Why crude oil trains keep derailing and exploding in Canada — even after the Lac-Mégantic disaster

Transport Canada needs to ‘drop the hammer’ on rail industry, top safety expert says

When Melanie Loessl got a call from a friend on Feb. 6 that another oil train had crashed and burned near her community, she thought it was a joke.

Not two months earlier, she’d been forced to flee after a different Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying crude oil jumped the tracks and exploded near her home, just west of the hamlet of Guernsey, Sask.

Now, the entire community was facing evacuation.

“I was just like, ‘Oh, my God. Not again,'” said Loessl, a local potash mine worker.

“Once it happens twice in a row, it’s kind of scary.”

Melanie Loessl watched as a Canadian Pacific Railway oil train burned near her home just west of Guernsey, Sask., on Dec. 9, 2019. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)


A CBC News investigation has uncovered years’ worth of Transport Canada inspection reports documenting hundreds of safety problems along the Saskatchewan rail line, none of which prompted orders for trains to stop rolling.

What’s more, since the 2013 rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., that killed 47 people, there have been seven major derailments of crude oil trains in Canada. In each case, investigators blame broken track.

Experts who reviewed the CBC’s findings say the documents suggest the government regulator, Transport Canada, is failing to properly oversee rail companies and ensure the safety of hundreds of communities along the country’s vast rail networks.

‘Neither derailment was a surprise’

CBC News obtained five Transport Canada inspection reports from 2016 to 2020 for the CP line that stretches 183 kilometres from Wynyard, Sask., through Guernsey to Saskatoon, the province’s most populous city.

The reports detail hundreds of problems found by inspectors: 131 “non-compliances” and 215 “concerns,” including missing or defective railway ties (the wooden planks anchoring the track) and broken joint bars (which connect two long pieces of rail).

Ian Naish, a former director of rail investigations for the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), which investigates rail crashes, reviewed the inspection reports for CBC News.

He says the Saskatchewan track was in “really bad shape.”

“That’s an awful lot of non-compliance reports and concerns, and it looked like they were consistent over the three or four years,” Naish said.

“Neither derailment was a surprise at all.”

The government department that regulates and polices rail companies is Transport Canada.

During May and August of 2019, Transport Canada inspectors found more than 200 issues, including a defective piece of rail just hundreds of metres from where the second oil train derailed and blew up near Guernsey.

The documents detail CP’s plans for corrective action. Transport Canada says CP made “all necessary repairs” to defects found in 2019.

CP says its Saskatchewan line “has and will continue to be properly maintained,” noting the company spends hundreds of millions of dollars on annual maintenance.

Track issues ‘all too common,’ government says

While acknowledging “track issues remain an all too common cause of main track derailments,” Transport Canada insists it runs a “robust” oversight program.

“The non-compliances found during the track inspections in May and August 2019 were considered minor as CP Rail was able to mitigate the safety risk by temporarily reducing the maximum allowable speed along the tracks until repairs were made,” a government spokesperson said in an email.

And yet, two trains derailed and exploded on that very track, spilling a combined 3.1 million litres of crude oil and prompting the people of Guernsey to evacuate their homes.

The Transportation Safety Board says it suspects broken rail as the cause of both crashes.

The second derailment, just east of Guernsey, Sask., produced enough black smoke to prompt the community’s evacuation. The Transportation Safety Board says it suspects broken rail is responsible for both crashes. (Philippe Gaudet)

Heavy loads on the rise 

Jack Gibney, the reeve for the municipality that includes Guernsey, wonders whether CP shouldn’t have foreseen the track issues, given the dramatic increase in oil shipments.

“The last couple years, it’s probably three times the amount of traffic we’re used to. Trains a mile long,” he said. “You can’t expect to put that much traffic over a rail line and not do the proper upkeep to keep it safe.”

In fact, CP’s loads of crude oil along the line southeast of Saskatoon have increased sevenfold since 2017, according to the Transportation Safety Board.

A Canadian Pacific Railway truck is parked at the site where a second train derailed near Guernsey on Feb. 6, 2020. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)


Rob Johnston, the head of the board’s rail operations for Central Canada, points to two Canadian National Railway oil trains that derailed in early 2015. The crashes happened within 11 kilometres and three weeks of each other near Gogama in northern Ontario.

