Opinion | The Last Crop Before the Desert

“I’ve never seen barley looking this great before!” El Kbir Safraoui couldn’t hold back his excitement about the crop growing in his fields. And he had seen a lot of barley in his lifetime of farming in central Morocco.

Safraoui is collaborating with a team of crop breeders from the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA). They are working together to evaluate new varieties that have been developed using wild relatives of barley which can better cope with the whims of the changing climate.

Moroccan farmer El Kbir Safraoui is lending his voice to the Crop Wild Relatives Project work in Morocco, where farmers are evaluating barley derived from its wild relatives in their own fields. Photo: Michael Major/Crop Trust.
The Food of Gladiators

“Our ancestors were growing barley a long, long time ago… probably for 10,000 years,” said Miguel Sanchez Garcia, a barley breeder with ICARDA. “It was the food of the gladiators. They were known as hordearii, or barley eaters.”

Now, barley is the fourth most produced grain globally, after maize, rice, and wheat. In Morocco, it is the second most produced cereal and an important multi-purpose crop for both humans and livestock.

Barley is widely grown in the drylands because it can produce a decent crop under some pretty harsh conditions, like saline soils or climatically marginal environments.

“We call barley ‘the last crop before the desert’ because it can survive on the fringes of the desert, where other crops fail,” said Filippo Bassi, a senior scientist at ICARDA who is leading the project. “When things get really tough and severe drought is the norm, there is no crop as good as barley. It survives the harshest of conditions and can be a lifesaver for farmers.”

ICARDA scientists, Filippo Bassi (left) and Noureddine El Haddad (center), gather feedback from farmer El Kbir Safraoui on the crop wild relatives-derived barley lines he has grown in his fields. Photo: Michael Major/Crop Trust.

But yields of the last crop before the desert suffer when it is forced to grow right in the desert by climate change. “In 2016, Morocco experienced the drought of the century, and we saw complete crop failure in many parts of the country,” said Miguel. “And in the 2018-19 season barley production was still 40% lower than the 20-year average. It’s been brutal.”

Reaching Out to the Wild Cousins

ICARDA has been improving barley through breeding for almost 40 years, but today breeders like Miguel need ever more genetic diversity if they are to make crops that can cope with totally new challenges. “We are turning to the hardier wild cousins of barley to seek the genetic diversity we so desperately need,” said Miguel.

These wild cousins are scraggly plants that to most people look like weeds. Still, they are closely related to cultivated barley and over millennia have adapted to withstand the harsh conditions of places like the edge of the desert. Samples of two of these wild barley species—Hordeum spontaneum and Hordeum bulbosum—have shown resistance to major barley diseases, and they can withstand heat and drought on top of that.

Barley is the fourth most produced grain globally but is not currently attracting sufficient funding to ensure long-term breeding programs. The Crop Wild Relatives Project, which is financially supported by the Government of Norway, is helping to fill that gap by funding a barley pre-breeding project. Photo: Michael Major/Crop Trust.

Over the years, plant collectors have travelled to a remote locations around the world to gather seeds of wild barley. The genebanks of ICARDA now conserve more than 32,000 samples of barley; of these, 7 percent are wild relatives. That’s actually a pretty good ratio compared to some other crops.

Breeders have crossed the wild cousins with barley cultivars that farmers currently grow, in order to combine the climatic tolerance and disease resistance of the wild plants with the productivity of the cultivars.

“The plants derived from wild barley have, in most instances, out-yielded the best commercial checks by 10 to 15 percent in recent trials due to their increased resistance to a bunch of pests and diseases and tolerance to heat and drought,” said Miguel.

But What Do the Farmers Think?

That’s all well and good, but the ICARDA scientists want to ensure that farmers witness that performance in their own fields too. So they are working with farmers like Safraoui, who are evaluating some of the most promising crop wild relative-derived plants under the conditions they know best.

Ramesh Verma, former barley breeder at ICARDA, inspects trials of crop wild relatives-derived barley lines at the Marchouch experimental field station in Morocco. Photo: Michael Major/Crop Trust.

“The farmers have provided some very positive feedback and have noted that the best new lines are not only yielding equally or better than the best control variety as far as grain is concerned, but also showing higher straw production. That’s important for livestock,” said Miguel. “With one-fifth of its genes coming from wild barley, we can clearly see the contribution of the crop wild relatives.”

“Barley is becoming increasingly important in times of a changing climate as it can be the last crop a farmer turns to when all other crops fail,” said Benjamin Kilian, the pre-breeding coordinator with the Crop Trust. “The success of ICARDA and its partners with barley is a great example of the contributions which crop wild relatives can make toward the improvement of our most important crops.”

That’s music to the ears of progressive farmers like Safraoui, who has seen in his own fields what going a bit wild can do for barley.  SOURCE

What would happen if the world reacted to climate change like it’s reacting to the coronavirus?

What would a fast, coordinated, collective response to climate change look like?

[Source Images: ktsimage/iStock, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center]

The coronavirus has transformed everyday life so significantly that the effects are already visible from space. In China, where hundreds of millions of people were quarantined to help stop the spread of the disease, before-and-after satellite photos show pollution disappearing as work came to a standstill. In the U.S., as the number of coronavirus cases has grown quickly, companies are asking employees to work from home and canceling conferences. Schools are canceling classes. In Italy, another massive quarantine is underway. The changes have been sudden, driven by widespread recognition that it’s a public health emergency—and, although the window of opportunity may have already closed, a chance to prevent another deadly disease like the flu from becoming a permanent, ongoing problem.

The scale of the response raises another question: What would it look like if the world responded to the climate crisis with a similar sense of urgency? The coronavirus response might not have been as fast as it should have been; if the Chinese government had acted faster, the virus might not have spread to other countries. And the Chinese government’s authoritarian tactics shouldn’t—and couldn’t—be emulated in large parts of the rest of the world. But in countries around the world, governments and citizens have been quick to change daily habits. The same hasn’t happened for the climate crisis.

