John Ivison: Pipeline dispute raises important question — who speaks for First Nations?

Reconciliation means making one system compatible with another, not Indigenous law trumping Canadian law at the behest of some self-anointed aristocrats

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline hold a press conference in Smithers, B.C., on Jan. 7, 2020.Amy Smart/The Canadian Press/File

The “territorial re-occupation” of land along the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline in B.C. by hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people has raised some thorny constitutional questions and some surprising interventions.

The $6.2 billion, 670 km pipeline route runs from Dawson Creek, near the Alberta border, to Kitimat in B.C.’s north coast region, crossing through traditional Wet’suwet’en territory.

The pipeline is supported by the five Wet’suwet’en bands, and their elected chiefs and councils. They point out the advantages for local communities – financial benefit agreements worth $338 million for the 20 bands along the route and contract work for indigenous businesses estimated at $620 million. Reginald Ogen, president of a company that has won a $75 million contract to provide camp facilities, has noted that the jobs may be short and medium term but the training “lasts a lifetime and provides future opportunities”.

The project is opposed by the hereditary chiefs who represent the 13 Wet’suwet’en houses (12 are represented by the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, while the Dark House operates independently). Small groups of “land defenders” have blocked a bridge crucial to future development.

The project hit the headlines earlier this month when the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called for an immediate stop to construction, only to be given pause for thought when it was pointed out to the committee chair that most communities along the route support the pipeline.

B.C. Supreme Court justice, Marguerite Church, extended an injunction late last year that found in favour of the pipeline proponent and against the hereditary chiefs blocking construction.

This has sparked a debate about who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en. Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould weighed in with an opinion piece in the Globe and Mail last week that raised eyebrows.

The independent MP for Vancouver Granville argued that Indigenous reconciliation requires moving beyond the Indian Act to systems of Indigenous governance that are created on the ground and recognized by others.

Independent MP Jody Wilson-Raybould. Mike Bell/Postmedia/File

So far, so good. But deconstructing the colonial reality, in Wilson-Raybould’s eyes, means blowing up the band councils.

“The legal reality is that band councils are a creature of the colonial Indian Act and have limited delegated authority tied to reserves,” she said. “They do not have inherent authority, nor are they self-governing or an expression of self-determination. They cannot simply represent the proper rights holder – the broader group that shares a common language, culture and tradition – and typically there is more than one band within a given territory of an Indigenous people.”

Nowhere in her article does it stress the imperative point – they are elected and those claiming to speak for the broader First Nation are not.

She doesn’t explicitly come out in favour of the hereditary chiefs over the elected band chiefs but she comes close – an extraordinary inclination from a democratically elected MP.

In the case in question, all the band chiefs in the given territory are in favour of the pipeline proceeding.

Most people would probably agree that it should be up to Indigenous people to decide on how they are governed. The government has suggested moving from 670 small bands to larger First Nations more capable of delivering services.

There are no simple answers to these tough questions

But one would hope that whatever structure evolves is based on universal suffrage and democratic principles, rather than on some form of feudal genealogy.

The hereditary chiefs contend that the Wet’suwet’en are represented by traditional governance structures and that, since the pipeline’s proponents were not given permission to enter unceded territory, they are in violation of Wet’suwet’en law.

The elected chiefs beg to differ, resulting in considerable tension between the two groups. Reginald Ogen, who is a member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, contends his section 35 rights are being infringed by the blockade.

Further confusion has emanated from an internal debate about who qualifies as a hereditary house chief. The lead defendants in the B.C. Supreme Court case claim to represent the Unist’ot’en people, which is not a governing body of the Wet’suwet’en.

Madam Justice Church resolved that Indigenous customary laws are not an “effectual” part of Canadian law until they are somehow recognized in treaties or court declarations. As such, she said the idea that Indigenous laws supersede Canadian law and the B.C. government’s approval of the Coastal GasLink pipeline does not stand up to scrutiny. Her ruling gives RCMP the right to arrest people and remove camps designed to block pipeline construction.

Supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and who oppose the Costal Gaslink pipeline take part in a rally in Smithers B.C., on Jan. 10, 2020. Jason Franson/The Canadian Press/File

However, she did acknowledge that the question is complex and raises “significant constitutional questions.” Wilson-Raybould covered some of this terrain in her article, which called for a “foundational legislative shift through the development of a recognition and implementation of Indigenous rights framework”.

What does foundational shift look like? In her last act as justice minister, Wilson-Raybould issued a directive on civil litigation involving Indigenous people that promoted negotiation and settlement, instead of drawn out court battles. Critics in the justice department felt the effect was to instruct government lawyers to litigate badly.

Dwight Newman, the Canadian research chair in Indigenous Rights at the University of Saskatchewan, said the task of reconciling how Indigenous law intersects with Canadian law will be problematic.

“There are no simple answers to these tough questions,” he said.

But reconciliation means making one system compatible with another. As the B.C. Supreme Court rightly concluded, it does not mean Indigenous law trumping Canadian law at the behest of some self-anointed Indigenous aristocrats. SOURCE

Victoria city council to consider plastic bag ban amendments

plastic bag ban

Victoria city council is set to discuss changes to the city’s plastic bag bylaw Thursday: (CTV News)

VICTORIA — Victoria city council is set to review amendments to its Checkout Bag Regulation Bylaw after the original bylaw was struck down by the B.C. Supreme Court, and its subsequent appeal declined by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The original bylaw, which was launched on July 1, 2018, was struck down by the B.C. Supreme Court on the grounds that the ban was an environmental measure – which must be provincially approved – and not a business regulation, which falls under the purview of the municipality.

In 2019, the city launched an appeal, but on Jan. 23, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the city’s appeal.

Now, Victoria city council is scheduled to review their bylaw and make amendments so that it first comes before the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy for approval before coming into effect.

The new bylaw would be largely the same as the original 2018 ban, except now it will explicitly identify the bylaw as an environmental protection, include details on which types of food can receive an exemption for plastic bags and establish a range of possible fines so that flexibility in courts is possible.

When the Supreme Court of Canada first announced that it would not be hearing the city’s appeal last week, Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps promised to keep working to eliminate plastic waste in the community.

“Moving forward, we’re going to continue to look for every opportunity to reduce plastic waste, which includes working with our provincial and national governments to develop high and shared standards,” said Helps.

Since the city first launched its plastic bag ban, staff estimate that Victoria avoided using approximately 17 million plastic bags.

Victoria city council is set to discuss the amendments in a council meeting Thursday. SOURCE


Canada-wide plastic ban coming in 2021 after report concludes there is evidence of harm
Congratulations to Sobey’s Picton and across the country for taking this positive 1st step towards eliminating single use plastics in their stores. Now on to even more actions!


Canada’s growing Indigenous prison population ‘a national travesty’

Opinion: Critics weigh in as federal correctional investigator says, figures show number of jailed First Nations people has reached historic highs

Since April 2010 the Indigenous inmates have increased by 43.4 per cent (or 1,265), whereas the non-Indigenous incarcerated population has declined by 13.7 per cent (or 1,549), according to the office of the Correctional Investigator of Canada. RATTANKUN THONGBUN / GETTY IMAGES

After 48 years of criminal defence work and advocacy for prisoners’ rights, Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy was staggered at the new numbers revealing the swelling tide of Indigenous people being kept locked up.

“I started practising in 1972 and I’m 72 years old,” he said. “How can things be worse? But they are. Here we are in 2020 and it’s worse than ever. I do not understand with the amount of attention and amount of information we have that we’re still in this situation.”

The appalling statistics suggest a modern, racially divided Bedlam.

Conroy pointed out “73 per cent of the men and 80 per cent of the women have the criteria for qualifying for a current mental disorder, 29 require follow-up with mental health services, 25 per cent have some kind of cognitive deficit, 10 to 23 per cent fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), acquired brain injuries … it goes on and on and on.”