CN reconstructed large sections of the track to handle heavier loads and hasn’t had a crash there since, Johnston said.

“That speaks volumes to what needs to be done here,” he said of the Saskatchewan track.

In Guernsey, on the heels of this winter’s explosions and spills, CP is now replacing a large span of track. The company says it has also added 11 of its own new inspectors across Canada where crude trains operate.

WATCH VIDEO| We flew a drone over CP’s repair work in Guernsey:
In and near Guernsey, Sask. 0:40

‘Chronic problems’ met with no sanctions

There have been seven major oil train crashes in Canada since Lac-Mégantic: the two in Guernsey; the two in northern Ontario in 2015; plus one in St. Lazare, Man.; and two more in northwestern Ontario.

No one died, but five of the crashes happened within a few kilometres of towns and villages.

Six of the seven resulted in spills, releasing a combined 8.4 million litres of crude oil.

In all cases, the Transportation Safety Board blames track issues.

The seven derailed oil trains spilled a combined 8.4 million litres of oil. (CBC)


Naish says it shouldn’t take so many disasters for the government to act, pointing to the “chronic problems” found on the Saskatchewan line and the lack of fines or train shutdowns ordered by Transport Canada.

“Sometimes regulators have to drop the hammer [on railways],” Naish said.

In Saskatchewan, “there was all kinds of opportunity for regulatory action before the accidents actually occurred,” he said.

‘Tighter controls’ over industry needed, TSB warns

In March, the TSB issued two rail safety advisories warning Transport Canada to overhaul the track safety rules for routes that carry heavy volumes of dangerous goods.

“We’re asking them to put improved standards and maybe tighter controls,” Johnston said.

Transport Canada responded in April by issuing three ministerial orders. They instructed railways to improve the quality and frequency of track inspections.

The federal regulator also called on rail companies to develop and revise new track safety rules.

But that’s a problem, according to Bruce Campbell, a professor of environmental studies at York University who wrote a book on the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

“The government touts its rigorous regulatory practices, but in reality, risk management is left to the companies,” he said. “In an ideal world, Transport Canada would have the science and the resources to independently evaluate and revise the rules itself.”

After the 2013 Lac-Mégantic catastrophe, the government and railways adopted tougher safety measures for shipping dangerous goods, including redesigning oil tanker cars.

Yet derailments and spills keep happening, Campbell said.

“Guernsey dodged a bullet,” he said. “What happens if the next time it’s in a large community like Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver or Winnipeg?

“That’s my worry.”


Systemic racism is a Canadian problem, too

OPINION: Prominent Canadians have claimed systemic racism doesn’t exist in Canada. They’re wrong — and it’s not unpatriotic to say so

Thousands of people protest at an anti-racism demonstration in Toronto on June 5. (Nathan Denette/CP)

“There is no systemic racism in Canada.”

Does that sound familiar? More than likely it does, as this telling refrain inevitably surfaces whenever circumstances conspire to force our society to seriously grapple with issues of race, justice, and equality.

As the protests in the United States in relation to police brutality and racial justice have spread across our border and around the world, we heard it again, in a tiresomely familiar scene that played out multiple times in the past week. The most memorable example featured former Conservative cabinet minister and leader Stockwell Day, who forcefully declared in a television appearance that there is no systemic racism in our country.

That is a breathtakingly sweeping statement, but on one level, one might consider it fair enough — even if inaccurate — if there were indications that the conclusion had been reached as the result of a well-thought-out and considered position that reflected a deep knowledge of the contours of the issue.

To be fair, few reading this column will personally know Day, so we cannot definitively say whether this was the case. Perhaps he made that statement after giving deep consideration to the available sociological data and statistics in relation to the treatment of racial minorities in our nation’s criminal justice system. For example, the annual report of the federal Office of the Correction’s Investigator has consistently noted that the incarceration rate of Black Canadians is approximately three times that of their proportion of the general Canadian population — that despite the fact that data also reveal that Black people are no more likely to commit a crime than any other racial group.

Then there’s the in-depth CBC analysis that found that that more than 36 per cent (19 of 52) of the people killed in encounters with Toronto police between 2010 and 2017, were Black.