“We’ve seen that governments can act, and people can change their behavior, in a very short amount of time,” says May Boeve, executive director of the climate advocacy group 350.org. “And that’s exactly what the climate movement has been asking governments and people to do for years in the face of a different kind of threat—the climate crisis—and we don’t see commensurate action. On the one hand, it shows that it’s possible to do this, and it’s possible for this kind of mobilization of resources to take place in a short amount of time. In that sense, that’s encouraging. But we were never in doubt of that aspect.” Instead, she says, it was a question of whether there was political will for rapid change.

[Source Images: ktsimage/iStock, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center]

There are similarities between the situations—in both cases, the scientific community is offering clear warnings about what to do. Both involve public health. Climate change is already killing people in extreme heat waves and other disasters; it’s also worsening food and water shortages and it will displace hundreds of millions of people. The same pollutants that contribute heavily to climate change also cause air pollution that kills millions of people each year. Diseases like malaria and dengue fever are likely to spread as mosquitoes move into new regions. And as with coronavirus, people living in areas with the fewest resources are being impacted most by climate change. “Climate change also affects the most vulnerable first and worst,” says Boeve. “So we see that pattern play out as well, and how this is unfolding and how the response is and is not responding to that inequity and impact.”

If the world was responding to climate change like it’s responding to the coronavirus—the level of urgency that the science says is necessary—things would look dramatically different. “We would see a lot of different things happening all at the same time,” says Boeve.

Governments would come up with the funds to build the infrastructure needed to fully roll out renewable energy. “It’s cheap enough and available, but the regulatory systems that would enable people everywhere to get clean energy would require massive government investment,” she says. “We would see these kinds of emergency packages that would get people off of the fossil fuel grid and onto a clean grid right away.”

After wildfires and extreme floods, relief packages would acknowledge the role of climate. In cities, development rules would change to require low-carbon construction. Farms would shift to regenerative agriculture. Just as the airline industry is struggling because of the coronavirus, some industries would see real impacts. “We probably wouldn’t still have an oil and coal and gas industry that was thriving in our economy,” says Boeve. We would have to find ways to support the workers from those industries, as well.

“It’s a whole bunch of different things, which could all happen quite quickly, because we do actually know what needs to happen,” she says. “And that’s the amazing thing. But the shift in which, and this is what’s so interesting about what’s unfolding with a public health emergency is that I think there’s a trust in the public health community to say, these are the measures we need you to put in place right now. They’re ready to go and policymakers are acting. And the same thing is true with climate change. We’ve got those policies, they’ve been drafted. They’ve been waiting to be enacted.”

A growing number of cities and countries have formally declared a climate emergency. Some are acting more quickly than others. But the overall mobilization looks nothing like the response to the coronavirus. In part, that’s because climate change still seems like a somewhat distant problem, despite the growing number of climate-related disasters that happen every year. Another obvious challenge: In the climate crisis, powerful companies have a lot to lose if the world acts decisively, and with the virus, though many people are losing money, there’s no similarly massive opposition to trying to address the problem.

“The entrenched power and staying with the status quo is what differentiates climate change from this particular crisis,” says Boeve. “That is something that a lot of people are working on, and that is changing. It’s becoming more and more hard politically to justify taking donations of fossil fuel companies, for example. That is starting to shift.” SOURCE

 

Has Trudeau (Politely) Betrayed Native People Again?

Despite the lip service Liberals pay to Native tribes, they consistently pick oil interests over the rights of Indigenous people. Can that change?

Indigenous leaders and others demonstrating against a pipeline project in Burnaby, British Columbia, in 2018.

Credit: Ason Redmond/Agence France-Presse — Getty Image

When Justin Trudeau became prime minister of Canada in 2015, he promised a new relationship with Indigenous people, “built on respect, rights and a commitment to end the status quo.” He promised funding for Indigenous cultural activities and education. He called for recognition of aboriginal land rights. But he has also continued to support the expansion of Canada’s fossil fuel industry onto new lands, an expansion that has always depended largely upon ignoring, if not flagrantly violating, the desires and rights of Native people.

The year Mr. Trudeau was elected, I went on a reporting trip to the oil sands of Alberta. I visited an Indigenous water protector, Nancy Scanie, in her cedar house on the Cold Lake First Nations reservation, which lies adjacent to the sands. Ms. Scanie, a citizen of the nation, who sees her role as a sacred duty, sat with me in her front room that smelled of roasting lavender and listed the decades of government abuse that her people have had to face just in her lifetime.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police took her and some of her siblings from their parents in the 1940s to live in an abusive Christian school where she was dispossessed of her culture. The government allowed such schools to operate until 1997.

By the time Ms. Scanie finished school and returned home in the late 1950s, a vast portion of her people’s land had been transformed into an air force base. Soon it was a bombing range. And since then, whistle-blowers have shown how the energy companies that moved into the area have been leaking harmful chemicals into the earth on the reservation.

Stories like Ms. Scanie’s have been building up for years, and they have left many First Nations peoples and their allies fed up — and prepared to fight back in new ways.

In late January, with the quiet support of Mr. Trudeau, the Canadian federal police force — the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — raided an encampment. It was created by the citizens of the Wet’suwe’ten First Nation, who were obstructing the construction of a more than 400 mile long natural gas project, the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which cuts right through their sacred indigenous lands in Western Canada. Twenty-eight Wet’suwe’ten citizens were arrested as the police enforced an injunction to allow the pipeline company, TC Energy, to enter the area.

But the police crackdown set off a populist uprising similar to the Standing Rock protests of 2016 in the United States against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Across Canada, from the Port of Vancouver in British Columbia to Quebec, multiethnic groups of demonstrators blockaded the railways (and some roads) for almost four weeks in support of the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s hereditary chiefs, who oppose the pipeline.