Indigenous people constitute less than five per cent of the population yet now they account for one-in-three of the men in jail, more than four of 10 incarcerated women.

On the Prairies, the numbers are worse — more than seven out of 10 are Aboriginal.

In 2017-18, Aboriginal adults represented three-quarters of admissions to custody in Manitoba (75 per cent) and Saskatchewan (74 per cent). Those provinces also have the highest proportion of Aboriginals, 15 per cent and 14 per cent, respectively.

Compared to 2007-08, admissions of Aboriginal males increased the most in B.C. (83 per cent), from 3,932 to 7,181.

Decades of well-meaning Indigenous legal policies have produced the opposite of what was intended — increasing incarceration rivenrac by racism — a visible disconnect between years of compassionate rhetoric and hard-hearted practice.

Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy, lead counsel in the Allard vs. Canada case that led to the new regulations.

Abbotsford lawyer John Conroy: ‘There are judges who are sending these people to prison and they seem to be disproportionately sending them to prison compared with non-Aboriginal people.’ HANDOUT

Having an Indigenous federal attorney general didn’t help — the numbers went up on Jody Wilson-Raybould’s watch as well.

The shocking report by the country’s correctional investigator, Dr. Ivan Zinger, asserts that the number and proportion of imprisoned Indigenous individuals has reached historic highs.

Providing independent oversight of the Correctional Service of Canada, with some 19,000 full-time employees and 53 institutions, Zinger says Indigenous custody rates have accelerated!

“The Indigenization of Canada’s prison population is nothing short of a national travesty,” Zinger added.

Since April 2010 the Indigenous inmates have increased by 43.4 per cent (or 1,265), whereas the non-Indigenous incarcerated population has declined by 13.7 per cent (or 1,549).

“There are judges who are sending these people to prison and they seem to be disproportionately sending them to prison compared with non-Aboriginal people,” Conroy noted. “Why are so many being sentenced to prison?”

Year after year, Zinger has documented that Indigenous inmates are disproportionately classified and placed in maximum security institutions, over-represented in use of force and self-injurious incidents, and historically were more likely to be placed and held longer in solitary.

Indigenous offenders serve a higher proportion of their sentence behind bars before being granted parole.

Worse, a national recidivism study shows it doesn’t help — Indigenous offenders reoffend at much higher levels, as high as 70 per cent on the Prairies.

When you look at the cases coming down the pipe, it isn’t hopeful.

Numbers from the Legal Services Society of B.C. indicate Indigenous people account for about one-in-three legal aid criminal cases and about one in four in family cases before the courts.

For some reason, in spite of all the hopeful and aspirational rhetoric, legal stakeholders refuse to recognize the reality of Indigenous Canada or the circumstances in which many Aboriginal people live.

“When you read the facts of the case, you can’t help but shake your head and say this guy never had a chance,” Conroy said.

A fundamental problem is that few native communities have the resources, the infrastructure or the capacity to handle violent offenders, so it’s very difficult for them to make a claim in court that they shouldn’t be jailed or argue for early release.

As a result, more and more Aboriginal men are “banished” across Canada — a medieval punishment legally meted out by Indigenous communities to keep away members it cannot control.

Similarly, detailed accounts ordered by the Supreme Court of Canada on the effects of colonialism and the social-economic circumstances of an Aboriginal offender — so-called Gladue Reports — are seen by some Indigenous advocates as valuable tools to assist judges in crafting appropriate sentences but in the prison bureaucracy they can be detrimental.

A report showing a history or prevalence of violence can cause a minor offender to be sent to a maximum instead of medium institution.

“Over my 25 years dealing with prison law, I have seen a big change from focus on helping a prisoner rehabilitate to managing potential PR problems,” veteran Vancouver defence lawyer Donna Turko said.

Various concerns are in play, she explained — judges can’t be too easy on violent offenders as native communities need protection, too, sentencing circles and diversion-style programs are scarce and parole boards seem increasingly afraid of public opinion and reluctant to release offenders. 