Perhaps the assertion was made after considering the University of Toronto study from a few years ago on “resumé whitening,” which found that, when Black job seekers “whitened” their resumés — by altering their listed names so they did not sound ethnic and excising mention of extracurricular activities that might be thought likely to be particularly undertaken by Black people — they were 2.5 times more likely to be selected for interviews.

Perhaps the assertion was made after considering the data that reveal the extreme paucity of ethnic minorities, particularly those who are Black or Indigenous, holding high positions in management in private-sector companies, partnerships, or government. Or, to take an institution that Day would presumably know well, perhaps there was consideration of the Parliament of Canada: of Canada’s 443 parliamentarians, there are a grand total of 10 who are Black. This number, an all-time high in the history of our nation, includes both federal MPs (seven of 338) and appointed senators (three of 105).

And on it goes. It is not difficult to find data proving that Black Canadians are far more likely than any other group in Canada to be the victims of hate crimes. Or that they are nearly twice as likely to be considered low income than non-racialized Canadians. Or that the average income of Black Canadians is about 25 per cent less than that of Canadians who are not visible minorities. All of this is only to speak of the data relating to Black Canadians, since we are in a moment in which consideration of anti-Black racism is at the forefront. Tellingly, however, similar or worse statistics apply to the realities faced by Indigenous people in Canada, and the simple fact is that all racialized Canadians face notable disparities.

Perhaps Day looked into all of this before categorically denying the existence of systemic racism. But it appears not.

During the television appearance, the host challenged this assertion, saying that she did not know it to be true. Day responded by declaring that he did and that he knew this was the case because most of the people he worked with and was acquainted with were not racist. He also seemed to state that he knew about the experience of discrimination, as he had been teased as a child for wearing glasses. The less said about the painful myopia of such a worldview, the better. (Though I will note that, as someone who grew up as a visible minority in Alberta — the province where Day was repeatedly elected — and who also wore glasses from the time I was a small child, I can attest that, as any sane person might expect, the issues that accompany these two things are nothing alike.)

All of this indicates a common and troubling problem with these sorts of reflexive denials. If someone were to consider the abundant data and facts related to this issue and comprehensively analyze it, and nonetheless come to the conclusion that there is no structural or systemic issue with racism in our society, then — as curious as that finding would be — at least a reasoned discussion about the issue could possibly be had. But if someone has not done that work or looked into the empirical facts before making such a sweeping declaration, then the question they need to ask is: Why am I certain that this is the case? Is my sense that this is the way things are just an unsupported feeling? Is it, perhaps, an optimistic projection of the way we hope things are, or is it an indication of something darker — a way of repudiating those who hold the contrary view? No matter the reason, such an unsupported declaration is an illustration of the very notion that it rejects; it is, in fact, proof of concept of systemic racism and of the implicit bias upon which it rests.

That is how implicit bias functions. Taking it at its most benign, the way to view this is to  consider that studies have shown that people are often most comfortable around others with whom they can relate, and, really, with those who remind them of themselves. Unless checked, this natural disposition can cause us to inadvertently favour such people and effectively discount or hinder those dissimilar to ourselves. Ultimately, this results in societal structures that reflect biases against those who are not in the dominant societal group — and then perpetuate this unequal status quo over time. It should be understood that the existence of systemic racism does not mean that everyone is racist, but rather that certain societal structures have been tainted so as to produce – sometimes unwittingly – racist outcomes. So, to return to the example of the resumé-whitening study, it turns out that merely having a non-ethic name confers a sizable advantage in securing employment interviews, and thus employment, even if virtually all other factors amongst applicants are identical. This is a systemic problem: It does not stem from the aberrational individual who wilfully sets out to disadvantage those whom he or she is not like. It is a widespread consequence of implicit bias.

Of course, those aberrational individuals present yet another, more easily recognizable, aspect of societal bigotry.

Take Amy Cooper, the white woman who made the news recently after a video emerged of her calling the police and faux-hysterically claiming that an “African American man” was “threatening” her. The man, who was bird-watching, had politely asked her to adhere to the law by putting her dog on a leash.

