The Worms Turn in My Composting Bin

My relationship with trash changed for the better from the first banana peel I kept out of it.

Rodrigo Garrido/Reuters

MONTCLAIR, N.J. — No one told me there would be worms. But I didn’t give in to squeamishness. Nor lack of confidence. The dirt-filled secret turned out to be that I can compost, and the results, requiring neither rigor nor aptitude, are stunning.

I also didn’t know composting would be so soothing during a pandemic.

In these mounting weeks of self-isolating, many of us are seeking and finding solace in the natural world. For me, this comfort extends to my backyard composting, which thrives as my family eats and snacks through each day at home, now and into a near future that unfurls with uncertainty.

I’ve never considered our food supply chain so intensely: where our sustenance comes from, whether there will be enough through this crisis, who touches it before it gets to us (and if our heroic grocers are being properly compensated), and how we should handle it once it’s home. We now wash our fruits and vegetables with soap and warm water.

I take this one more step, beyond our nourishment, and deliver what we don’t consume back to the earth.

I’ve been composting imperfectly but effectively for six years, and I do it with a basic composting bin out my back door. I altered my relationship with trash from the first banana peel I kept out of it.

Consider the common salad: one bounty is headed to the table, the other — a colorful mass of peels, cores, rinds and stems — goes into a countertop container. Ready to rot, it’s a visual reminder of the sheer volume of what will never be closed inside a plastic bag and burned in an incinerator or dropped onto a landfill.

In the last month, the planet as we know it has shifted under our feet and will probably shift again. The coronavirus is showing us what global fragility looks like, though the planet’s health has been struggling for some time as it continues to warm from the burning of fossil fuels. Environmental regulations are being rolled back. Recycling programs are faltering, and it’s unclear how we’ll manage our excessive quantities of plastics. The outlook can feel bleak.

We need to reduce our output of waste. Composting is a simple and fruitful method of doing that. It’s also an antidote to eco-despair and its sibling, eco-paralysis, which often take the form of a question: “What can I alone do?” or “How do I begin?”

Someone told me recently she was daunted by the process of composting, to which I replied, “What process?”

When it fills, I take my countertop loot outside to the compost bin, nestled next to a tree at the back of our quarter-acre. I twist off the bin’s top (my simple unit reminds me of a supersize Darth Vader helmet) and, with a level of satisfaction I don’t always achieve in the other corners of my day, toss in my scraps. I throw on some dry leaves I’ve corralled since fall (a perk — we have far less to bag). Next time I’m there, I give the compost a couple of pokes and a swirl with the turning tool and admire all the worms that have arrived to feast and do their fine work. They seem so happy inside, devouring our leftovers, and it makes me happy to see them.

If the compost seems gooey, I add extra leaves; if it seems dry, I don’t. The contents break down quickly in summer, which makes space to fill the bin back up in winter. Once a year, out the bottom hatch comes homemade fertilizer, dark and crumbly and unscented, flecked with an occasional produce sticker. I gleefully deposit it around the plantings in my yard, or perhaps into a freshly dug hole for a new shrub or tree.

In doing just this little with so much, our curbside trash has been cut in half and is remarkably light. We don’t need the second day of trash pickup our town provides, which means a truck that idles less.

I recently weighed the citrus rinds, cucumber peels, coffee grounds and other kitchen detritus collected in two days by my family of four and it came to 4.3 pounds. I did the math for a week, then a year, then six, and felt something that could only have been eco-joy.

This is at my fingertips, or just beyond the blade of my paring knife, every single day.

Right now, as we continue to heed the call to stay home, the planet is displaying signs of renewed health. Satellite views reveal an atmosphere convalescing in reduced emissions from cars on land and planes across the sky, startling proof of what’s possible when we humans ease up. We are acquiring less, walking more and delighting in spring blooms and bright stars — small, essential gifts.

Earth Day this year will be without gatherings. To celebrate at home, consider keeping your first banana peel out of the garbage. I promise it will feel good and meaningful, both in the here and now and well beyond. Composting allows for a connection to food, to waste, to nature breaking things down just as intended, and to the revelry that comes with allowing it to happen.

When we emerge from the turmoil of this pandemic, perhaps scathed but no less able, may we maintain our enhanced connection, and take seriously our responsibility to this planet and its soil. SOURCE


Jessica Stolzberg is a writer.

 

Inspire kids to protect the planet and take care of each other

superheroKids-800w.jpg

The COVID-19 crisis has forced thousands of Canadian children to isolate at home, away from school, and that has many parents looking for ways to keep their kids happy, calm, confident and stimulated.

DreamRider Productions, a not-for-profit that specializes in creative and fun environmental education for kids, has responded by offering an at-home version of its award-winning classroom program, Planet Protector Academy.

Offering these sessions online at no cost is a generous gift during this time, and we didn’t want the young ones in your life to miss out.

SIGN UP FOR PLANET PROTECTOR ACADEMY

The programming is ideal for children ages 6 to 11. It incorporates music, theatre and humour to empower children to make a difference in protecting the planet.

Children become virtual superheroes as Apprentice Planet Protectors and learn how to get involved in the community through collaborative models

Sessions are one hour each, Monday to Thursdays (10 to 11 Pacific time) and start tomorrow (Monday, April 20) to kick off Earth Week. Sign up the kids in your life now to get in on the fun.

Take Action! Say No to Big Oil’s Secret Demands

Canada’s largest oil and gas lobby group, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), is trying to exploit the COVID crisis and deliberately hide it from the Canadian public.

A secret memo from CAPP to the federal government reveals that the lobby group is using a global health crisis as an excuse to move forward on every measure they have ever lobbied on, most of which have nothing to do with COVID-19 or its impact on oil and gas companies. CAPP’s list of under-the-table requests include:

    • Stop moving forward with any new climate policies
    • Cancel plans to reform the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, putting Canadians at ongoing risk from toxic chemicals
    • Defer plans to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP)
    • Pause the planned increase of the federal carbon price
    • Exempt projects with big carbon footprints from having to undergo environmental impact assessments, indefinitely
    • Delay federal methane regulations, or let weak provincial regulations take over

Giving in to the oil and gas lobby’s requests puts Canadians at risk, threatens birds, fish and other wildlife, and obliterates any hope for Canada in meeting its international obligations to fight climate change. Tell the federal government to publicly reject these demands.

The health of Canadians and the right to transparency should not be compromised during these times. Push back against the industry’s attempt to take advantage of the COVID crisis to secretly weaken our chance of a healthy and climate-safe future.

