” he said, explaining that only exhumation could categorically show whether bodies are buried in the area.
    Only about 12 hectares of the 100-hectare property have been scanned and Tseshaht First Nation wants the federal government and the United and Presbyterian churches to help pay for continuing research.
    Two years ago, 215 possible burial sites were found at Kamloops Indian Residential School and, since then, several other First Nations have undertaken the grim task of trying to uncover the truth about deaths at schools where children were taken after being forcibly removed from their families and communities.
    FOR YEARS, survivors have talked about horrors at Alberni Indian Residential School, ranging from rapes and beatings to secretive burials, human bones found in the grounds and fetuses thrown into a furnace, but hearing the stories validated, has been hard, said elected chief councillor Wahmeesh (Ken Watts).
    “Some of our community members are struggling, triggered by what we’ve shared. It’s what they have always known, but to hear it, to verify what they have been saying and what survivors have been telling us—they have had a difficult day,” Wahmeesh said in an interview.
    At a ceremony rooted in Indigenous culture, Wahmeesh said Tseshaht First Nation is committed to uncovering the truth and survivors did not want the stories sanitized.

    Tseshaht First Nation elected chief councillor Wahmeesh (Ken Watts)

    It was tough to talk about topics such as the incinerator, “but survivors made it clear that I shouldn’t hold back and should be truthful about those young women who became pregnant and lost their babies,” he said.
    Children at the school not only suffered abuse and neglect, but were also unwitting guinea pigs in medical and nutritional experiments.
    In the 1940s and 1950s some children were denied adequate milk or dentistry care. Outcomes of such deprivations were compared to those who had been given care, vitamins and minerals.
    The experiments came to light in 2013 when University of Guelph food historian Ian Mosby published a report on the experiments. 
    The children were already underfed and living in poor conditions and survivors say they continue to suffer from the effects of malnutrition or having teeth removed.
    Sheri Meding, lead researcher working with survivors to identify children who died at the school and the likely cause of their deaths, said conditions at the school were inadequate and unhealthy and medical conditions accounted for most of the deaths.
    “There were many deaths in the pre-1920s, but the poor conditions at the school continued until the 1940s and 1950s,” she said.

    The research was made more difficult because some children were sent to three Indian hospitals in locations such as Nanaimo, Sardis and Prince Rupert and records have been difficult to access, Meding said.
    Others were simply sent home to die, so, again, records are almost non-existent.
    There are many more horrific stories that could be shared, Wahmeesh said. “But, I wanted Canadians to get a sense of what some of these children have been through,” he said, emphasizing that the victims were children who had been forcibly removed from their homes.
    “I want you to think about that. What would happen if children who were five years old were removed from their homes. That’s the reality that our communities have to live with,” Wahmeesh said.
    The First Nation wants an investigation, by an independent body approved by Tseshaht, of the RCMP’s role in removing children from their homes and also looking at whether the RCMP ignored reports of abuse or deaths.
    “The RCMP should not be investigating themselves…If they were going to do it, it should have been a long time ago when they had reports coming to them about students dying at residential schools and they did nothing about it,” Wahmeesh said.
    “I hope people really heard the calls for justice. One of our survivors said that if nothing happens out of this and nobody’s held accountable, then what was the point of doing all the work,” he said.
    “We can’t just get over it, because it takes more than one generation to get over 150 years of colonization and abuse of our people,” he said.
    WILLIE BLACKWATER was taken from his home in Kispiox and sent to the school in the mid-1960s. When he left the school, he was dislocated from his family and struggled with uncontrollable anger. 
    It took years before he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Then, helped by intensive work with a psychiatrist, he slowly came to embrace the concept of trying to forgive. Since then, he has struggled to minimize the impacts on future generations.

    Willie Blackwater, a Gitxsan First Nations hereditary chief, spent almost 10 years at Alberni Indian Residential School where he was sexually and physically abused.