The incident occurred in the United States, but, interestingly enough, Cooper was originally Canadian. She went to university here in Ontario. There is little in her actions that appears to have been inadvertent. She clearly seemed to be attempting to orchestrate a racial incident by weaponizing a discriminatory racial dynamic and playing upon issues of policing minorities. As the ongoing protests have thrown into stark relief, the consequences of this could well have proven catastrophic for the birdwatcher, Christian Cooper. When all of this was exposed, Amy Cooper protested that she was not racist — and she undoubtedly believes that to be true. Regardless of her belief, it is notable that, prior to the exposure of this incident, she held a high-ranking position in a leading investment firm. In other words, she was exactly the sort of person who would also have been making hiring decisions and potentially compounding the systemic discrimination that would have been faced by those she interviewed.

When the very notion of such biases and their systemic consequences are blithely dismissed by those in positions of power — by those who outright declare systemic racism nonexistent — these problems are only perpetuated. After all, those who do not recognize that there is a problem will surely not be able to contribute to finding the solution. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine how they could even be minded to do so, even if they are people of personal goodwill, given such a glaring blind spot.

Finally, another of the most common and concerning facets of reflexive, blithe denial of the existence of racial inequality bears mentioning: the vehemence with which such views are often asserted.

As is often the case in such circumstances, Day effectively presented it as an outrage that anyone would dare say that systemic racism existed in Canada. Now this might simply have been the reflexive sniping of political partisanship — Day’s comments came in response to a statement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that Canada must reckon with systemic racism. So perhaps the vehement declaration was merely political gamesmanship, with the notion of racial justice being treated as simply another distasteful theatre for unthinking “gotcha” politics. But, regardless of the motivation, the tone adopted reflected aggrieved outrage. It implied that anyone who even suggested that Canada was not exempt from systemic racism was completely beyond the pale — and that the charge that systemic racism might exist in Canada was tantamount to an attack on our country. This framework marginalizes, if not demonizes, anyone who would dare acknowledge systemic racism, and by effectively delegitimizing such voices it would all but ensure that no progress could be made.

We all love our nation. But we cannot use the flag as a blindfold to avoid recognizing hard truths. Grappling with such truths is not somehow unpatriotic. It is the sign of a mature society — one honest enough to recognize when it falls short of its values and that believes in those values enough to at least try to live up to them.

The reality is that, of course, there is systemic racism in Canada. The question is, in this moment of truth, what are we going to do about it? And the answer will be nothing, if we are going to be wilfully blind and hide behind reflexive, unthinking denials that there is a problem in the first place.


Making Ecocide Punishable Under International Law

Scottish barrister and activist Polly Higgins led the charge to get “ecocide” recognized as a “crime against peace” by the International Criminal Court.

While the concept of “ecocide” may be new to many of us, the practice of willfully destroying large areas of the natural environment has been around about as long as humans — although we got a lot better at it using the machinery we developed during the industrial revolution. Bioethicist Arthur Galston first started batting the term around in the 1970s to describe intentional widespread ecological destruction, especially as it pertained to ruining inhabited environments so people couldn’t live there anymore.

In recent years Scottish activist Polly Higgins championed the cause of getting the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent judicial body created by the United Nations in 1998, to recognize ecocide as a “crime against peace” in the eyes of international law. Her work focused on getting the ICC to add ecocide as the fifth prosecutable “core international crime” (along with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression). Sadly, Higgins succumbed to cancer at age 50 in April 2019, but her efforts to institutionalize ecocide as a major international crime lives on with other activists.

Scottish barrister and activist Polly Higgins led the charge to get “ecocide” recognized as a “crime against peace” by the International Criminal Court. 

One classic example of ecocide in modern history is American troops’ widespread application of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange across Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. It was used to clear some 12,000 square miles of tropical rainforest to enable flushing out the “enemy,” despite the toll on civilians and the environment. There are also plenty of present-day examples, including: mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia whereby miners blast through hundreds of feet of earth to access thin seams of coal; the “fracking” for oil and gas across wide swaths of Canada’s Alberta tar sands that has so far destroyed thousands of square miles of boreal forest and peat bogs while releasing hundreds of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; the dumping of crude oil and toxic waste into Ecuador’s Amazon by oil companies too focused on profits to do the right thing about waste removal; and deep sea mining whereby the use of heavy machinery to ply veins of precious metals from the seabed is ruining marine ecosystems we still know little about.