In solidarity,

Dale Marshall
National Program Manager, Climate,
Environmental Defence

 

EU sees ‘Green Deal’ delays but keeps climate target plan: draft document

Ursula von der Leyen Photographer: Geert Vanden Wijngaert/Bloomberg

(Reuters) – The European Commission will delay some climate policies under its signature “Green Deal” proposal due to the coronavirus pandemic, but the timeline to unveil a new 2030 emissions target is unchanged, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

The pandemic and economic shock have forced the EU executive to review its plans for 2020, as the novel coronavirus demands an urgent focus on ensuring an economic recovery at a time when most of the EU executive’s staff are under lockdown at home.

Initiatives including plans to protect biodiversity and reforms to make farming more sustainable, due to be unveiled on April 29, could be delayed until later in 2020.

The sustainable agriculture plan may need to be reworked if the Commission changes its proposal for the next multi-year, 2021-2027 EU budget in light of the pandemic, the draft said.

Reforms to make the transport and chemicals sectors more sustainable could also be pushed back to later this year.

Meanwhile, plans to help the bloc adapt to the impact of climate change, improve sustainable forest management, and give consumers better information on recycling and repairing products, are pushed back to 2021, the document said.

“The Commission is currently reviewing its 2020 work program due to the outbreak of the coronavirus. We are planning on presenting an updated work program in the following weeks,” a Commission spokeswoman said.

However, a draft of the revised workplan says the EU executive’s most urgent climate policies will not be delayed.

These include a plan to propose a new, more ambitious EU 2030 climate target in September.

The target revision is a “pivotal element” of EU climate policy, the draft said.

The EU was under pressure to unveil a new 2030 target in time for a U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, which was scheduled for November but has been delayed to 2021.

The Commission needs to encourage bigger EU emissions cuts over the next decade to put the bloc on track for its “Green Deal” vision that by 2050, EU countries will emit no more greenhouse gases than can be absorbed.

An EU sustainable finance strategy, due after the European summer break, will also not be delayed, the draft said, adding that the policy could help ensure the EU’s post-crisis recovery plan aligns with climate aims.

“This action plan … is very important for orienting the private flow of money towards a sustainable recovery,” it said.

A group of 180 European politicians, companies and campaigners on Tuesday urged Brussels to use green investments to restart growth after the pandemic.

The Commission says its Green Deal remains a high priority despite the pandemic, but some EU lawmakers expressed concern at the planned delays.

“The right to repair (broken electrical goods), the switch to climate-friendly mobility and the Europe-wide energy transition are being jeopardised,” German Green lawmaker Michael Bloss said.

COVID-19 & the Canadian Constitution

Over the past two months, the federal government, the provinces, and municipalities have exercised a variety of legal powers to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, a large number of constitutional issues have emerged — and could soon give rise to constitutional challenges in the courts.

While physical distancing measures are beginning to generate controversy as infringements of the freedoms of assembly and association, they are only one of a long and growing number of constitutional issues, including those arising from: domestic violencecontact tracing via cellphone data; resource allocation decisions in hospitals for end-of-life care; the federal-provincial division of powers with respect to public health (including interprovincial transport and the Emergencies Act); and the delegation of legislative powers by Parliament and provincial legislatures to the executive.

In this article I provide a brief overview of the constitutional landscape in Canada, through the lens of COVID-19.

1. Lockdowns, Canadian-style

Canada vs. the United States: Provinces and municipalities across Canada have enacted a range of measures that have closed down non-essential businesses, government offices and schools, and sharply restricted the use of public property. While the media has taken to referring to these measures in aggregate as “lockdowns”, from a constitutional perspective, it is important to look at the details.

To see why, let’s quickly compare the COVID-19 measures in California and Ontario:

· In California, Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order N-33–20 (19 March 2020) ordered “all individuals living in the State of California to stay home or at least their place of residency” subject to exceptions for individuals employed in “critical infrastructure sectors” (including communications, financial institutions, food and agriculture, health care, and transportation) and essential government services. Individuals can leave the house to access “necessities” such as food, prescriptions, and health care — and when they leave the house, must maintain physical distancing. This is known as a shelter-in-place order.

· In Ontario, public health is regionalized to boards of health, each of which has a Medical Officer of Health (MOH). Dr. Ellen de Villa, Toronto’s MOH, issued a “class order” on 1 April 2020 pursuant to s. 22(5.0.1) of the Health Protection and Promotion Act, to direct the following individuals to self-isolate at home for a 14-day period: persons diagnosed or showing symptoms of COVID-19, or members of the same household as one of those individuals. While the City of Toronto website states that all other individuals are “strongly directed to stay home” except for necessities (health care, prescriptions, groceries, exercise), that “directive” lacks any legal force. In addition, municipalities have enacted by-laws to impose physical distancing on public property (e.g. see Toronto’s physical distancing by-law and Mayor John Tory’s 3 April 2020 emergency order). Finally, Ontario banned public events and social gatherings of more than five people on 28 March 2020 (which explains why the highly publicized backyard birthday party in Brampton broke the law).

California’s shelter-in-place order is much more restrictive than the sum total of the various measures in Ontario, because it establishes a default rule that all residents must remain at home, subject to limited exceptions. While the Canadian Civil Liberties Association has criticized the enforcement of physical distancing restrictions on the bases that police officers have not educated or warned individuals before issuing tickets, and that the fines imposed are disproportionately high, we should not lose sight of the relative narrowness of Ontario’s approach, and how that keeps it on relatively safe constitutional terrain.

Self-isolation orders infringe a number of rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including the freedoms of religion, expression, assembly and association. However, all Charter infringements can potentially be justified under s. 1, the Charter’s limitation clause. A central issue to any potential Charter challenge would be whether the government has chosen the approach that infringes rights only to the extent necessary. The decision to not issue a blanket shelter-in-place order, and instead rely on self-isolation directed at a class of individuals based on objective criteria for a limited timeframe, would count in favour of the constitutionality of the order.

· Charter duties to protect health care workers and the vulnerable: 

The Charter may actually require lockdowns of some fashion. It is arguable that governments have positive Charter duties to take measures to protect those most at risk from infection: the elderly and the immunocompromised (who are at risk involuntarily), and health care workers (who are at risk because of their professional duties). A critical constitutional fact is the risk of transmission by persons who are COVID-19 positive but asymptomatic, and who may therefore be unaware that they are infected and pose a threat to others.