    “He [the psychiatrist] helped me understand it wasn’t my fault and I can either carry it with me for the rest of my life or accept the fact that it happened and learn how to help others,” said Blackwater, who has developed a grief and loss program for others struggling with the after-effects of residential school.
    “One of the key things I have learned is, when you are helping others, you’re actually healing yourself,” said Blackwater, who also has the satisfaction of knowing his decision to speak out sent one of the most infamous offenders to jail.
    Blackwater was the chief plaintiff in a historic 1995 court case which saw dormitory supervisor Arthur Henry Plint jailed for 11 years for assaulting 16 Indigenous boys between the ages of six and 13. BC Supreme Court Justice Douglas Hogarth described the residential school system as “institutionalized paedophilia” and branded Plint a sexual terrorist.
    It was a victory, but, even though it prompted an RCMP investigation of other BC residential schools, the trial received limited publicity because Plint pleaded guilty.
    So, with more than two dozen other former residential school residents, Blackwater launched a civil suit against the United Church and the federal government. The United Church operated the school from 1925 to 1969 when government took over until its closure in 1973. 
    A Supreme Court of Canada decision that both the church and government were responsible for the abuse of children in their care was a foundation of the $2.9-billion Indian Residential School Settlement Agreement and precipitated apologies by the United Church and then-prime minister Stephen Harper on behalf of the government.
    Plint remained in jail until he died from cancer in 2003, but, before his death, Blackwater did the unthinkable.
    “I needed to go to the penitentiary where Arthur Henry Plint was incarcerated and go there and forgive him in person, so I did that,” he said.
    Forgiveness means letting go of the pain and giving it back to where it belongs, Blackwater explained.
    “I felt like I was walking on cloud nine afterwards,” he said.
    But, for others there are many hurdles before forgiveness becomes a priority.
    NORA MARTIN, who attended the school from 1968 to 1973, remains traumatized about some events and, in addition, remembers stories from her parents and grandparents about children who were beaten or died.
    “We all experienced the same things. The beatings and the experiments done on us,” Martin said.
    But hearing the announcement about the research was, in some ways, cathartic, said Martin who believes more people will now be encouraged to tell their stories.

    Nora Martin attended the Alberni Indian Residential School from 1968 to 1973.

    “I think a lot of people have been terrified to go back and remember all those things that happened to us. I believe that this will give them the courage to come forward,” she said.
    Martin is currently homeless and is in contact with other former residential school students who are dealing with a variety of social issues or addictions.
    “There are a lot of people hurting,” said Martin, who wants a revised and updated apology from the federal government and churches.
    Rt. Reverend Carmen Lansdowne, United Church of Canada moderator, said in an interview that the church is not turning away from the truth and is taking concrete action.
    “We were wrong to participate in this colonial, racist and oppressive system,” said Lansdowne, a member of the Hesquiaht First Nation whose relatives attended residential school. (See the UCC statement here.)
    The church should have listened when, over the decades, there were stories about deaths and burial sites, Lansdowne said.
    Blackwater emphasizes that everyone has their own path to healing but, even though his route is forgiveness, he sometimes has difficulty forgiving the churches and government for their role in residential schools.
    “They knew full well what was going on and the government knew full well what was going on, but they did nothing,” he said. 
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world and Indigenous issues, along with the politics around them.

    Judith Lavoie
    ENGOs demand government prove its aerial wolf shooting is humane—and also condemn it as unethical and illogical.
    MORE THAN 600 PHOTOS AND 14 VIDEOS, believed to show wolves being shot from helicopters by marksmen using semi-automatic rifles, are stashed in provincial government files. 
    The photos are part of the province’s commitment to monitor its wolf cull program, but efforts by environmental and animal rights organizations to gain access to the photos are being stonewalled, despite freedom of information submissions by The Fur-Bearers and Pacific Wild. 
    Government insists that the controversial wolf cull—which began in 2015 in an effort to protect shrinking caribou herds—is ethical, humane and necessary if endangered caribou are to be saved. 
    But no audit of the program has been made public and critics say the photos must be released so British Columbians can judge for themselves if the killings are humane. 
    “The government maintains that its shooting activities are ethical and humane and that the kills are verified by the shooters and independently by a provincial veterinarian. Yet, at the same time, the public is being denied access to records that could verify or challenge such claims,” says an open letter from Pacific Wild sent this month to Minister of Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Nathan Cullen, Forests Minister Bruce Ralston and Premier David Eby. 
    The shootings have been carried out in a secretive manner with little oversight, says the letter from Pacific Wild. 
    “The withholding of pictures and videos of the wolf cull unnecessarily restricts the public’s ability to hold the government to account for the humaneness and ethical aspects of the wolf killings,” it says.