“Destroying the planet is currently permitted,” says Jojo Mehta of the non-profit Stop Ecocide. “That is how ecosystems are being destroyed every day by dangerous industrial activity, exacerbating the climate emergency and destroying our forests, our soils, our rivers and the lands that we love.”

Mehta points out that any of the 122 member states of the ICC can formally suggest adding ecocide as a major international crime. Stop Ecocide is working with small Pacific island nations which are already “feeling the sharp end of climate change” to urge ICC to finally adopt ecocide as another crime it prosecutes.

“Serious harm to the Earth is preventable,” urges Mehta. “When government ministers can no longer issue permits for it, when insurers can no longer underwrite it, when investors can no longer back it, when CEOs can be held criminally responsible for it, the harm will stop.”


How Canada can still catch the electric bus


Canada has joined a small but growing group of countries, states, provinces, and cities pledging to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. And with transportation responsible for a quarter of the carbon pollution Canada produces, it represents a major area in need of smart solutions.

Canada is also home to four prominent electric bus manufacturers with customers across the continent. Electrifying public transportation is exactly the sort of solution we need: one that supports Canadian companies alongside our climate efforts. To that end, the federal government has committed to getting 5,000 zero-emission buses on the road in the next five years.

The wheels are in motion: transit agencies from Vancouver to Edmonton and Toronto to Montreal are adding electric buses to their fleets while setting goals to stop purchasing diesel buses by 2025 or earlier. Many more are onboard with electrification but need extra support to speed things up.

To better understand how to make an electric-bus-filled future a reality in Canada, Clean Energy Canada asked transit agencies, industry associations, and other experts across the country to weigh in on the best policies and programs to advance electric buses in Canada. The findings are presented in a new report, Catching the Bus: How smart policy can accelerate electric buses across Canada.

While the arrival of the novel coronavirus has led to unprecedented times and challenges—including for transit agencies—we believe it’s vital we consider the long-term implications of the decisions we make in the coming months and years. Buses have lifespans of 10 to 20 years, meaning the investment decisions we make today will last for decades.

As our report demonstrates, investments in public transportation broadly and in electrified transit specifically are essential to a resilient recovery. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape our public transportation systems to be both safer and less polluting.

Electric buses can improve life for millions of Canadians, from the commuter who no longer breathes diesel fumes on the way into downtown, to the worker manufacturing Canada’s next generation of world-class electric buses, to the transit driver at the wheel of a quieter, more modern vehicle. Electric buses represent an opportunity to build healthier communities—provided transit agencies get the support they need.

Cleaner, smarter urban transit systems will drive the economy of tomorrow. Now is our chance to catch the (electric) bus. The full roundtable report is available here.

Families of seniors who died in nursing home coronavirus outbreak demand accountability

Several families are suing facility for neglect and failing to provide basic care

Audrey Da Cruz, seen here with her daughter Sophie, moved her mother Theresa into the Guildwood care home the day before the COVID-19 lockdown. Theresa died a few weeks later after contracting the virus. (Ousama Farag/CBC)

It was a haunting scene. A small group of mourners gathered at the Elgin Mills cemetery in Richmond Hill, Ont. They had come to say goodbye to 65-year-old Robert Thoms.

And as his family laid pink and white roses on the casket, something else was achingly missing too. Peace.

Thoms’ family says there is no peace with this ending.

“You put your loved one in a home, counting on them to take care of your loved one. You’re putting their lives in their hands,” says Thoms’ sister Susan Hynes, stifling a sob. “And this is what we got for it. It’s just terrible. It’s inhuman.”

Her brother, Hynes says, was a gentle soul, a retired building engineer who battled cancer and then dementia. Robert Thoms had lived at Extendicare Guildwood in Toronto’s east end for seven months. The long-term care facility has been in lockdown since mid March, and on April 23 it reported an outbreak of COVID-19.

To date, the vast majority of the 159 residents have been infected and nearly 50 have died from the virus, including Thoms.

His family is one of several taking legal action against the home, suing it for neglect and failing to provide basic care.

“If it changes things for the better, that’s what it’s about,” says Thoms’ brother Bill. “Please change things so that our elderly become visible people and not hidden.”