Under European human rights law, it has long been accepted that governments have a duty to protect individuals from threats to their life posed by natural risks or other persons under certain circumstances. European commentators have accordingly argued that shelter-in-place orders are obligatory for this reason. A parallel line of argument could be developed under the Charter. The potentially fatal nature of COVID-19 engages s. 7 of the Charter, which protects the right to life, liberty and security of the person. In R v. Bedford, the Supreme Court held that the government had acted unconstitutionally by criminally prohibiting individuals (sex workers) from engaging in conduct (solicitation). Notably, the prohibition was found to be unconstitutional because it put sex workers at greater risk of physical harm from other persons (pimps), not the state. In Dunmore v. Ontario (Attorney General), the Supreme Court held that the exclusion of an industry (agriculture) from private sector collective bargaining legislation violated employees’ freedom of association, because it breached a positive duty to extend to workers the scope of protective legislation that protected them from management, not the state. Bedford and Dunmore in combination arguably create a positive duty on the state to protect human life, even at the hands of non-state actors, at least where the state knows or ought to know of the risk.

· Domestic violence: Globally, one of the most horrific consequences of lockdowns has been a steep rise in domestic violence, because abused partners, generally women, are now forced to spend more time at home with, and are more limited in their ability to flee, their abusive partners. The risk of domestic violence is exacerbated by the economic stress created by COVID-19. The situation is so serious that it has led to public statements from the United Nations and the Government of Canada. The increased risk of domestic violence has constitutional implications under the Charter. Using Bedford (see above) as a model, if lockdowns place abused partners at greater risk of abuse, they breach s. 7. Under a s. 1 analysis, governments could more easily justify lockdowns if they adopted measures such as exemptions for victims of domestic violence, providing and/or increasing funding to emergency shelters, and providing mechanisms for abused partners fleeing domestic violence to alert authorities (e.g. at pharmacies or by texting).

2. Contract tracing and privacy

As governments chart a path out of lockdowns and to reopen the economy and public institutions, a key element will be contact tracing, which has long been an important weapon in the arsenal of public health authorities. The basic idea behind contact tracing is simple: to identify individuals who have come into contact with those who have tested positive for COVID-19, and to notify them that they may be infected and should therefore go into self-isolation.

Until recently, contact tracing has taken place manually — that is, by interviews and old-fashioned detective work. The widespread use of mobile phones offers new possibilities for contact tracing at the population level using cellphone dataSouth Korea and Singapore have taken this approach, and Germany is considering itAn individual downloads an app, which, through GPS or Bluetooth, tracks information about other cellphone users with whom they have been in close proximity. If the individual tests positive, notifications are sent out accordingly.

However, there is no consensus as to how any such apps should use, disclose, and retain individuals’ COVID-19 information. Nor do we know what governance mechanisms would be implemented for the contact tracing programs that such apps would enable. Practical questions abound about how such app-based programs would actually work. For example, is participation in such programs to be voluntary, mandatory, or a condition for receiving a COVID-19 test? Are data collected about persons going to be individually identifiable to government authorities, or de-identified? What types and volumes of data will be collected and shared with governments: just physical location history and COVID-19 status, or other demographic information such as age and sex? What about other potentially relevant personal information, such as the geolocations of contactless payments? What data will be shared with infected individuals’ contacts? Who else will have access to this information — paramedics, nurses and doctors, law enforcement — and under what circumstances and according to what procedures? What about employers and co-workers? How long will the information be retained? Would the data be held by government or a newly created arms-length agency? What would the forms of legal and political oversight and accountability be?

At present, it is projected that a COVID-19 vaccine is 12 to 18 months away, so contact tracing programs based on mobile app technology may be in place for some time. Privacy groups, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have raised the alarm. Canadian commentators have also urged caution. This has led to proposals, such as Pan-European Privacy-Preserving Proximity Tracing, to create digital platforms that preserve privacy while achieving the health benefits of population-level contact tracing.

If Canadian governments head in this direction, there are a number of complex legal issues they would face. Would the approach be national, led by the federal government, or would some provinces attempt to move ahead on their own, as has been suggested might happen in Alberta? Would governments attempt to invoke existing statutory powers, or would a new legislative basis be required? If the former route is taken, federal and provincial privacy legislation — such as the federal Privacy Act and Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act (PIPEDA), or provincial statutes such as the Ontario Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act — would apply.

If new legislation were required, it would raise a host of novel constitutional questions. The Charter does not expressly protect the right to privacy, unlike many other constitutions. The Supreme Court’s privacy jurisprudence under the Charter has largely developed in the context of the criminal legal process with respect to the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure. The Court has not had many opportunities to develop the right to informational privacy in the non-criminal context, unlike courts in other jurisdictions. What can be expected, though, is that differences in app design and governance will have a direct bearing on whether a contact tracing program is constitutional.

3. End-of-life decisions

In the battle against COVID-19, a major focus has been on the capacity of hospitals to admit and treat patients that require it. Provincial governments are aggressively trying to expand the necessary resources, especially intensive care unit (ICU) beds and ventilators. The goal is to avoid a situation where hospital admissions rise to the point where the demand for these items exceeds the available supply, as appears to be happening in some parts of the United States. In a worst-case scenario, it is possible this could happen in Canada — although based on current trends, it is possible that ICU admissions will prove to be lower than predicted.

Nonetheless, the Ontario government has reportedly made contingency plans to triage access to ICUs, in the form of draft “last resort guidelines”. According to news reports, the draft guidelines — the “Clinical Triage Protocol for Major Surge in COVID Pandemic” (28 March 2020) — would kick in when hospitals are operating at 200 percent capacity. The Protocol has three levels of triage: level 1 would deny life-saving treatment to patients with more than an 80 percent chance of death; level 2 would deny life-saving treatment to patients with more than a 50 percent chance of death; level 3 would deny such treatment to patients with more than a 30 percent of death. It is not clear if the guidelines have been formally approved. The Ontario government has insisted that it will not make triaging decisions on the basis of age. The draft guidelines would apply both to initial access to ventilators, as well as to decisions to withdraw life support.

Rationing access to ventilators on the basis of the likelihood of survival might breach the equality rights provision of the Charter, s. 15. Under federal and provincial human rights codes, disability has been interpreted to include medical conditions in some circumstances, and the same may apply under the Charter. If so, triaging patients on the basis of the likelihood of survival might amount to disability discrimination under the CharterAn open letter to the Ontario government advances a related argument — that “the Triage Protocol identifies particular disabilities, such as cognitive disabilities and advanced neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson Disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis” — which could give rise to a claim of disability discrimination, depending on how they are used.