Vancouver defence lawyer Donna Turko: ‘Over my 25 years dealing with prison law, I have seen a big change from focus on helping a prisoner rehabilitate to managing potential PR problems.’ ARLEN REDEKOP / PNG FILES

Mostly, though, a shadow has always fallen between the rhetoric about and the reality of Aboriginal crime.

Consider a case in central B.C. involving an older native man who endured residential school and became a dysfunctional alcoholic living off the land. One day, he got very, very drunk and shot a woman.

He spent months in pre-trial custody, went in-custody alcohol treatment, took counselling training and, while out on bail for more than two years, acted as a counsellor in his community.

But he is facing a mandatory minimum sentence of four years and the Crown wants six years in a federal pen.

Instead, the defence wants a provincial sentence of less than two years with an additional conditional term in the community — that way he would be incarcerated close to his family, not shipped somewhere across the country.

Which will have a better outcome for the individual, which for the community?

If your aim is to punish and exact a measure of vengeance, a six-year term makes some sense — but if it’s long-term healthier citizens and communities, well …

“Bold and urgent” action is needed, Zinger said.

People such as Conroy have been ardently arguing that since the 1970s. It obviously hasn’t mattered. SOURCE


We don’t need to just plant trees. We also need to take care of them.

Charles Goodman Park in Alexandria. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

Charles Goodman Park in Alexandria. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

One of the costs of being a lover of old trees is the all-too-frequent loss of a beautiful soul you’ve grown fond of. In nature, death is intimately bound to rebirth: old trees fall, decompose and become nurseries for new saplings. It’s a beautiful, life-sustaining cycle. In cities, that cycle is broken. There’s no room to allow fallen trees to decay; they are usually shoved unceremoniously into the wood chipper and consigned to a short, pathetic afterlife as mulch. And a gaping hole is left in the canopy; sky intrudes where there were leaves and life. There is no regenerative salve to soothe a grieving heart.

Last summer was harder than most for trees and their human supporters. The spring’s nonstop rains inundated soils and caused root systems of many large, old trees to partially decay. Then, when the summer’s drought hit, trees could not tap deep sources of water that would normally have sustained them. Many cherished old trees died, especially oaks.

I volunteer on the Mount Rainier Tree Commission. We heard from many residents who were concerned about their trees. We had little to offer them. That’s because public and private urban tree resources and programs are geared almost entirely to planting trees and almost not at all to maintaining trees. No state or county program that I could find provided any financial resources for maintaining tree health. Private residents and small, under-resourced cities such as ours were on their own.

This is backward. Scientists are learning that large, old trees are the most valuable, especially in cities. They capture the most storm water and take the most pressure off our overtaxed streams and rivers. They put on wood fastest and take the most carbon out of the air. They harbor the most wildlife. They can lower summer temperatures by 20 degrees or more. They raise property values.

In a recent study, researchers found that Boston would get more benefit from keeping the trees it has alive than from planting new trees. There’s reason to think this finding would apply in other cities, too.

That’s what’s quantifiable. Then there’s what’s not. Just compare your emotional response when looking at a twiggy sapling to that when encountering a grizzled old giant, whose bark shows signs of battles fought and won against insects and weather, whose massive limbs branch in wild, unpredictable ways, whose very existence speaks to some of our most valued characteristics: resilience, regalness, care for other life. Trees, like us, gain character and personality as they age. Every old person’s face is wrinkled and weathered in its own particular way.

Our public and private tree programs reflect little recognition of the value of big, old trees. Governments and nonprofits are practically handing homeowners and property owners money to plant trees. In the District, Casey Trees plants thousands of trees per year.

Thousands of Chesapeake Bay-related dollars go toward new trees. Yet anyone wanting to sustain older trees may need to shell out a thousand dollars or more annually for arborist visits, pruning of dead and decaying limbs and treatments to prevent fungal and insect attacks. So aging trees are often neglected until it’s too late.

Regulations and enforcement also are important; development, driveway construction and paving need to be tailored to avoid harming old trees’ root systems, which can tunnel as far underground as the canopy extends above ground. In our region, the District and Takoma Park have strong tree ordinances, but many jurisdictions lag.