The energy project has the backing of the Wet’suwet’en elected tribal leadership, which was established through the federal government. But that body is predated by the traditional government headed by the hereditary chiefs, who are rightfully claiming title to the land based on longstanding Canadian law that they say is being ignored.

Because the rail blockades began to disrupt the Canadian economy, the government of British Columbia ordered TC Energy on February 20 to “make efforts to engage with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en.” But it also pushed for pipeline construction to proceed, a move that also had the full backing of Prime Minister Trudeau.

This dissonance of words and actions is the Canadian government’s signature Trudeau-era balancing act of performative even-handness, in which the prime minister repeats nice things about “reconciliation,” then uses government force to override Aboriginal will: In 2018, Mr. Trudeau ensured the expansion of a major tar sands oil pipeline, the Trans Mountain, by ordering a $3.5 billion nationalization of the line. The government acquired its assets from the Kinder Morgan company after Native-led protests threatened to make construction untenable.

“It is in Canada’s national interest to protect our environment and invest in tomorrow, while making sure people can feed their families today,” he explained. The Obama era in the United States was similarly marked by this rhetorical balancing act: At the height of the Standing Rock uprising, that administration too promised “reconciliation and empowerment for Indian Country,” but President Barack Obama ultimately helped the fossil fuel industrialists win the fight and continued to defend his “all-of-the-above energy strategy.

The betrayal on both sides of North America’s 49th parallel has meant that despite the heightened symbolic respect paid by the center left to Native nations, Indigenous people are losing land in a year-by-year battle of attrition with energy interests. There is, however, solid legal standing to support the restoration of Native land rights, explicitly embedded in Canadian law.

Though the government of British Columbia originally declared the enormous territory it overtook in the mid-19th century to be “Crown” lands, most were never affirmatively ceded by First Nations through treaties. So in the 1980s and ’90s, the Wet’suwe’ten hereditary chiefs along with another First Nation tribe sued British Columbia and the Canadian government for Aboriginal title to tens of thousands of square kilometers of land in Canada’s northwest.

In 1997, Wet’suwet’en claimants brought an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada, which found that the government had no right to extinguish the Indigenous people’s rights to their ancestral territories. There was, however, a bit of a catch: The ruling clarified Aboriginal title rights but only created guidelines for negotiations over disputes, leaving the fate of any contention among the federal government, elected tribal leadership and hereditary chiefs — the exact quandary surrounding the current Coastal GasLink standoff — legally murky.

Encouragingly, there are some signs that the government may be willing to stand down. On March 1, the hereditary chiefs and senior government ministers announced a tentative outline for a negotiated agreement that Carolyn Bennett, the federal crown-Indigenous relations minister, said will “honor the protocols of the Wet’suwet’en people and clans.” Ms. Bennett said the talks were about ensuring “that this never happens again, that rights holders will always be at the table.” But no details about the government’s stance “on rights and titles for the future” were disclosed, and both sides acknowledged they haven’t reached an agreement on the pipeline’s construction, which after pausing for the talks resumed last week.

So among activists there appears to be just as much skepticism as hope. The proposed arrangement will continue to be reviewed by the clans in the coming days. “It’s not over yet,” said Chief Woos, a hereditary leader.

The content of a possible final agreement is up in the air. But if there is one, it is likely to answer continuing questions about whether Native political authority over their old territories in Canada will finally be realized or remain a thin formality, a veneer of legitimacy for ongoing colonialism.  SOURCE

Noam Chomsky: Indigenous people “are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us”

First published at the Two Row Times (5 November 2013) but still relevant today

Image result for noam chomsky

Noam Chomsky, the celebrated 85-year old American linguist, peace activist and social critic who is the author of more than one hundred books and the world’s most frequently quoted intellectual, was in Montréal on October 26 to help celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the magazine Canadian Dimension.

During his visit, Chomsky delivered a lecture at the Université de Montréal in which he analyzed the decline of American power. In the Western hemisphere, he argued, the US and Canada have become marginal to the major discussions now underway: only in the most vulnerable countries like Haiti and Honduras have US- and Canadian-supported military regimes taken power.1

Chomsky also spoke out forcefully against Canadian tar sands, shale gas, and mining developments, and underlined the importance of indigenous resistance to the devastation they are causing.

According to Chomsky, “Canadian mining operations are just destroying large parts of the world.” He said that “Canada is trying to take the lead in destroying the possibility of decent survival: that’s what it means to exploit the tar sands, and the gold mining in Colombia, and coal mining, and so on…. That means destroying the world in which your grandchildren might be able to survive: that’s the Canadian idea now.”

Chomsky added that “There is resistance: in Canada it’s coming from First Nations. But it’s worth remembering that that’s a world-wide phenomenon. Throughout the world, the indigenous populations are in the lead. They are actually taking the lead in trying to protect the earth. That’s extremely significant.”2

Chomsky argued that this resistance is supported by one of the most ancient documents of English law, the nearly 800-year old Magna Carta. For in addition to asserting civil rights like the presumption of innocence and the right to jury trial, the Magna Carta included a “Charter of the Forests,” which “had to do with protecting the commons”—all of the commonly shared things in nature that sustain human life—“from the depredations of power.”3

Since the development of capitalism, Chomsky said, the commons have been under attack. “What Canada and the US and others are doing now,” he added, “is trying to take away what is left of the commons, includ[ing] the global environment—privatize it, take it away.”4

While in Montréal, Chomsky gave an interview to Martin Lukacs of The Guardian in which he again denounced the Harper government’s policies of developing tar sands and shale gas resources.