The chances of a successful Charter challenge to the Protocol under s. 15 are unclear. In Auton v. British Columbia, the Supreme Court rejected a Charter challenge to the failure to publicly fund a particular treatment for autistic children, on the basis that it was novel. Auton did not address access to a hospital service that is already publicly funded and is not novel. But on the other hand, Auton might also have established a political questions doctrine around the content of publicly funded health care services, sending the message that the courts will avoid being pulled into disputes over the allocation of scare health care resources under the Charter.

Withdrawing life-sustaining treatment raises different issues. Legal disputes may arise in situations where a patient is incapable, the Protocol provides that a patient may be weaned off a ventilator and the medical team wishes to do so, but the patient’s family disagrees. Until now, such disputes have arisen without the involvement of formal government policy and have been governed by the statutory and common law framework for consent to treatment and substitute decision-making. The core legal question has been whether the substitute decision-maker’s refusal to consent to the withdrawal of treatment is in the patient’s best interests, as the Ontario Court of Appeal explained in Rasouli (Litigation Guardian of) v. Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. The Protocol would bring such disagreements under the Charter, and would raise a novel issue that falls outside the scope of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Carter v. Canada on Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID).

4. Federal-provincial division of powers

· Public health: The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the complicated relationship between federal and provincial jurisdiction over public health. On the one hand, the provinces have historically been viewed as having primary responsibility for creating public health institutions and laying down public health norms. The front-line response to COVID-19, such as closing down non-essential businesses, government offices and schools, and sharply restricting the use of public property, has been led by local and provincial public health authorities. But on the other hand, the COVID-19 pandemic originated outside Canada, is global in scope, and requires a coordinated, comprehensive international response. Moreover, an infectious disease outbreak in one province affects all the others, because of inter-provincial mobility — COVID-19 does not respect provincial borders. The international and interprovincial dimensions of public health can only be addressed by the federal government.

Intergovernmental cooperation has been central to the response to COVID-19 (for example, with respect to international procurement). However, this cooperation has not been taking place in accordance with Canada-wide public health norms about surveillance, outbreak investigations, and outbreak management, because there are no such Canada-wide public health norms at present.

In its report, Learning from SARS: Renewal of Public Health in Canada (2003), the National Advisory Committee on SARS and Public Health recommended the adoption of Canada-wide public health norms through the creation of a new legislative services agency, the Canadian Agency for Public Health. That agency would have flowed earmarked federal funds to front-line local and provincial/territorial public health agencies, in exchange for compliance with Canada-wide public health norms developed through negotiations among federal/provincial/territorial public health professionals. While Parliament adopted legislation to create the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Agency was never given this mandate.

At this stage of the crisis, federal/provincial/territorial cooperation may be working sufficiently well that this underlying structural issue need not be addressed at present. However, it is worth considering two options for creating Canada-wide public health norms.

· Emergencies Act:

The COVID-19 pandemic meets the definition of a “public welfare emergency” under s. 5 of the federal Emergencies Act. Pursuant to s. 8(1), the Governor-in-Council could issue regulations setting out Canada-wide public health norms that would bind health care institutions and professionals. However, the Emergencies Act suffers from three main shortcomings: (a) declarations of public welfare emergencies expire at the end of 90 days unless they are continued by a positive vote of both houses of Parliament; (b) orders and regulations under s. 8(1) must be “temporary” and cannot create public health norms that outlast the emergency, which is meant to eventually come to an end; and (c) Canada-wide public health norms would be seen as a federal takeover of provincial and territorial public health systems, which could give rise to intergovernmental tensions and create difficulties of implementation, especially if there are no accompanying federal transfers to provincial and territorial authorities. In addition, unilateral actions might run afoul of s. 8(3)(a), which provides that the G-in-C’s power shall not be exercised or performed to “unduly impair the ability of any province to make measures, under an Act of the legislature of the province, for dealing with an emergency in the province” and “with the view of achieving, to the extent possible, concerted action with each province with respect to which the power, duty or function is exercised or performed”.

· New federal legislation:

The federal government could propose legislation that vests the Public Health Agency of Canada with the power to establish Canada-wide public health norms, and which would be based on the following principles: (a) the legislation would apply in a province unless the Agency were to determine that the provincial public health norms were substantially similar to Canada-wide public health norms (the “backstop”); and (b) the federal government would provide earmarked funding to provinces to ensure the effective implementation of Canada-wide public health norms, whether the backstop applies or not. “Backstops” are currently in use in the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act, PIPEDA, the Tobacco and Vaping Products Act, and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. The backstop, coupled with funding, provides provincial and territorial public health authorities with the incentive to comply with Canada-wide public health norms, and with the legal room and financial capacity to innovate and adapt those norms to specific local circumstances. In ideal circumstances, the backstop would not apply in any provincial or territorial jurisdiction.

The constitutional basis for federal backstop legislation would be the Peace, Order and Good Government (POGG) power, which can be exercised in cases of “provincial inability”. In Reference re Securities Act, the Supreme Court interpreted the idea of provincial inability to encompass federal jurisdiction over “systemic risks”. In the economic context, the Court defined systemic risks as “risks that occasion a ‘domino effect’ whereby the risk of default by one market participant will impact the ability of others to fulfill their legal obligations, setting off a chain of negative economic consequences that pervade an entire financial system”. It reasoned that “by definition, such risks can be evasive of provincial boundaries and usual methods of control”. The concept of systemic risk should encompass federal authority to manage global pandemics, as a systemic health risk is characterized by chain reactions and domino effects which do not respect national or provincial borders.

· International and interprovincial travel:

International and interprovincial transportation fall under federal jurisdiction. Canada has imposed new border controls, including an interim order under the Aeronautics Act that air carriers screen Canadian citizens trying to board flights back to Canada and not board those who have suspected signs or symptoms of COVID-19It has been argued that this policy may be unconstitutional under the Charter. Section 6(1) of the Charter guarantees the right of every Canadian to enter Canada. A constitutional challenge would turn on whether the federal government has chosen the approach that infringes rights only to the extent necessary — the approach taken may create both false positives (if individuals do not have COVID-19 but are prevented from boarding) and false negatives (if asymptomatic COVID-19 individuals are allowed to board).

