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    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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Avatar Grove (photo by TJ Watt)

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

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

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

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