Robert Thoms had lived at Extendicare Guildwood in Toronto’s east end for seven months before falling ill during the COVID-19 outbreak at the home. (Thoms Family)


On the family’s calls to check in after the lockdown began, staff had told them Thoms was OK. But when the home allowed window visits last month, the first time his siblings were able to see him, they were shocked. He was emaciated.

“We saw somebody that I didn’t recognize in a hospital bed. It took me a couple of minutes to grasp the situation, and the gravity of the situation,” says Bill Thoms, in a quiet voice. “You could see his days were numbered.”

The siblings shouted through the window for help, and a staff member came and told them their brother hadn’t been eating or drinking. Hynes demanded someone bring her brother a glass of water. Then, she says, they watched him gulp it down.

“He drank a glass and half of water,” Hynes says. “He was looking at me trying to tell me something, then he’d look at them, and it looked to me like he was very surprised that they were giving him the water.”

Susan Hynes and Bill Thoms say they’re speaking publicly about their brother Robert’s death at Extendicare Guildwood in hopes that will help bring attention to serious issues in Canada’s senior-care system. (Ousama Farag/CBC)


It was a disturbing glimpse into a long-term care home in crisis. And it wasn’t the only one.

On a recent afternoon, Michelle Wilson came to the facility with a bouquet of flowers in memory of her 85-year-old father. Her grief is overwhelming, so is her outrage.

If it had happened in an animal facility where animals were dying to the percentages that have happened in this home, there would have been an uproar. Because it’s seniors, it’s almost as if their lives don’t matter.”​​​​​​– Michelle Wilson

“If this had happened in a school and it was children dying, there would have been an uproar. If it had happened in an animal facility where animals were dying to the percentages that have happened in this home, there would have been an uproar. Because it’s seniors, it’s almost as if their lives don’t matter.”

Her father’s life had been full of adventure. As a young man, David Johnson worked on merchant ships in his native Trinidad, before coming to Canada where he settled into the hospitality industry. He moved into Extendicare Guildwood three years ago, after a series of strokes and a broken hip.

Johnson was recovering well, had started to walk and his memory was coming back, Wilson says. Then the COVID-19 outbreak hit the home, and Wilson says panic set in.

“It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, for anyone that we love to be locked into a facility where there are cases and you’re reliant on their efforts and their expertise to contain it.”

She says the home reassured families the outbreak was contained to the east wing of the building. Her father was in the west wing, and in a private room, presumably even safer.

A photo of David Johnson enjoying the sunshine outside the Guildwood home before he became ill with COVID-19. (Johnson Family)


Wilson says she and her siblings kept calling to check on him, but the phone would just keep ringing.

“We learned afterwards that it was because the staff was getting infected. And so they were short-staffed, and it was evidence because we couldn’t get anyone on the phone. We were trying to be sympathetic and patient and cooperative, but it reached a point where we realized that, no, you know, it’s that something’s cracking here. Something’s not functioning properly in the management of this outbreak.”

That point came at a window visit in May. Wilson says her father was unresponsive and then she heard him cough. She called out for staff, who checked on him and told her he was fine, just tired. Wilson and her siblings insisted he be tested for COVID-19 and that they be allowed inside on palliative grounds.

When Wilson saw her father, she says he had sores on his arm and his lips were cracked. She put a wet sponge to his mouth to give him some water. He wouldn’t let it go.

“He was really sucking all the water out of the sponge that he could get. So I got him the water several times and then I said to him, ‘Dad, I love you.’ And he said, ‘I love you.’ And then he said, ‘water.'”

They were the last words he said to her before he died.

David Johnson’s daughter Michelle says, ‘It’s everyone’s worst nightmare, for anyone that we love to be locked into a facility where there are cases and you’re reliant on their efforts and their expertise to contain it.’ (Ousama Farag/CBC)


Wilson says her father didn’t get the basic care he deserved, and it’s why she is suing the home.

“This virus was one thing and it was progressing fast. But how was he to fight it when he’s dehydrated and not even getting food or drink or anything?” she says.