Interprovincial travel restrictions also raise potential constitutional issues. A number of provinces are reported to have set up border checkpoints — for example, along the Nova Scotia-New Brunswick border and on the Alexandra Bridge in Gatineau. Provincial governments are reportedly stopping vehicles, requesting identification, asking travelers about the purpose of their visit, and enforcing a ban against “non-essential” travel. If this is in fact occurring, it raises three constitutional issues. First, under s. 6(2) of the Charter, Canadians and permanent residents have the right to economic mobility — that is “to move to and take up residence in any province” and “to pursue the gaining of a livelihood in any province.” This right would encompass the inter-provincial provision of a service. However, it does not extend to strictly social travel — for example, to visit an ailing family member. Second, travel for non-economic purposes is arguably protected by s. 7 of the Charter, which protects the right to liberty. Third, interprovincial transportation falls under federal jurisdiction, under s. 92(10)(a) of the Constitution Act, 1867, which entails that a province “must not prevent or restrict interprovincial traffic”, as the Privy Council held in Attorney-General (Ontario) v. Winner.

5. Legislatures and Executives

Finally, let’s turn to the relationship between legislatures and executives. COVID-19 has led executives around the world to propose legislation to delegate legislative powers to them, on the basis that the crisis is so fast-moving that the traditional legislative process cannot keep pace with it. Canada is no exception.

· Federal: 

The first legislative response to COVID-19 was Bill C-13, An Act respecting certain measures in response to COVID-19. A draft version of Bill C-13 contained a provision that would have authorized Parliament to change taxes without parliamentary approval until the end of 2021. This portion of Bill C-13 was dropped, in the face of the objections of opposition parties. An interesting question is whether the delegation of tax authority would have been constitutional. Under s. 53 of the Constitution Act, 1867, only Parliament — not the federal government — can impose taxes. However, the Supreme Court held in Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Assn. v. Ontario (Attorney General) that the legislature can delegate its power to set taxes to the executive through “express and unambiguous language” in a statute. If the omitted portion of Bill C-13 met this condition, it would have probably been constitutional.

· Alberta:

Alberta’s Bill C-10, the Public Health Emergency Powers Amendment Act, 2020, might go one step further. It purports to grant ministers the power, upon the declaration of a public health emergency, to “specify or set out provisions that apply in addition to, or instead of, any provision of an enactment” — that is, the power to amend any legislation, without recourse to the legislative process. The legal question is whether such amendments are limited in duration to the public health emergency itself, or whether they are permanent. If they are permanent, Bill C-10 contains what is known as a “Henry VIII clause”, so named because Henry VIII preferred to legislate through executive proclamation rather than by Parliament. Over a century ago, the Supreme Court ruled that Henry VIII clauses were constitutional, in Re Gray. However that decision was handed down during armed conflict — not a pandemic during peacetime. The constitutionality of Henry VIII clauses during peacetime has been subject to debate and in my view is an open question.

***

The COVID-19 pandemic has already thrown up myriad constitutional issues. More will likely emerge in the weeks and months to come. As we craft public policy responses to COVID-19, we will need to be increasingly attentive to the constitutional questions they raise. SOURCE


Sujit Choudhry is the Principal of choudhry.law. He is a leading expert on the Canadian Constitution. 

The “Father of Environmental Justice” on Why He Isn’t Surprised by COVID-19 Health Disparities

An interview with Robert Bullard on how the novel coronavirus exacerbates existing environmental health issues.

Robert-Bullard-Q_A

Courtesy of Dr. Robert Bullard

s the coronavirus keeps large swaths of Texas shut down, from the economy to the education system and social life, it has become common to note that the disease “doesn’t discriminate.” But Robert Bullard, a professor and former dean at Texas Southern University’s Barbara Jordan–Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, has spent the past four decades researching the opposite: how natural disasters and crises wreak havoc on society unequally. Low-income communities of color often have far fewer resources to address disaster and, as a result, face far greater risks than whiter, wealthier neighborhoods in times of crisis.

Indeed, across the nation, evidence suggests that people of color are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 than are white people. Though Texas’s Department of State Health Services has so far reported incomplete racial data, some counties are following the national trend. In Harris County, for example, 40 percent of those who died from COVID-19 were black, though black people account for only 20 percent of the county’s population.

A number of factors could be responsible for the disparity. In Texas, black and Latino communities have higher rates of preexisting conditions that make the coronavirus deadly, like asthma and high blood pressure. When it comes to health care, black, Hispanic, and Native Americans in the state are more likely to be uninsured than white residents, according to data from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Testing for COVID-19 is also far from equally accessible: in the city of Dallas, testing is concentrated in high-income areas. And people of color might also be more likely to be employed in sectors that preclude social distancing: black and Latino workers are the least likely to report being able to work from home, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While COVID-19 is a new phenomenon, racial disparities in health outcomes are not. In the seventies, Bullard’s research in Houston demonstrated that toxin-releasing facilities like waste and sewage plants were disproportionately placed in the city’s black neighborhoods, leading to a higher concentration of health problems. To this day, the pattern holds true.

Bullard’s work catalyzed the American environmental justice movement, which argues that environmental problems disproportionately affect communities of color and the poor, and that race and class should be accounted for in their potential solutions. Texas Monthly spoke with Bullard about how the pandemic intersects with environmental issues and why people of color are more vulnerable to the disease.

[This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.]

Texas Monthly: In your book The Wrong Complexion for Protection you write, “When societal resources are distributed unequally by class and race, it should be no surprise that population health is distributed along those lines as well.” Were you at all surprised by the racial disparities many counties are reporting with COVID-19?

Robert Bullard: No. When it comes to who gets in line first, and who has priority [for resources like health care], a lot of that is predetermined by the power structures, politically and economic. Oftentimes privilege aligns with race, with white people getting the first and the best protection. And so it’s not surprising when you look at how structural and institutional racism has given privileges for some and disadvantaged others. And when you have poverty, lack of access to health care, [high rates of] uninsured, many who have no private automobiles and are dependent on the buses and public transportation, and neighborhoods in pollution sacrifice zones—and then you pile on top of that the stress of racism—you’re going to get people who are vulnerable. It’s not rocket science. These social determinants of health have been known for many years.

And so the coronavirus is basically taking advantage of those vulnerabilities, and you’re seeing it play out in the deaths. And that’s more than sad. It’s unacceptable.

TM: The coronavirus seems to be a public health disaster that’s layering on top of existing disparities in environmental and social determinants of health. How do you see these things as interconnected, and how are environmental vulnerabilities making the coronavirus worse in certain communities?