Harper’s policies, he told Lukacs, mean “taking every drop of hydrocarbon out of the ground, whether it’s shale gas in New Brunswick or tar sands in Alberta and trying to destroy the environment as fast as possible, with barely a question raised about what the world will look like as a result.”5

Chomsky praised Canada’s First Nations people for taking the lead in resisting fossil fuel developments and thereby combatting climate change. He expressed concern for the Elsipogtog people in New Brunswick, whose peaceful blockade of shale gas exploration was assaulted by the RCMP on October 17. As Lukacs writes, he also “highlighted indigenous opposition to the Alberta tar sands, the oil deposit that is Canada’s fastest growing source of carbon emissions and is slated for massive expansion despite attracting international criticism and protest.”

In Chomsky’s own words, “It’s pretty ironic that the so-called ‘least advanced’ people are the ones taking the lead in trying to protect all of us, while the richest and most powerful among us are the ones who are trying to drive the society to destruction.”6

SOURCE

NOTES

1  Claude Lévesque, “À Montréal, le celèbre linguiste Noam Chomsky présente ses vues sur le déclin de l’empire américain,” Le Devoir (28 octobre 2013), http://www.ledevoir.com/international/actualites-internationales/391104/a-montreal-le-celebre-linguiste-noam-chomsky-presente-ses-vues-sur-le-declin-de-l-empire-americain.

2  “Noam Chomsky on First Nations Resistance (Montréal, 26 octobre 2013),” YouTube (28 October 2013), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jGK1F0bij6s.

3  Chomsky was alluding here to Peter Linebaugh’s important study, The Magna Carta Manifesto: Liberties and Commons for All (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), which offers a detailed and scrupulous interpretation of the meaning and present-day implications of the Charter of the Forests.

Fast Food Lobby Group: Workers With ‘Coughs’ and ‘Runny Noses’ Can Still Work During Coronavirus Pandemic

Canadian infectious disease specialists say it is ‘not very good’ advice during a global pandemic or otherwise

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As the World Health Organization declares the coronavirus a global pandemic, the lobby group representing Canada’s fast food industry is distributing materials to its members that suggest workers with a “cough” or “runny nose” may still be healthy enough to show up to work.

Restaurants Canada, a lobby group that calls itself “the voice of foodservice” and has been a leading group opposing minimum wage increases, released materials to its members Tuesday on “navigating coronavirus” in the workplace.

The group’s board members include representatives of major fast food companies like McDonald’s, Subway, Boston Pizza, Pizza Pizza and Kentucky Fried Chicken.

Included in its package of resource material, which it describes as “the most up to date information,” is a check-list for restaurant managers that offers advice on “whether a food handler is too sick to work?

Sick Worker Q&A (Restaurants Canada)

In a statement to PressProgress, Restaurants Canada emphasized that its check-list was produced by Diversey, a US-based hygiene product manufacturer.

Restaurants Canada said it shared these resources to “help foodservice businesses concerned about what to do specifically around COVID-19, as well as other more general health and safety training resources.”

“The “Sick or Not Sick?” worksheet is one of the more general-use resources.”

The check-list, which remained on Restaurants Canada’s “navigating coronavirus” webpage with no clarification, offers tips that health experts call questionable both as a response to the coronavirus and as a general-use resource too.

For example, it suggests an “employee has coughed several times since the start of their shift” may not be sick since “coughing is a common reaction to many things.”

Instead, they advise that if the food handler is “not coughing phlegm, does not have a fever or sore throat and otherwise feels normal” they can continue working, provided they are “using hand sanitizer / soap and water and tissues as needed.”

It also suggests food handlers can safely work even if their “eyes are puffy and their nose is runny.” While a “runny nose can signal a respiratory infection,” they note that a “lack of fever or sore throat likely means they have allergies.”

Doctors, on the other hand, are not so sure.

Sick Worker Q&A (Restaurants Canada)

Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners in Ontario, told PressProgress the fast food lobby group’s coronavirus advice is not scientifically sound.

“Even for a general context, this is not a very good guide,” Dr. Chakrabarti said about Restaurants Canada’s “sick or not” check-list.

“The issue with viruses is whereas it’s possible the majority of people get a fever and a cough with this particular virus, not everybody does,” Dr. Chakrabarti explained.

“By doing this type of distinguishing, you can actually miss key symptoms.”

The fast food lobby group’s suggestion that coughing food handlers should still show up to work also raises concerns for Dr. Andrew Morris, an infectious diseases professor at the University of Toronto.

“People with a new fever and / or a cough should be considered potentially infectious until investigated,” Dr. Morris told PressProgress.

Dr. Ian Young, a health professor at Ryerson University, agrees that an “unexplained cough from an employee would be concerning and as a precaution those workers should not be allowed to work.”

“The primary risk or concern here is transmission of the virus to other co-workers or potentially to customers who come into close contact with the potentially infected worker,” Dr. Young said.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the most predominant symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, fatigue and a “dry cough.”

In February, before it declared a global pandemic, the World Health Organization advised: “if COVID-19 starts spreading in your community anyone with even a mild cough or low-grade fever (37.3 C or more) needs to stay at home.” SOURCE

 

Quebec government tries to go green in new budget, pushing public transit and electric cars

But environmentalists question level of commitment, with bulk of money not allotted until 2nd mandate

Quebec Finance Minister Eric Girard, centre, delivered his budget speech at the National Assembly on Tuesday. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Flush with cash, the Quebec government will pour more money into health care and education this year, while trying to convince Quebecers it is serious about reducing greenhouse gases.

The $118-billion budget for 2020-21 represents a 5.1 per cent increase over the previous year.

In the annual spending plan, tabled Tuesday in the National Assembly, Finance Minister Eric Girard reported a $1.9 billion surplus last year, thanks in part to a booming economy.

The Coalition Avenir Quebec government, often criticized for its lack of concern for environmental issues, said it would devote $6.7 billion over six years to deal with climate change.