As long as we abandon our old trees, we will be like hamsters on a wheel, planting furiously merely to keep pace with mounting losses. Shade-giving tree canopy will not expand. Polluted storm water sloughed off roads, buildings and parking lots will continue to wash into streams, rivers and the bay. We want trees to help protect us from the hotter weather and more intense storms that climate change will bring, yet by failing to care for trees, we leave them vulnerable.

I get it: It’s easy to get donors or taxpayers excited about organizing 100 volunteers to plant 1,000 trees. Nobody gets excited about the words “preventive maintenance.”

Consider another analogy to the human world: Nobody would send a baby into the world and expect it to just make it. Children need nurturing; it’s why we fund schools and child health-insurance programs (though not to the extent that we should). Trees are the same. We could get so much more out of our trees if we just put a little more into them. SOURCE



Carleton’s new election-integrity scholar comes from Facebook. The NDP says that’s like Dracula overseeing the blood supply

File photo of Facebook Canada’s head of public policy Kevin Chan in March 2019. Photo by Andrew Meade

The NDP’s ethics critic says Carleton University’s decision to name a Facebook Canada official as a “visiting scholar in election integrity” is like “inviting Dracula to oversee the security of the blood supply.”

NDP MP Charlie Angus told National Observer that the university’s appointment of Kevin Chan, head of public policy at Facebook Canada, made little sense in light of last year’s investigation by the federal and B.C. privacy commissioners that found the social media giant violated Canadian privacy laws and refused to take responsibility.

“I don’t know how you say you’re going to invite a top Facebook lobbyist to be a visiting scholar on election integrity when they’re fighting an officer of Parliament whose job it is to protect Canadian privacy rights,” Angus said in an interview Monday.

“It sounds more like you’ve invited Dracula to oversee the security of the blood supply in the country.”

Chan, who has defended Facebook in front of Parliamentary committees and to major Canadian news outlets, is listed as a senior officer under Facebook Canada’s lobbying registration, as someone whose lobbying represents less than 20 per cent of their duties.

He is credited with spearheading the creation of Facebook’s Canadian Election Integrity Initiative, as well as an advisory group for Facebook on Canadian political ads. He is also recognized for work he did to remove white nationalism from the platform.

National Observer asked Facebook about the comments by Angus and the context of the appointment.

In response to questions, Chan said “we look forward to reflecting on the 2019 federal election and Facebook’s ongoing work through the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative in collaboration with Carleton students, faculty and the broader political ecosystem.”

“Investing in technology, people and partnerships is an integral part of our work to protect the integrity of elections on our platform and positively contribute to the democratic process,” he said.

NDP ethics critic Charlie Angus at a press conference in Parliament on Dec. 11, 2018. Photo by Alex Tétreault

Carleton: We have ‘views’ on Facebook, democracy

The one-year partnership between the company and the Ottawa-based university is called the “Canadian Election Integrity Project.” It will see students at the school’s graduate program in political management reflecting on the 2019 federal election, as well as Facebook’s own election initiative.

Carleton University’s appointment of a Facebook official as a “visiting scholar on election integrity” sounds like “you’re invited Dracula to oversee the security of the blood supply in the country,” says @CharlieAngusNDP:

Chan is expected to maintain his job at Facebook during the appointment.

Program supervisor Stephen Azzi told National Observer that the appointment was intended to give the university “the opportunity to share our thoughts” with the largest social networking website on the planet.

“The faculty and students here have views on the role of Facebook and other social media outlets in the democratic process, and their impact on personal privacy,” said Azzi. “Facebook wants to hear what we have to say about these subjects.”

The privacy commissioners found last year that Facebook violated Canadian privacy laws when it did not obtain meaningful consent from users who installed a third-party app involved in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal.

Facebook had proposed “alternative commitments” in response to their findings, they said, that they had judged would still fail to bring them into compliance.

The federal commissioner’s office left the door open to filing an application to bring Facebook to court under the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act. That could be a significant undertaking because it is considered a “de novo” proceeding, where the court would have to deal with it as a fresh case.