RB: We know that if communities are saturated with all kinds of polluting facilities—landfills, incinerators, petrochemical plants and refineries, and coal power plants—and the air quality is bad, you’ll find high rates of ill health: asthma, respiratory illnesses, and other kinds of diseases that are elevated among people of color and poor people, like diabetes and hypertension.

We’re not even dealing with the coronavirus yet: we’re talking about studies that have shown that areas that have high concentration of polluting facilities also have high concentration of health disparities.

So when you apply that to this virus that appears to be attacking the respiratory system … and the cardiovascular system, it’s already hard to breathe in some of these neighborhoods. The coronavirus will make it even harder. It will kill you.

The idea is that if a community is located physically on the wrong side of the levee, the wrong side of the river, on the wrong side of the tracks, it receives less protection than those who are on the right side. Communities of color are disproportionately more vulnerable.

You tell me your zip code, and I can tell you how healthy you are. And so when you talk about trying to map out those social, economic, and racial vulnerabilities, and then overlay health, you can see that there’s a big disparity. You can go from one census tract or one zip code to another, and life expectancy changes by more than fifteen or twenty years by just crossing that line.

TM: Has Texas’s response failed to acknowledge preexisting health disparities?

RB: Texas has the second lowest percentage of testing but that doesn’t surprise me. What surprises me is that it doesn’t have the worst.

This virus does not does not look at your race, or your color. It looks at vulnerability. You can try and look at geographic areas the virus is hitting and not look at race. But then if you put race back in, you will see that there is a discernible pattern. Oftentimes, lax enforcement of environmental law means that communities on the frontline suffer. And that goes hand in hand with lax civil rights enforcement. Texas has the highest rates of uninsurance in the nation, and it has resisted expanding Medicaid, for example. So these policies have created vulnerabilities and it disadvantages communities.

If you talk to people in those neighborhoods on the streets, they can tell you without mapping that they’re most likely to get flooded. Most likely to get polluted. Most likely to suffer from extended unemployment. Or they don’t have the benefit of working from home or a safety net for sick days and paid leave. The medical folks call it comorbidity. Folks on the frontline have always known that’s how things are connected. It’s the cumulative impact of all these things coming at you at one time.

TM: What sort of public policies do you think that Texas, or the United States more generally, should implement to close these racial disparities?

RB: There are some obvious things that need to happen like strengthening people’s access to health care and health insurance. In the last few weeks, we’ve seen attempts to weaken both access to health care and environmental standards with federal rollbacks of specific provisions of the Clean Air Act and tailpipe pollution, and even today with mercury emissions.

So for many of us who have been advocates of environmental justice and health equity, that’s the wrong direction. Other states have taken the high road, and expanded Medicare and access to health insurance. And we should also acknowledge that climate change will make it even more difficult in the future for Texans with hotter days and more bad air-quality days. There will be more outbreaks [because of climate change], as health professionals and scientists have said. We can’t wait to address these issues. We need a real emergency plan for disasters, especially as our population is growing in Texas, to make our cities and rural areas more resilient.

TM: Low income communities are also more likely to live in environmentally vulnerable areas, particularly those at risk of flooding. Do you have concerns about hurricane season coming up and how that might put a double strain on some communities?

RB: The communities that are hit hardest and take the longest to recover, those are the same communities that I’m worried about. On June 1, if we have an active hurricane season in communities that are already suffering from COVID-19, how can you shelter in place when you have to evacuate? Where do people go? If you go to a shelter, it’s going to be hard to social distance. So you’re talking about disasters compounding. That should be worrisome for FEMA and the state government. I’m hoping there is planning for that, so that we don’t get caught flat-footed. I would hope that the smartest people in government are working on the areas that have historically had these severe weather events.

People are stressed about the virus, and people who live on the Gulf Coast, April and May is when they start getting stressed about hurricane season. How are we going to respond to another Harvey or Imelda? In many cases, community groups are the first line of defense. People aren’t going to wait on the government for [immediate aid], because if we do, it will be too late. It’s important to lift up organizations and institutions that have built up that trust in communities. We have to make sure that these organizations are funded and positioned in a way that can address what’s happening. SOURCE

Coronavirus Death Rates Are a Direct Result of Environmental Racism

Along with other forms of systemic inequality, environmental racism can cause many of the underlying conditions that make the virus particularly dangerous for black and brown communities.

SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES This article originally appeared on VICE US.

Last week, it became clear that communities of color from coast to coast are disproportionately being infected and dying from complications brought on by COVID-19.

“We’ve known literally forever that diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and asthma are disproportionately afflicting the minority populations, especially the African Americans,” said Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He was standing beside Donald Trump at a White House briefing on April 7.

“Unfortunately, when you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with coronavirus—the things that get people into ICUs, that require intubation and lead to death—they are just those very comorbidities that are unfortunately disproportionately prevalent in the African American population.”

In Chicago, for example, Black people have accounted for 72 percent of virus-related deaths, though they make up less than a third of the city’s population. In New York City, Latinx people are dying from coronavirus at more than double the rate compared to white people. It’s not that the diseases Fauci listed simply occur more naturally in people of color. Systemic factors—like modern segregation and racism in healthcare—help account for these outcomes.

A less-discussed but major contributor to the health disparities between people of color and white people in the U.S., one that has become especially glaring in the face of COVID-19, is environmental racism.

What is environmental racism?

Environmental racism refers to the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color. This happens when the government and corporations—through the placement of oil pipelines, forever chemical plants, toxic waste dumps, and polluting factories—expose low income, minority communities to known carcinogens, asthma-inducing pollutants, contaminated water, and other harmful pollutants at a higher rate than white, affluent communities.

This is often due to lax enforcement of environmental laws combined with the placement of undesirable land uses inside or near these communities. The result is a disproportionate rate of harmful and often deadly diseases and conditions within communities of color.

“Communities of color targeted for polluting facilities, waste sites, and the like also have higher rates of cancer, asthma, miscarriages, low birth weight babies–just to name a few adverse health conditions linked to pollution,” said Robin Saha, an environmental sociologist at the University of Montana.

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States in the U.S. are rife with their own examples of environmental racism. It is the reason why polluting facilities along the Mississippi River are primarily concentrated in Black communities like St James Parish, Louisiana. This area is known as “Cancer Alley,” where the risk of developing cancer is 700 times the national average. Another example is the Dakota Access Pipeline that currently runs along the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, despite a large Standing Rock-led protest movement opposing its construction. The original proposed route for the pipeline ran through Bismarck, North Dakota, which is 89 percent white, but was changed after the pipeline was rejected by Bismarck residents. At the time, Jesse Jackson called it “the ripest case of environmental racism I’ve seen in a long time.”