Only $322 million of that, however, will be spent this year, prompting skepticism from environmentalists.

The CAQ said it’s committed to meeting the emissions target set by the previous government: a 37.5-per cent reduction from 1990 levels by 2030.

Girard also acknowledged the province’s cap-and-trade system won’t be enough to curb emissions, saying that more needs to be done to “electrify the economy.”

To that end, Girard set aside $15.8 billion for public transportation projects in Quebec’s 10-year infrastructure plan.

“Obviously, Quebec cannot reverse climate change on its own. However, we must do our part, and the government will oversee this collective effort,” Girard said in an advance copy of his budget speech.

The government also renewed a popular tax rebate for the purchase of electric cars, dubbed Roulez Vert, and a program (Chauffez Vert) to encourage homeowners to switch to a renewable energy heating system.

But Quebec will still need to substantially cut emissions in the transportation sector in order to meet its 2030 target.

Currently, about 44 per cent of Quebec’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the transport sector, especially fossil fuel-burning cars and trucks.

Patrick Bonin, a climate campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, said the budget doesn’t contain enough measures to curb emissions, and devotes too much money to building roads, as opposed to expanding public transit.

“Overall, when you look at what is on the table, it’s far from what is needed to counter the climate emergency,” he said. “We’re quite skeptical that Quebec is on the way to meeting the targets of the Paris accord.”

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who has made fighting climate change key to her own mandate, said she was “pleased to witness an important shift” toward public transit. But she also said she was disappointed that the government did not commit to build any new social housing in the city as its vacancy rate hits a 15-year low.

“We cannot ignore the immediate housing needs of thousands of Montrealers,” Plante said.

WATCH: Finance minister breaks down the budget by the numbers

The budget was tabled in the midst of global economic uncertainty, sparked by fears of the coronavirus and volatile oil prices.

First Nations in Quebec, Ontario to study impact of Gazoduq pipeline on their territories

But working agreement with company does not equate to consent

The proposed pipeline would carry natural gas to the Port of Saguenay where a proposed LNG plant and marine terminal would be built near this existing wharf. (Julia Page/CBC)

Eight communities from three First Nations in Quebec and Ontario have signed a working agreement with Gazoduq Inc.,  the company behind a proposed 780-kilometre natural gas pipeline, to analyze the impacts of the project on their territories.

The collaboration does not, however, “in any way” mean the communities have given their consent, said Adam Jourdain, the president of the collaborative entity named Mamo Aki.

The communities are located in Quebec’s Abitibi, Mauricie and Saguenay regions, as well as Northern Ontario, all places the pipeline would run through if it is approved.

The Wahgoshig First Nation, Abitibiwinni First Nation, Lac-Simon Anishnabe First Nation, Atikamew of Opitciwan, Atikamekw of Wemotaci, Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation, Essipit First Nation and Pessamit First Nation will now be represented under Mamo Aki.

Jourdain, who is also the director of economic development for Wemotaci, said being able to speak as one united front will ensure communities have the same information and a stronger voice as the project moves forward.

Normally, he said, companies would have to go door-to-door and sign separate agreements with each community.

“Now we are all at the same table and we have the same information — we’ll be able to put more pressure,” he said.

Each community will still decide on their own whether or not they support the pipeline in the long run.

But the budget allocated by Gazoduq to Mamo Aki will allow the hiring of independent environmental and legal experts.

“It serves as a lever to help us make a free and informed decision at the end of this process,” Jourdain told CBC News.

Louis Bergeron, the president of Gazoduq, said the company has been working to reach this kind of agreement for the past two years.

“It makes it more efficient to have these eight communities working on the same page and having one co-ordinated approach with Gazoduq,” Bergeron said.

Critical timing

The company hopes to carry natural gas to a liquefaction terminal on the Saguenay River, a sister project being pushed by GNL Quebec.

Both GNL Quebec and Gazoduq recently found out that one of the main investors in their $14-billion endeavour was pulling out, leaving a $4-billion gap.

Gazoduq said it continues to move forward with the project, and said a final decision on the investment plan will be made in 2021.

The pipeline extension, in yellow, would begin near the Ontario border and cross the Abitibi and upper Mauricie regions, ending at the Port of Saguenay. (Joan Dymianiw/CBC)

 

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada (IAAC) is currently reviewing Gazoduq’s initial project description.

The company also intends to submit to Quebec’s environmental review board, known by its French acronym BAPE, in 2020.

Bergeron said that when they do, they will already have the input they need from First Nations.

“They will themselves conduct some specific studies regarding the environment and traditional activities on their own territories,” said Bergeron.

By including First Nations early on in the process, Bergeron hopes Gazoduq will be able to give a more complete portrait of the project to the BAPE.

“We’ll be in a position to talk about remediation and I would say mitigation, and how we can better deal with the issues, the specificities of their territories and their traditional activities.”

Company remains unphased despite protests

In recent weeks, both Innu and Anishnabe communities in Quebec have protested in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the construction of a natural gas pipeline in northern British Columbia.

The protests didn’t block traffic or cause any major disruptions, but showed some local opposition to the Gazoduq pipeline.

Innu groups around Saguenay have expressed concerns over the pipeline that would run across their ancestral territory. (Priscilla Plamondon Lalancette/Radio-Canada)

The company said even though it will be dealing with one centralized group from now on, it will be able to address divisions within the communities thanks to the studies they will submit to the company.

“They will collaborate to the filing of the application, meaning that all their concerns and preoccupations will have been taken into account,” said Bergeron. SOURCE

COVID-19 could be ‘devastating’ for First Nations, says Matawa First Nations CEO

Overcrowded housing could make self-isolation impossible, says Neskatanga chief

David Paul Achneepineskum, CEO of Matawa First Nations Management, says staff who attended a Toronto mining conference linked to a case of the COVID-19 illness have been asked to work from home. (Gord Ellis / CBC)

The CEO of an organization that represents several fly-in communities in northern Ontario says the COVID-19 virus poses a potentially “devastating” threat to First Nations that are already dealing with a bad flu year and face overcrowded conditions due to housing shortages.