The investigation was launched as a result of a complaint by Angus. The MP said it was perfectly fair for the university to invite Facebook officials to be questioned by faculty and students, but the appointment “raises serious questions about their judgment,” given the issues the commissioners identified with compliance.

“How is that integrity? You have a company that has been found to have been abusing Canadian law, and they blow off the findings,” he said.

“This is a multi-billion-dollar company that’s been called out time and time again for the misuse of its platform in damaging the electoral systems around the world, and Facebook’s trying to buy some respectability.”

Appointment latest in election integrity actions

Facebook has repeatedly said that it takes its responsibilities over election integrity seriously. The company has maintained there was no evidence Canadians’ data was shared directly with Cambridge Analytica, when it said in 2018 that 622,161 Canadians were affected as part of the scandal engulfing the now-defunct political consulting firm.

Ahead of the 2019 election campaign, Facebook Canada launched the Canadian Election Integrity Initiative which includes third-party fact-checking with Agence France-Presse.

It also partnered with MediaSmarts, an Ottawa-based digital and media literacy organization and produced a guide for information security and opened a cyber threats email hotline.

Facebook’s political advertising disclosure includes an ad library with detailed information about political ads targeted at Canadians. The company has set up an authorization process to run ads on social issues, elections or politics in Canada.

The technology company also rolled out a new “one strike” rule for live video that bans users after their first violation, after the company took heat for the terrorist attack in New Zealand.

Facebook had earlier said its artificial intelligence software failed to flag the live video that broadcasted the killing of Muslims at mosques.

Chan told the Broadbent Progress Summit in Ottawa last year that the company had concluded that praising, supporting or representing white nationalism was inseparable from supporting hate groups.



Regina paying climate crisis skeptic $10K to speak at ‘sustainability’ conference


Everything you need to know about the UN climate refugee ruling and Canada

The bridge connecting North and South Tarawa, an atoll in the Pacific nation of Kiribati that is facing the threat of rising sea levels from climate change, pictured in 2017. Asian Development Bank photo

A new human-rights ruling says deporting a person to a country where they could be killed or seriously mistreated as a result of the climate crisis would violate an international treaty to which Canada is a party, according to the country’s UN refugee agency.

UNHCR Canada has told National Observer the Trudeau government needs to examine the domestic implications of a recent ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee, that found countries can’t deport people seeking asylum as a result of threats related to the climate emergency.

It’s the first time a UN body has made this type of determination with respect to climate change. But the ruling by the 18-member committee, released Tuesday, is non-binding on Canada, and raises many complex questions as to how it will ultimately factor into Canada’s refugee system.

“In its decision, the UN Human Rights Committee has made clear that returning a person to a country where they face a risk to their life, or a risk of serious mistreatment, as a result of climate change-related environmental degradation would violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” said Melanie Gallant, head of communications for UNHCR Canada.

“Like all states party to the international covenant, it is incumbent on Canada to consider the committee’s decision and its implications domestically.”

The covenant is one of the main international human-rights treaties to which Canada is a party, along with others on subjects such as torture, genocide and racial discrimination.

Once someone is already in Canada, the country is obligated by those human-rights treaties to protect people who are considered to be refugees under the UN Refugee Convention, or whose removal would subject them to torture or severe mistreatment.

The UN Refugee Convention, however, does not explicitly mention climate change, which could complicate matters for climate refugees in Canada. The convention is concerned instead with well-founded fears of persecution for other reasons: race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a social group. Resettled refugees, who are referred to Canada by the UNHCR, and other categories such as private sponsorship are also recognized under the convention.

The same sort of grounds of protection apply when asylum seekers are considered for a pre-removal risk assessment. When an individual is subject to a removal order, an officer from the Canada Border Services Agency will tell the person if they can apply for the assessment. Then an official from the immigration department carries out the evaluation, which is supposed to examine whether a person would face persecution, torture, risk to life or risk of cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), the federal department, says it does monitor the implications of climate change on migration. But “we cannot speculate on future policy,” spokeswoman Shannon Ker said.