    The BC government has killed over 1500 wolves despite no evidence that it protects caribou (photo by John E. Marriott) 
    It has been a tough slog to get any useful information, Bryce Casavant, Pacific Wild director of conservation intelligence, said in an interview. 
    “I don’t feel that media or NGOs or the public should have to go through the FOI process on this. I think there should be proactive disclosure by the ministry,” Casavant said. 
    The wolf cull program moved from the Forests Ministry to the Ministry of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship last year and that switch was followed by claims that there were no relevant photographic records. 
    Pacific Wild has now received confirmation from the ministry that there are 600 photographs and 14 videos relating to the wolf cull and the organization has paid a $810 fee for government to continue to search its records. 
    “We believe there are more because it’s a requirement under the permits [to take photos]. So, if there are 1,000 dead wolves, there should be 1,000 photos,” Casavant said. 
    An emailed statement from the Water, Land and Resource Stewardship Ministry, in answer to questions from Focus, confirmed that photos are sometimes taken of operations. 
    “Such photos are used strictly by the provincial wildlife veterinarian for assessment purposes and would not be shared publicly,” it said. 
    Since the program started, more than 1,500 wolves have been shot from the air. The program was extended last year for five years, with an expectation that 200 to 300 animals will be killed annually. The 2023 cull, with a budget of $1.7 million, is underway in 13 of BC’s 54 woodland caribou ranges this month. 
    “It can be difficult to predict how many wolves will be removed each year, but this year’s total will likely be less than 200,” said a ministry spokesperson. 
    In 2021/22, government contractors killed 279 wolves at a cost of $1.75 million, which works out to $6,272 per wolf. The total cost since 2015 has risen to more than $6-million. 
    Wolves likely dying slow, painful deaths from aerial shots
    One of the only public videos of wolves being shot by government contractors is a decades-old segment of David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things which shows some of the difficulties of obtaining a clean shot from an aircraft. 
    A question for government would be what has changed since the video was taken and the truthful answer would be “we gave them more bullets,” Casavant said. 
    “The precision element of shooting from an aerial platform is missing. It’s what the army would call spraying and praying,” he said. 
    Inevitably that means wolves are being wounded, rather than killed by a single shot to the head, and many are likely to die slow, painful deaths. 
    “I believe these photos and videos that the ministry has will show that the way it has been taking place is with immense suffering and is not an ethical shooting activity,” Casavant said. 
    There are also questions around what training and permits are needed when civilian contractors are using assault-style rifles from aircraft, he said. 
    “Ethics, morals and the suffering of the animals aside, there are some very serious safety risks with what’s taking place,” he said. 
    Contractors appear to be selected on the basis of having previously done similar jobs, rather than bonafide qualifications, Casavant said. 
    “I think what these records are going to show is that it’s absolute mayhem and chaos,” he said. 
    However, the ministry said shootings are conducted by wildlife contractors who document their training and are then approved by the provincial wildlife veterinarian and the Forests Ministry regional manager. 
    “There is a high level of government oversight during aerial wolf reduction activities with government biologists on board most flights,” says the ministry statement. 
    Hunting-caliber firearms, with semi-automatic actions and five-round magazines, are selected specifically to maximize humaneness, efficiency and effectiveness, and “predator reduction activities” are under continual assessment, it says. 
    Names of contractors and companies are not released because of “previous and ongoing threats to those personnel.” 
    The Fur-Bearers submitted an FOI in September last year asking for documents and photographs submitted to the provincial wildlife veterinarian from “wolf removals” in the Itcha-Ilgachuz and Tweedsmuir-Entiako area and were given 13 pages of emails and contractor reports. 
    When The Fur-Bearers asked about photographs and documentation of the number and placement of shots, the response was that the ministry is currently working on finalizing provincial standards. 
    The Fur-Bearers executive director Lesley Fox, in a letter to the ministry, said documents and photos are essential for the ministry to monitor humaneness and ensure contractors—who are killing BC wildlife on behalf of the government at taxpayers’ expense—are following guidelines. 
    “It is unclear where the problem lies, whether it is contractors failing to report or the ministry failing to monitor. But it is clear there is a problem,” wrote Fox. 
    In the apparent absence of a consistent approach to the collection of kill records, The Fur-Bearers has asked for an immediate cull moratorium and an audit of ministry monitoring and contractors’ adherence to standards and guidelines. 
    Aaron Hofman, The Fur-Bearers director of advocacy and policy, said the organization made Freedom of Information requests to ascertain whether methods used to kill wolves are humane and, as claimed by government, in accordance with euthanasia guidelines. 
    “We submitted a request for photos of wolves killed, as is required in the contractors’ documents. They have to send the photos to the provincial wildlife veterinarian. That’s how they are monitoring humaneness. They want to see how many shots it took to kill a wolf and where in the body these shots were,” Hofman said. 
    According to the guidelines, humane would be one shot to the head, he said. 
    “But the nature of the wolf cull is semi-automatic weapons being shot from helicopters chasing wolves, so we would question the idea that it is a clean shot every time,” Hofman said. 
    BC follows the American Veterinary Medical Association’s guidelines for euthanasia and depopulation of animals and aerial-based shooting avoids the risk of animals other than wolves being killed, according to the ministry statement. 
    The Fur-Bearers were not given photos and have filed a complaint to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner alleging that either government did not do its due diligence or are refusing to provide the photos.
    Pups now being killed
    However, the documents the organization did receive led to the discovery that contractors are killing wolf pups and using pups to lead them to other wolves. 
    In one case, one pup was left alive when seven members of her pack were killed. She was collared and found several weeks later with another pup and then both wolves were killed. 
    “We’ve known they have been using Judas wolves, but now the fact they are using wolf pups is another level of cruelty and inhumaneness,” Hofman said.  
    The ministry disputes the definition of wolf pups.