David Paul Achneepineskum, CEO of Matawa First Nations, said his organization has already implemented precautionary measures because about 60 people from its nine member communities along with some of its staff attended a mining conference earlier this month in Toronto that has been linked to a COVID-19 case in Sudbury, Ont.

Paul Achneepineskum said he and the 12 staff members who attended the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada conference would now be working from home over the next two weeks as a precaution.

“It’s kind of scary,” he said.

Paul Achneepineskum said it has already been a bad year for the flu in several First Nations and the threat of a new virus puts already vulnerable people in potential peril.

“I am afraid it’s going to be very devastating. As it is right now, our communities are in a crisis situation,” he said.

“I am very concerned about our elders and those that have low immunity and people with diabetes.”

The member First Nations of Matawa include Webequie, Nibinamik, Neskantaga, Marten Falls, Long Lake 58, Ginoogaming, Eabametoong, Constance Lake and Aroland.

Matawa First Nations has contacted the Thunder Bay Health Unit to appraise them of the situation, said Paul Achneepineskum. He said the health unit provided information that has been distributed to all the organization’s member First Nations.

Paul Achneepineskum said that the tribal council operated a booth at the conference. He said his staff interacted with mining representatives and provincial government officials who are based out of Sudbury.

Self-isolation difficult with overcrowded housing

Neskantaga Chief Chris Moonias, whose fly-in First Nation is about 400 km north of Thunder Bay, attended the conference and said he is self-monitoring for symptoms.

Moonias, whose community is a member of Matawa, said a total of six people attended the conference from Neskantaga and one recently went to the Thunder Bay hospital to get tested, but was told it wasn’t necessary because they showed no symptoms.

Neskantaga’s nursing staff gave a presentation on COVID-19 during a community meeting on Tuesday on preventative measures to avoid contracting or spreading the virus, he said.

Moonias said preventative measures may not be enough in many remote First Nations which face a shortage of housing.

“How can we be prepared if we are asked to be put under self-isolation when there is overcrowded housing, two or three families living in one house,” he said.

“How are you going to isolate yourself?”

Moonias said he’s asked health staff in his community to begin stocking up on things like dried goods, disinfectants, hand sanitizers and other products in case supply chains are affected by the virus outbreak.

“With the lack of infrastructure … where are we going to put them? We lack the space and we lack infrastructure,” said Moonias.

Churchill—Keewatinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton says Ottawa needs to do more to help First Nations prepare for COVID-19. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

 

NDP MP Niki Ashton, whose riding of Churchill-Keewatinook Aski includes several northern Manitoba First Nations, said she is concerned the federal government is not doing enough to help First Nations prepare.

“I am talking to leaders on the ground and nobody is talking to them, or if they are talking to them, there is nothing substantive,” said Ashton.

Ashton said she is seeing the same concerns resurface from the H1N1 pandemic in 2009 that led to Manitoba First Nations declaring a state of emergency.

Ashton said there were calls then for a field hospital to service remote northern First Nations in the province who were sent by air to Winnipeg for treatment. Now, with this new threat from COVID-19, the need for a field hospital is again emerging, she said.

“People are very concerned particularly around the issue of self-isolation,” she said. “If you do get sick, where would you go?”

Ashton said the government’s failure to deal with issues around housing, infrastructure and water quality have allowed conditions that increase the threat of a virus to persist.

“We need to be communicating with communities on the ground, identifying what are the major gaps here,” said Ashton.

Indigenous Services says it’s working with communities

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller said his department’s health branch is aware of the problems overcrowding poses to the need for self-isolation and officials have learned from the H1N1 pandemic.

“Indigenous communities across Canada face specifities that non-Indigenous people don’t when it comes to exposure to [COVID-19]. We have our experience from H1N1 and we know that overcrowding poses a real threat to people’s health for a number of reasons,” Miller told reporters in Ottawa.

“In an overcrowded situation, it will be much more difficult to self-isolate so we need a strategy to approach that … We have a specific approach to reach out to communities, communication directly into the community … with chiefs, with health stations, with nursing stations but also directly with the public.”

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says his department’s health branch is engaged with the COVID-19 preparations at the community level. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

 

On Wednesday, Trudeau said the government was putting $1 billion to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the total, about $100 million is set aside to pay for enhanced federal surveillance, increased testing at the National Microbiology Laboratory, and ongoing support for preparedness in First Nations and Inuit communities.

Miller said there is already money in place from last year’s budget — in addition to the funds announced by the prime minister— to deal with any outbreak that occurs in First Nations.

Miller’s office said in emailed statement that the department has been working to help prepare nursing stations to ensure they have adequate stocks of personal protective equipment, medication and nursing surge capacity.

The statement said that the department is dealing with emergency preparedness officials, health directors, health workers and nurses, along with provincial medical officials, to ensure First Nations are integrated into provincial plans. SOURCE

Alberta government must overhaul committee reviewing domestic-violence deaths, experts say

Vague recommendations often don’t lead to meaningful change: victim advocate

Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters executive director Jan Reimer says the provincial government needs to better monitor and implement recommendations from the Family Violence Death Review Committee. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

It is unlikely, the committee said, that she knew of his past: The long history of assaulting his girlfriends, the threats he routinely made to kill them if they left him.

The no-contact court orders issued and consistently violated, the labels various government agencies gave him — “high-risk,” “an unacceptable risk to persons close to him.”

How he had once followed through on one of his threats and tried to murder his partner.

In 2012, after they had dated for several years, it was she he came for, stabbing her several times. Police discovered her body and, later, his.