‘A very important first step in international law’

The definition of a convention refugee is laid out in Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Act. But the interpretation of that definition is an “ongoing process,” says the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB), the independent tribunal that decides refugee cases. “Some issues have been settled by the courts, others remain unanswered,” it noted in March 2019.

It is “incumbent on Canada” to consider a recent ruling by the UN Human Rights Committee on climate refugees, says @UNHCRCanada. It is the first time a UN body has made this type of determination.

Jamie Chai Yun Liew, an expert in immigration, refugee and citizenship law and an associate professor at the University of Ottawa, said no refugee-receiving country like Canada has within their own laws a recognition that speaks directly to people who are affected by climate-related situations and affords them refugee protection.

But while she said the ruling wouldn’t affect anything immediately in Canada, in the future it could lead to something more substantive. “This is a very important first step in international law, so to speak, for starting to recognize a legal basis for refugee protection for those that are affected by climate-related crises or situations,” Liew said.

For Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of the FCJ Refugee Centre, which looks at systemic issues newly-arrived refugee claimants face in Canada, the ruling could be useful when presenting in front of the IRB.

“I will go in that direction myself, to ask, ‘Why don’t we modify our humanitarian and compassionate program?’” Rico-Martinez said. “When a case like this has come to my office, we’ve always used the environmental situation, but we’ve tried to link it to other elements of persecution.”

UN Human Rights

Historic case opens door to asylum claims ➡️ UN finds that countries may not deport individuals who face climate change-induced conditions that violate the right to life.


View image on Twitter
The Pacific nation in danger of being wiped out

Canadian law indicates persons in need of protection should be subjected personally to risks. In other words, the risk has to be faced by the person in “every part of that country” and can’t also be faced “generally” by others in the country. That, too, could complicate matters for climate refugees in the Great White North.

The UN committee ruling did involve a personal case: that of Ioane Teitota, from Kiribati, a country of islands in the Pacific Ocean being swamped by rising waters. Teitota argued violence and deaths over the remaining land in his country forced him to migrate from the island of Tarawa to New Zealand, which deported him after denying his asylum application.

This all means it is less likely the UN Human Rights Committee would automatically expect Canada to immediately grant refugee status to all climate refugees, and more likely to expect the country to consider the alleged grounds of persecution each applicant faces — ostensibly the process that is already in place.

IRCC “monitors the implications of climate change on migration and displacement patterns and flows,” spokeswoman Béatrice Fénelon confirmed.

“The government of Canada recognizes that climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of our time, with broad implications on health, agriculture, economy, trade, infrastructure, displacement and migration,” she said. “Developing countries, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable, are the hardest hit by climate change.”

Fénelon also noted Canada can take action on a “case-by-case basis” in the event of a “natural disaster,” such as when it expedited immigration applications from Haitians with family in Canada after the 2010 earthquake.

“Canada’s refugee program is about saving lives and offering protection to the displaced and persecuted. Canada remains steadfast in offering protection to convention refugees,” Fénelon said.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi speaks at the World Economic Forum on Jan. 22, 2020. WEF Photo

Refugees ‘can be part of the solution’

The UN human-rights committee ruling is the latest step in an international discussion sure to accelerate in the coming years, about how to deal with so-called “refugees of the blue planet” whose lives have been uprooted as a result of the degradation of the environment.

Scientists expect climate change to make sweeping changes to broad aspects of the planet that will affect hundreds of millions of people. The UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has warned of “climate apartheid” where millions are cut off from food, water or housing.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi tried to underline the ruling’s significance at the World Economic Forum on Tuesday, telling Reuters “we must be prepared for a large surge of people moving against their will… we’re talking about millions here.”

Those millions would add to the more than 70 million people in 2018 who fled war, persecution and conflict, according to the UNHCR — the highest level of migration it has ever seen over its roughly 70-year existence.

Gallant from the UNHCR Canada office said they themselves were still examining the ruling and its potential implications.