    BC government documents show that wolf pups are now being killed, as well as used to help eradicate entire packs. (Photo by Paul Paquet)
    “Wolf reduction takes place in the winter when the previous year’s pups are considered sub-adults, nearing full maturity and contributing to the pack’s hunting efforts,” according to the statement. 
    “In some circumstances, an individual wolf from a pack is captured and fitted with a GPS collar. This method provides data to government biologists about wolf movements and pack territories and helps facilitate the removal of entire packs.” 
    Government acknowledges that habitat destruction is the problem
    In addition to growing concerns about the suffering of animals, there are questions about the efficacy of killing wolves and cougars in proximity to caribou herds when government is continuing to approve logging and other activities in caribou critical habitat. 
    “Industrial development, logging, seismic lines—all this development happening in critical caribou habitat is ultimately driving caribou declines. The government acknowledges that too,” Hofman said. 
    A 2021 study found that habitat restoration is key to the survival of mountain caribou herds. 

    Numbers of  woodland caribou in BC have shrunk from 40,000 to 15,500—but habitat destruction (via clearcut logging) is likely more to blame than wolves. (Photo by Conservation North)
    A 2019 study found caribou survival increased with aggressive wolf culls, but also said wolf control cannot continue forever and habitat protection and restoration is key. That study was then challenged by a 2020 paper that concluded wolf control has no effect on caribou survival. 
    The decline in woodland caribou is due to habitat change which has significantly altered predator-prey dynamics and predator culls usually take place in areas impacted by resource extraction, although there are no maps showing the overlap of wolf culls and resource extraction, said the ministry. 
    In those changed and disturbed landscapes, wolves, given easy access on logging roads or seismic lines, are now the primary predator of caribou. 
    “The province has long acknowledged that habitat protection and restoration is crucial for caribou recovery, but habitat protection alone will not allow caribou populations to increase, since currently disturbed habitat needs time to recover,” said the ministry spokesperson. 
    But critics question why, if government acknowledges that habitat destruction is the problem, the province continues to approve logging in critical habitat. 
    When asked why logging permits continue to be handed out in caribou critical habitat, an oblique statement from the ministry said significant steps have already been taken to protect critical winter ranges, calving and post-rut areas. 
    “We continue, in partnership with First Nations, to monitor caribou populations and adjust forestry practices as necessary,” it says. 
    The wolf cull is opposed by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs who have written to the province demanding a “full-stop end to wolf culls and unethical hunting.” 
    “The false narrative that blames wolves as the source of the problem is a misdirection of the real issue which is resource development sanctioned by BC with no regard to our future generations which has resulted in the eradication of major habitat areas,” says the letter. 
    “We now face the grave issue of non-Indigenous gun clubs producing ‘killing contests’ and engaging in unethical hunting and culling practices,” says the letter signed by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chief Don Tom and Kukpi7 Judy Wilson. 
    Biologist Paul Paquet, Raincoast Conservation Foundation senior scientist and an internationally recognized wolf expert, said there is no way that the wolf cull can be described as humane. 
    “It’s a failure on the part of both [federal and provincial] governments that they allowed this and have not been very explicit and transparent about the fact that it is inhumane,” Paquet said in an interview. 
    Contractors might manage a shot to the head or heart some of the time, but not most of the time, said Paquet, adding that his experience tells him that the monitoring is inadequate. 
    “What we are looking at is the old parable of doing harm to do good. This where we run into questions of ethics with the end justifies the means arguments,” he said. 
    It is an argument that is not defensible, Paquet said. 
    Releasing photos may help put public pressure on government, but, so far, public pressure has not deterred those in favour of the cull, Paquet said. 
    “Most of these people have only a casual acquaintance with ethics and, I would say relatedly, logic,” he said. 
    Science has been mixed on the success of the program, but science does not give permission to override ethics, Paquet said. 
    “There is honest disagreement over the science as to what is happening, but that is only looking at the science and not the ethics and that is a big, big issue,” said Paquet, who has written extensively on how the mythical picture of wolves as savage killers has led to destructive management of wolf populations.
    Most people, when told that contractors are using pups to lead them to other wolves in their pack, instinctively react that the practice is offensive and immoral, Paquet said. 
    “There’s betrayal here,” he said. 
    “I think the old maxim ‘there is no right way to do the wrong thing’ applies here. It certainly captures the essence of the ethical debate,” Paquet said.
    Judith Lavoie is a freelance journalist who enjoys exploring stories about the natural world, along with the politics around them.

    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.

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