The details surrounding the murder-suicide are contained in a case report from Alberta’s Family Violence Death Review Committee, quietly posted on a government website in July 2019.

The report, which does not identify the victim or perpetrator, received no media attention. Its recommendations for how the province might prevent similar tragedies has not yet produced a public response from the government.

Experts say the committee’s work is vital but often falls short, culminating in belated reports full of sometimes vague recommendations that the province does not act on in any meaningful way.

“It has not met expectations,” Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters executive director Jan Reimer said.

“We all know there needs to be more education, we all know there needs to be more prevention, we all know there need to be more resources in Indigenous communities,” she said.

“There is lots we know. What are the actions that we are going to take and how are you going to monitor it to make a difference?”

Not every death reviewed

The committee was established in 2013 when the province amended the Protection Against Family Violence Act. Its members all have expertise in the area of family violence, and include lawyers, police officers, mental health experts, and victim advocates.

The committee produces annual reports containing statistics on domestic-violence homicides in the province, as well as in-depth reports on specific cases that represent systemic issues.

Those in-depth reviews cannot identify the parties involved and can only be conducted after any criminal investigations or proceedings are finished.

Since its inception six years ago, the committee has produced eight case reports. In 2018 alone, 23 Albertans died in family-violence-related incidents.

“I think case reviews should be done for each and every family-violence-related death that happens in Alberta,” University of Calgary law professor Jennifer Koshan said.

Koshan leads a research team that is conducting a five-year study of access to justice in domestic-violence cases across Canada.

It is critical to “systematically track those deaths, investigate those deaths in detail, and see where not just the legal system but other support systems for domestic-violence victims may have failed in those cases,” Koshan said, adding that other jurisdictions, like Ontario, investigate every death attributed to domestic violence.

A lack of resources is likely a factor in the committee’s output of case reports, Koshan said.

In 2018, the province paid the committee’s 10 members a combined total of less than $17,000 in compensation.

University of Calgary law professor Jennifer Koshan leads a research team that is conducting a five-year study of access to justice in Canadian domestic violence cases. She says the Family Violence Death Review Committee should investigate every death attributed to domestic violence. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney declined an interview request.

In an emailed statement, her press secretary, Diane Carter, confirmed the 2019 budget for the committee was $554,000, the majority of which went to administrative staff whose work supports the committee. Carter said the ministry anticipates this year’s committee budget will remain the same.

In response to the criticism the committee has released few reports, Carter said its investigations require an analysis of complex information.

She said these case reports are posted on the government’s website and are tabled in the legislature, and responses from relevant ministries are also posted online.

“Our government has a longstanding cross-ministry working group called the Interdepartmental Committee on Family Violence, which is dedicated to preventing and addressing family violence,” she said.

“Part of the (working group’s) mandate is to implement and monitor the recommendations from the committee. Many of the committee’s recommendations align with work already underway in government, and help us to prioritize our efforts in the prevention of family violence.”

Political independence would help, chair says

Committee chair Allen Benson said while the committee has only produced eight in-depth case reports, it examines every domestic violence death before selecting certain ones for a deeper analysis.

Other jurisdictions that review every death use a checklist system — one that simply identifies whether certain indicators of violence were present leading up to the death — and don’t get into the level of detail Alberta’s committee does in its case reports, he said.

“The amount of files that have to be reviewed, we are talking in the hundreds in some cases,” said Benson, who has chaired the committee since it was formed. “One of the most recent cases, I would say we had about 15 boxes of files to review.

“So there is a lot of work that is involved. The analysis part alone takes months.”

Sometimes case investigations can take a while to begin, he said, because the committee must wait for investigation reports and forensic test results from police, sometimes for a year or more.

Benson was quick to laud the work the committee members and support staff do with the budget they have. He acknowledged, however, that additional resources would help, as would independence from government.

“The cost of running an independent committee and the cost of hiring the staff that are needed to do the work, I’m not sure that there has ever been an interest on behalf of any government to spend that kind of money,” he said.

“I think if the Family Violence Death Review Committee reported directly to the legislature and was independent of government under new legislation, yes it would be more effective.”

The chair of Alberta’s Family Violence Death Review Committee says the group’s work would be more effective if the committee reported directly to the legislature. 0:48

He said he would like to see the government bring more public attention to the committee and its work, and act on more of its recommendations.

“When we look at some of the family violence recommendations, we have seen a response that has been very positive,” Benson said but added that “we haven’t seen major changes in some of the policy areas that we would like to see.

“So I don’t know that any government has responded properly to the recommendations that are being made by family violence death reviews anywhere in Canada,” he said.

Committee recommendations not publicly tracked

In its case report of the 2012 murder-suicide, the committee recommended the Alberta government develop more supports for domestic violence victims and perpetrators, including supports focused on mental health and rehabilitating offenders, as well as the implementation of a “coordinated services model” to address family violence in Alberta.

Such sweeping recommendations can be difficult to implement, critics say, because they sometimes don’t prescribe a clear course of action and the recommendations do not appear to be publicly tracked in any way.

“Part of my concern with the overall structure of the death review committee and the government oversight of that committee is that the monitoring and implementation of the recommendations is not what it could be,” Koshan said.

Accountability from the government is crucial for the committee’s work to have meaning, she said.

“The Family Violence Death Review Committee is only going to be effective if the government takes its recommendations seriously,” she said, adding she believes the committee should report directly to the legislature.

A spokesperson for Community and Social Services Minister Rajan Sawhney, shown above, said a government working group reviews the committee’s recommendations and helps implement them. (Peter Evans/CBC)

Perhaps the committee’s most specific recommendation in the 2012 case was that the province create a public awareness campaign about domestic violence and where to seek help, in what appeared to be a direct response to a major finding from the report.