“Climate change is a most pressing issue for us, and is at the heart of our work,” she said.

“Not only because climate change can be a cause of displacement, but also because refugees and the communities that welcome them can be part of the solution.”



Does Canada have a ‘moral and legal obligation’ to allow climate migrants?

Watch The Talk – Asking the Right Questions About Climate Change

This week, we’re launching a video that we hope will help extend the conversation on the climate crisis and climate solutions to audiences and communities that aren’t already thinking about them.

It captures the 18 minutes I spent onstage at Ottawa’s National Arts Centre last fall, delivering a TEDx talk on how to build wider public demand and buy-in for faster, deeper carbon cuts. The audience reaction that night was far beyond anything I could have imagined. So now, we’re trying to get the talk out as far and wide as possible. (And we’d really appreciate your help.)

One of the catalysts for the talk was a comment by sustainability specialist and IPCC author Jim Skea, during a media event for the organization’s landmark 1.5°C pathways report in October 2018. “We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5°C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that,” he said. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will.”

Asking the Right Questions

That statement got me thinking about the breadth of public demand it’ll take to make the political will for climate solutions unstoppable. Which in turn led me to a series of “what-if” questions that I get into in the talk, and on our landing page for the video. (See below)

Here are a few more.

What if the only way to get the action and momentum we need, in the time still available to us to rapidly reduce carbon reductions, is to connect with voters and citizens who aren’t already inside the climate change “bubble”?

What if that means finding common ground with people who see results like fewer smog days, less traffic congestion, more productive farm soils, or more free time with friends and family as things worth fighting for, and the carbon reductions they inadvertently produce as the co-benefit?

What if the surest way to build public buy-in is to start with the many, many aspects of the transition off carbon that are about opportunity and gain, not loss and pain?

And if that’s right, what if the fastest way forward is to slow down a bit, start out by listening to the worries and priorities those audiences already woke up with this morning, then figure out together how solving for climate change helps them get the things they already need and want, faster and better?

Climate Action is Hard Work

It doesn’t replace or diminish the hard work or the tough issues we write about on The Mix, on which many of our readers take the lead every day—like speeding up the shift to 100% renewable energy, phasing out fossil subsidies, bringing about a managed decline in oil and gas, and holding fossils to account for funding climate denial and knowingly pitching a product that is rapidly frying the planet.

But there’s some evidence that once people have made a personal commitment to climate action, they’re more likely to expect that much and more from governments, businesses, and institutions. And that the best action step they can take is to work with others to change systems that drive the carbon emissions we can’t control in our own lives. If that’s right, we’re hoping the TEDx talk points to a way to drive better dialogue and wider participation in those issues and campaigns. We’ll be promoting the talk extensively over the next couple of weeks. (As you’ll see on our landing page, we’re even hoping it’ll help us raise funds for more original reporting on The Mix.)

So please—take a few minutes to watch the talk. Consider leaving a comment on TED’s YouTube channel. And please share the link as widely as you can across your own networks.

December 9, 2019

What the Second World War was to our ancestors, Climate Change is to our lifetime. We can win this battle, as long as we don’t give in to climate despair and convince ourselves that it’s already lost. The solutions are within our grasp, but they depend on political will that will only be driven by much wider public demand for actions that cut carbon, create many millions of jobs, and build stronger, healthier, more resilient communities. (text from YouTube video description)

More “What If” questions found on landing page of video:

What if the solutions to the climate crisis are already practical, affordable, and ready for prime time?

What if we already know how to drastically reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change and create tens of millions of jobs along the way?

What if political will is the last box to check to get climate change under control, but sustaining that will depends on far wider public demand for climate solutions?

What if the first step in building that public buy-in is to stop arguing about the climate crisis and start co-operating on climate solutions?

What if the only way we’re guaranteed to lose this battle of our lifetimes is if we convince ourselves it’s already lost?

And what if the urgent but polarized conversation we’re already having about climate change is slowing down the actions we need to take, at just the moment when we need those actions to speed up?