At a recent protest outside the facility, devastated family members circled quietly, many carrying photographs of their dead loved ones. They want answers, and accountability that some say is already overdue. Provincial inspections last year before the pandemic found the home was dangerously short-staffed, putting its residents at risk.

“They should have had adequate staff before,” says Audrey Da Cruz. “They should have put up their hand to say ‘we have no staff that’s coming in, we have people that are afraid to come in, we have people that are sick,’ and put up their hand and asked for help.”

Da Cruz says her 86-year-old mother Theresa, born in India, was widowed young and worked in factories here to provide for her daughters. Da Cruz took care of her for four-and-a-half years, until Theresa’s mobility worsened and she needed 24-hour care. Moving her to a care facility was a tough decision, and it would turn out to be a tragic one.

Theresa Da Cruz moved into Guildwood the day before the lockdown. She had her own phone at the facility and would speak to her daughter regularly. On a call in late April, she reassured Audrey that she was OK, but that her roommates had a fever.

Two weeks later, the home called Audrey Da Cruz to say her mother also had a fever. It was only then that she found out about the outbreak, which had started two weeks before.

“I was shocked and horrified,” Da Cruz says, her voice breaking. “The hardest part was not knowing that it was happening, because I have no doubt in my mind that we would have gone there on the very same day that we found out. I wouldn’t have cared about whether she had a bed to go back to, at that point it was life and death. Obviously, we would have got her.”

Audrey Da Cruz’s, seen here with her daughter Sophie, moved her mother Theresa into the Guildwood care home the day before the COVID-19 lockdown. Theresa died a few weeks later after contracting the virus. (Ousama Farag/CBC)


Da Cruz says she was appalled to find out her mother’s sick roommates were never moved out.

“These people, they were sitting ducks. They [the facility’s managers] could have done anything — they could have called in help, they could have built a structure in the parking lot and separated the positive and the negative people. Like, it doesn’t seem logical to me, if you can’t stand beside someone in a grocery store line, how does it make sense to keep positive and negative seniors in a room together 24 hours a day?”

Da Cruz is suing the home for failing its duty of care, and for failing to protect her mother.

“I wish that I’d never put her there. I wish we had been able to go and get her, bring her back here. I don’t know if I’m ever going to be able to get over that. It’s like a nightmare.”

CBC News shared the families’ stories with Extendicare Guildwood. It responded with a statement saying it does not speak publicly about specific residents, but gave its condolences to those who’ve lost loved ones.

It also acknowledged that, “There were challenges around staffing,” which the home said it has since addressed by hiring dozens of new staff and getting support from hospital partners to bolster its infection control, including cohorting all residents and deep-cleaning the facility.

Management at the Extendicare Guildwood long-term care facility in Toronto’s east end said that during the outbreak of COVID-19 at the home, ‘there were challenges around staffing.’ (Ousama Farag/CBC)


Extendicare Guildwood says it is also handing over the day- to-day management of the facility to the Scarborough Health network, a local health agency, until the outbreak is stabilized.

Wilson says it’s too little too late.

“Why did it take so long? I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why all these lives were lost,” she says. “They get paid to look after our families, our parents. That’s their job. And they failed miserably.”

Wilson says it’s all the more painful because she feels her father and other residents were treated as if they were disposable.

“Because they’re seniors, it’s almost as if their lives don’t matter. It’s like they’ve lived a long enough life and they’ve had a full life, and so it’s OK.”

At the cemetery, as a quiet ceremony ends, Susan Hynes leans close to her brother’s casket and whispers, “I love you.” For her family, too, this is both a day of mourning and of reckoning.

“He didn’t deserve to die like he did,” she says. “Nobody deserves to die like that. It breaks my heart.”


The Leap Workers Vote to Join CUPE

TORONTO — Workers at The Leap, a Canada and US-based organization focused on the intersecting crises of climate change, inequality and racism, voted unanimously to join Canada’s largest union, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

“We’re very excited that workers at The Leap have made this decision,” said Kristy Davidson, a CUPE representative who is involved in the drive. “CUPE has a long history of advocating for positive change in our communities, and these new members work day in and day out to bring about the kind of societal change that will benefit everyone.”

The workers contacted CUPE earlier this year, and The Leap’s management and co-founders have supported the workers’ decision at every step of the way.