Many people knew the perpetrator — who had mental-health issues and, reportedly, a history of childhood abuse — was abusive toward his partners. Some even knew the “severity and regularity” of that abuse. But few intervened or reported him to authorities.

“Further still, several individuals later reported having seen or heard substantial evidence to suggest that the perpetrator had either grievously injured or killed the victim, yet did nothing because they ‘didn’t want to know,'” the committee’s review found.

In her statement, Sawhney’s press secretary did not address the issue of why the government did not publicize the two case reports when they were released in July 2019, or respond publicly to the committee’s recommendations.

Community and Social Services has requested responses from all affected ministries by the end of this month and the responses will be posted shortly after, she said.

Case reports often quietly released

The committee submits its reports to Alberta’s community and social services minister, who decides how and when to publicly release them. But over the years, most of the reports have been released with no accompanying media announcements.

Instead, they are simply posted on a government website — one Reimer said her organization must keep checking to see if new case reports are available.

“Ideally, we would be brought in, and (we and) other domestic violence service providers would be given copies of the report,” she said. “And then we could also participate in looking at how to have that accountability built into it, because we’re the eyes in the community.”

The statement from Minister Sawhney’s press secretary did not address the criticism about how the reports are released.

Often, the reports come out several years after the deaths being investigated.

In this December 2014 file photo, flowers and stuffed animals lay on the sidewalk outside the north Edmonton home where Phu Lam killed his wife, her son, several other relatives, and a family friend. Alberta’s Family Violence Death Review Committee said it would begin its investigation in the killings as soon as possible but more than five years, it still has not produced its case report. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

In late December 2014, Edmonton man Phu Lam killed eight people, including his wife Thuy Tien Truong, her young son and niece, several other relatives, and a family friend. Lam then killed himself.

Just days later, the committee announced it would make its review of the case an “absolute priority” and would start its work as soon as police and the medical examiner completed their investigations.

More than five years later, that report still has not been released. An EPS spokesperson confirmed police formally finished their investigation in 2017.

Benson said it took the committee more than a year to receive the full police file, which included forensic reporting and DNA evidence. He said the number of deaths involved meant the review took longer. The committee is currently writing its case report.

“Immediacy is very important when we are talking about family violence issues, again not just in individual cases but really the need to look at these systemically,” Koshan said. “What are the failings of our justice system and the different components of our legal system that we should be talking about to try to prevent these deaths?”

She said while the committee’s annual reports reveal that women make up the overwhelming majority of victims, it should include more demographic information so the public can see who is most affected by domestic violence.

Reimer said the provincial government and the committee must develop a dissemination strategy for the reports, one that establishes timelines for action.

“When are people going to report back on those recommendations, what’s going to happen with them,” she said. “What are people going to do differently, because we can’t keep doing what we have been doing.

“Fatality inquiries, death review committees, they all have made the same recommendations,” Reimer continued. “The challenge is to get something done.”

If you need help and are in immediate danger, call 911. To find assistance in your area, visit sheltersafe.ca or http://endingviolencecanada.org/getting-help.

SOURCE

 

How to self-isolate during the coronavirus crisis

More Canadians are being asked to  self-isolate at home for 2 weeks at a time

Zeena Dotiwalla cleans a light switch at Yogaspace in Toronto on Wednesday. The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends that people in self-isolation clean frequently contacted surfaces at least once per day. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press)

As coronavirus cases continue to rise, more Canadians are being asked to to self-isolate at home — for two weeks at a time — if they are symptomatic, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, are returning from an area that’s experiencing an outbreak, or have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the illness.

CBC explains what that means.

Why are people told to self-isolate at home?

The majority of COVID-19 cases in Ontario have been mild and have not required hospitalization, much less acute care treatment, said David Jensen, a spokesperson with Ontario’s Ministry of Health, in an email to CBC News. People who are only mildly ill are asked to isolate at home to ensure hospitals can maintain the capacity to treat and manage more severe cases, if required.

How are authorities ensuring these people aren’t going out into the community? Is it an honour system?

Local public health units regularly check in with people who have confirmed cases to ensure they are abiding by guidelines for self-isolation, Jensen said. In addition, medical officers of health have statutory powers they can use to enforce self-isolation if they believe people are not following quarantine orders.

If someone is found to be non-compliant with any of the conditions for self-isolation at home, they could face significant fines and penalties under the Quarantine Act, a spokesperson with the federal Public Health Agency of Canada said.

Can they leave the premises?

People in self-isolation are asked to stay at home, unless absolutely necessary, such as to seek medical care. They should arrange to have groceries and supplies dropped off at the door.

(CBC)

Can relatives, housemates stay in the home of someone in self-isolation?

Yes, however, health officials advise that any person in self-isolation should avoid contact with others — keeping a distance of at least two meters — and wear a mask that covers their nose and mouth. Officials also advise staying in separate rooms and using separate bathrooms if possible.

How about pets?

The Public Health Agency of Canada says there is currently no evidence to suggest that any animal native to Canada (wild, livestock or pets) harbours the virus that causes COVID-19, and animals in Canada don’t pose a risk of infecting people with the virus.

Still, the agency recommends that, until more is known about human to animal transmission, patients infected with COVID-19 who also have a pet or other animal should avoid close contact with them.

More people are being asked to to self-isolate at home if they are symptomatic, have returned from an outbreak area, have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or come in contact with someone who has. (John Minchillo/Associated Press)

What about the use of household items?

People in self-isolation are asked to avoid sharing household items, including dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding and other objects, PHAC says.

Any special guidelines for cleaning?

PHAC says that at least once daily, individuals in self-isolation should clean and disinfect surfaces they touch often, such as toilets, bedside tables, doorknobs, light switches, phones and television remotes. Regular household disinfectants are fine.

Contaminated items that cannot be cleaned should be placed in a lined container and disposed of with other household waste. SOURCE