What does environmental racism have to do with COVID-19?

While COVID-19 can be harmful and even deadly to healthy people who contract the virus, as Fauci pointed out, those with predisposing conditions are even more likely to be put in the ICU and even die from the virus. Some of the conditions that make COVID-19 particularly dangerous, like asthma and cancer, can be caused by environmental hazards.

Put simply, if governments and corporations have been exposing a community to toxic hazards, causing a higher rate of disease, coronavirus is an even greater risk to that community.

This is one reason why advocates like Jumaane Williams, New York’s elected public advocate, and doctors like Aletha Maybank, chief health equity officer at the American Medical Association, urgently called for COVID-19 race and ethnicity statistics after a Harvard study linked exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality. Since then, some states have released that data showing that from Illinois to New York, Black people and Latinx people are being hit drastically harder by coronavirus than people of other races.

“The underlying social, environmental, economic and health conditions are the clear culprits for these disparate outcomes,” wrote a group of Columbia researchers in an article shared with VICE called “The Bronx as a Sentinel for Communities of Color in the Coronavirus Pandemic.”

“Environmental racism is a result of broader systemic discrimination that created and maintains structural disadvantage,” Saha said. “This shows up in the form of highly segregated, food-insecure communities with substandard and over-crowded housing. These communities are often lacking job opportunities, investment, basic services, and decent health care, especially preventative. This situation adds stress to residents’ lives and contributes to those underlying health conditions that make people of color more vulnerable to COVID-19.”

Since reports that communities of color are disproportionately affected by coronavirus, some politicians have attempted to address the disparity to no avail so far. “Inequality is a comorbidity,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in early April. Her district, with working class New Yorkers of color in the Bronx and Queens, are particularly susceptible to interacting with the virus. “COVID relief should be drafted with a lens of reparations.”

Saha said he agrees that COVID relief should focus on communities of color that have been disadvantaged in the fight against the virus. “Members of Congress making decisions about aid packages need to hear from affected communities, their leaders, and groups working on the frontlines of the COVID response,” he said. “Policy makers need to get a real handle on what our communities of color are currently facing and what they need.” SOURCE

When a Virus Exposes Environmental Injustice

Reducing air pollution isn’t just something to strive for. COVID-19 is illustrating why it’s a moral imperative.

A worker with a protective face covering disinfects a bus stop in New Orleans.  Sophia Germer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

 

Earlier this week, the death toll from COVID-19 in New York City, where I live, surpassed 10,000. The country’s largest city has been the hardest hit by the disease. With more than 120,000 confirmed cases as of Friday, the Big Apple has seen its medical and public health infrastructures pushed to their breaking points. Ask any New Yorker about the sirens and they’ll tell you how much more frequent they are—how the sound made by speeding ambulances has, over the last month, become a fixed element of our urban soundscape. They seem to be everywhere. The disease seems to be everywhere too.

Which is true, to an extent—but also misleading.

While the disease is present in all five boroughs of New York City, COVID-19 cases aren’t distributed equally within each of those boroughs. A map recently released by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene broke down confirmed cases by ZIP code, and the results are shockingly clear: The coronavirus is disproportionately affecting low-income neighborhoods, which in New York also tend to be communities of color.

It’s not just New York City. In New Mexico, Native Americans account for almost 37 percent of positive COVID-19 cases, even though they represent just 11 percent of the state’s population. In Illinois, African-Americans are dying from the virus at five times the rate of white residents. In Louisiana, where African-Americans make up just under a third of the population, they account for 70 percent of its pandemic deaths. In Oregon, in Utah, in Alabama, in Georgia, in Michigan and many other states, the data coming in are all telling different versions of the same story: People of color are suffering—and dying—from this disease at alarmingly high rates.

Doctors and public health specialists are quick to point out that a complex set of factors are behind this deadly inequity. A greater percentage of African-Americans and Latinos hold service-industry jobs that don’t allow them to work from home—which leads to fewer of them being able to shelter in place, as so many medical experts and state officials have urged us all to do. People of color also tend to receive different, and inferior, levels of care than their white counterparts do whenever they engage with the American health care system, which could affect the rate at which they’re being tested.

But the biggest factor accounting for COVID-19’s uneven death toll is the presence of underlying health conditions—such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease—in its victims. These conditions are also far more likely to afflict low-income communities of color than other communities. That fact was thrown into high relief recently with the publication of a startling new report from Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health showing a correlation between the virus’s deadliness and long-term exposure to fine particulate matter, the technical term for what most of us call air pollution. Among the conclusions reached by the authors: COVID-19 mortality rates in areas with a higher level of such air pollution are 15 percent higher than in areas with an even slightly lower level of that same pollution.

And which groups of people are statistically much more likely to live in areas with air pollution levels of the sort that have been directly linked to pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease, and even obesity? People of color, and especially those in lower income brackets. For more than a century, corporate polluters and cynical public officials have dumped waste and placed facilities that spew toxins in or near communities of color, taking advantage of the residents’ relative lack of political power. An entire environmental justice movement has risen up to fight this systemic form of racism.

A dust-filled street in Little Village, Chicago, after a coal-plant smokestack was demolished  Maclovio

But it’s not easy to eradicate injustice that’s quite literally been built into a community—especially an injustice with physical mass as large as the Crawford coal plant in Chicago. This past weekend, residents of the predominantly Latino and working-class Little Village neighborhood spent their Saturday before Easter gasping and wheezing after the demolition of the plant’s smokestack buried their area in a sweeping cloud of toxic dust. Horrific as it was, especially given the context of a pandemic that attacks the human respiratory system, this incident was just one more in a long string of environmental assaults committed against the residents of Little Village, who have lived for decades in the shadow of two notoriously polluting coal plants.

In a pandemic, everyone is at risk. But not everyone is at the same level of risk. Environmental racism is like a toxic cloud lingering over too many communities of color, making them more susceptible to COVID-19 by contributing to the same underlying health conditions that can catalyze its lethality. We need to understand, as a nation, that reducing air pollution isn’t just something to strive for. It’s a moral imperative. When we accept the shrugging nonchalance of fossil fuel companies and corporate polluters who insist that their emissions are just a necessary part of doing business, we’re not “creating jobs” or “supporting economies.” We’re chipping away at the health and resilience of our people.

Dirty air is deadly air. At this anxious moment in history, when the very act of breathing feels so fraught with uncertainty, we can’t afford to ignore the sirens all around us. SOURCE

B.C. farmers retool their offerings to sell more locally

Employees prepare to plant crops at Glen Valley Organic Farm in Abbotsford, B.C.  COURTESY OF GLEN VALLEY ORGANIC FARM

Fraser Valley farmer Chris Bodnar began this year with certainty about what he would grow and where he would sell his produce. That was before the disruption and uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic. But farming has always demanded the ability to adapt, as technology, climate, or the market shifts. So he is sowing a different mix of crops this spring.

There will be no luxury produce, such as melons and the fancy salad mixes that he would normally sell to restaurants and warehouse distributors. Those markets have dried up. Instead, he is planting dependable and long-keeping produce to meet the surge in demand for subscription boxes that will go directly to consumers.

“You don’t plant a crop if you don’t know how you’re going to sell it,” he explains.

Like the promise of freshly planted fields, B.C.’s agriculture sector is poised for a transformation this year. It’s one that is imposed by the pandemic, but could result in lasting, positive change.

There is an urgent call in the province for food security as supply chains threaten the flow of imports and exports: British Columbia’s highly developed, “just-in-time” food supply chain requires fluid borders that are, at this time, more impermeable.

For many farmers, the measures to prevent the spread of the virus have led to a drastic decline in sales as consumers stay home. Forging a secure path between consumers and their local farmers is now critical, and many farmers are looking to online sales and contact-less delivery to create that link.

The result will change what ends up on our dinner plates.

“We don’t know what it is going to look like, but everyone is adapting on daily basis,” Mr. Bodnar says.

At Glenn Valley Organic Farm, with five hectares under cultivation, a small contingent of long-time farmhands are putting in beets, carrots, lettuce and potatoes. Later in the season, they will follow with heat-seeking tomatoes and cucumbers. The crops are chosen based on staples that consumers are sure to want, that won’t expire quickly and that require the least amount of labour to harvest.

With five hectares under cultivation, a small contingent of long-time farmhands are putting in beets, carrots, lettuce and potatoes at Glenn Valley Organic Farm.  COURTESY OF GLEN VALLEY ORGANIC FARM

Since the mid-1990s, when the North American free-trade agreement was signed, B.C. agriculture has been shaped by crossborder trade. Rather than competing with cheap produce flooding in from California and Mexico, farmers here specialized in products for export – mushrooms and blueberries, for example.

But in recent years, the local food movement has favoured smaller farms such as Mr. Bodnar’s. Scaling up the local food movement, however, will require change.

The province’s dairy, eggs and meat producers have a solid base of distribution and can meet domestic needs, but B.C. doesn’t have the capacity to preserve home-grown produce – canning or freezing or storage – to meet year-round demand.

Lana Popham, B.C.’s Agriculture Minister, says this sector is primed to adapt: Her ministry was already working on an array of programs to promote local consumption, and with her government now throwing billions of dollars at trying to keep essential components of the economy afloat, she has free rein to launch those changes.

“The crisis that we’re in has actually allowed us to move forward quite quickly on new ways to distribute food across the province. I don’t see us going backwards after we’ve made it through,” she said in an interview. “We have an incredible consumer base anyway that appreciates local food, but this has really pushed it to a different level. … I feel like we were ahead of the curve.”

The province does have diversity in agriculture, from its vineyards and fruit orchards of the Okanagan, wheat and corn in the Fraser Valley and seafood from the coast.

Still, B.C.’s dependence on food from abroad will be tested by the ability to secure imports of fresh produce. In 2018, British Columbia imported almost $8-billion in food and beverages, and exported $6-billion worth of agricultural and seafood products.

Professor Hannah Wittman is the academic director of the University of B.C. Centre for Sustainable Food Systems. She says B.C. can do more to improve its self-reliance in times of crisis, but it should not be aiming for an end to the reciprocal trade system it has now.

“It’s not about shutting our borders and saying, ‘Oh, we have some nice agricultural land and we’ll just feed ourselves and to heck with people in northern Manitoba,’ ” she says. “What we need is to build a resilient, regional food system that can produce a wide range of foods, and that can protect the future growing capacity of the land, so that it can pivot to adapt to crises like this.”

Prof. Wittman says the pandemic has exposed a vulnerability of the agriculture sector, in its reliance on low-paid temporary foreign workers. An outbreak on a farm now would shut down the entire operation.

“Government needs to provide economic support to farmers and to make sure they have access to their labour. They need to work with them to modify their supply chains to make sure that farming production can happen using social distancing, and they need to provide adequate housing and health care for seasonal migrant workers.”

Ironically, some of that is happening now as the government is forced to step in to ensure that Mexican labourers can enter the country at this time.​

Students participate in the University of British Columbia Farm Program.  COURTESY OF UBC FARM/UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA

Ms. Popham, who has been working to help safely bring in temporary foreign workers for the coming season, also wants to find ways to attract more domestic labour to the province’s farms.

“I think we’re going to be able to fill any gaps with our local food supply, but we really need people to understand that the more food we eat, the more labour it takes and so the trick is to figure out how do we encourage our own B.C.’ers, our own Canadians, to work in agriculture. And that’s the problem that we’re trying to solve right now.”

All of this attention on the security of B.C.’s food supply has sparked a “radical rise” in support for local food systems, says Anita Georgy, director of the advocacy group FarmFolk CityFolk.

“We’re just starting to see the beginning of goods not making it across borders and shipping containers being stuck in ports. This crisis is really making us think about how we depend on a really complex global food system with imports and exports crossing borders and travelling long distances.” And, she says, it’s important that we protect farmland and support farmers so they can make a good living while growing the province’s food.

The silver lining of this disruption, she predicts, will be a more robust local food system. “It absolutely is going to have an impact on the food that we eat. The world is sort of going back to basics, simplifying. My sense is that people will be eating more seasonally, more locally, and really building those local connections.” SOURCE


U.S. author Michael Pollan, whose bestselling books explore how we put food on the table, has long urged people to eat food that your great-grandmother would have recognized. Your dinner plate may well look more recognizable to her in the coming months.

COVID-19 Got You Down? This Norwegian Musician May Have the Cure

William Shakespeare knew: ”If music be the food of love, play on.”

Peder B. Holland, a Norwegian composer’s music may be the answer to help you with COVID-19 induced feelings of anger, depression, sleep depradation or just general feelings of anxiousness produced by all this self-isolation and social distancing.

Give it a try!

 

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