“Today, Naomi Klein, Avi Lewis and I are celebrating the workers’ success in bringing The Leap into the house of labour,” said Executive Director Katie McKenna. “I’m looking forward to negotiating a collective agreement, to ensure that workers can contribute with passion, pride and power to our work every day at The Leap.”

Workers at The Leap join more than 700,000 CUPE members across Canada who work in municipalities, health care, social services, universities, schools, transportation and communications.

“The fight for workers’ rights and workplace democracy is central to climate justice and what The Leap advocates for. CUPE was one of the first unions to publicly support The Leap Manifesto and a Green New Deal, so it was a natural fit,” said James Hutt, Senior Manager of Programming and one of the new CUPE members at The Leap. “By joining CUPE, we both gain rights in our workplace, and can participate in a strong, progressive union to help more workers bargain for the common good.”


Witness video captures violent takedown of elderly Black couple at GTA hospital

Lawyer alleges police coverup, intimidation, say systemic racism at play

An October 2018 photo shows Livingston Jeffers after he was punched and restrained by Durham Regional Police officers during a confrontation outside Lakeridge Health Ajax Pickering Hospital. He and his wife allege that they were targeted by police and hospital staff. (Submitted by Jeffers family)

An elderly Black couple are alleging that Durham Regional Police and staff at an Ajax, Ont., hospital, assaulted and abused them during a fall 2018 confrontation, and then tried to suppress video of the incident via threats of arrest and legal action.

Livingston Jeffers accompanied his wife, Pamelia, to the emergency room at Lakeridge Health Ajax Pickering Hospital on the evening of Oct. 30, 2018, because she was vomiting and suffering from insomnia.

But by the wee hours of the morning, both had been admitted to the hospital east of Toronto on mental health grounds, with a bloodied Livingston Jeffers also receiving treatment for cuts and abrasions after a struggle with two police officers that saw him receive a number of blows to the head.

“You see your grandfather arrested, in handcuffs, with trauma to the head, bruises, bleeding—unconscious with his head back on a chair,” said Trequan Jeffers, the couple’s 22-year-old grandson. “This needs to stop. It really needs to stop. My grandparents need justice. We need justice.”

At a socially distanced news conference Monday, the couple’s lawyers released two videos of the melee that occurred just outside the hospital entrance after staff, and then police, tried to stop the couple from leaving the facility.

One, shot on a cellphone by a witness, captures two police officers restraining and punching Jeffers, now 70, as he lay on the rain-soaked tarmac shouting “murder,” while his 69-year-old wife cries and resists the attempts of staff to bring her back inside. A nurse and a security guard are heard warning the witness that filming is illegal because it “violates patient confidentiality.”

WATCH VIDEO| A video recorded by a witness shows part of the altercation:

Cell phone video captured by a witness shows part of the altercation between two Durham police officers and Livingston Jeffers. 0:33

Corey Rainford, the 22-year-old man who witnessed the beginning of the incident and shot the 33-second video, said that he was shocked by the level of force police used against Livingston Jeffers.

And he and his friend, Kaitlyn Wilson-McLean, told the same story about a hospital staffer and a Durham Police officer later approaching them inside the emergency room and forcing Rainford to delete the video while they watched.

“A police officer and one of the nurses pulled me off to the side, in the … entranceway and threatened that if I’m not going to delete the video in front of them, I’m going to be arrested and charged,” said Rainford.

Video shared

A “scared” Rainford complied, but had already introduced himself to Trequan Jeffers, who had arrived a few minutes earlier to check on his grandparents, and shared the video with him.

The second video, pieced together from several hospital security cameras, lasts for several minutes. It shows a nurse following the couple outside, where she is quickly joined by a security guard, a doctor and then the Durham officers who were parked at the nearby ambulance bay on an unrelated call.

The video of the confrontation is grainy and shot from a distance, making it impossible to see exactly how things turned physical. But the struggle between Jeffers and the police appears to go on for at least another minute after the cellphone video ends and all but one witness, a nurse, returns inside.

WATCH VIDEO| Surveillance video from the hospital:

Surveillance video from Lakeridge Health Ajax and Pickering Hospital shows altercation between Livingston and Pamelia Jeffers, Durham police and hospital staff early on Oct. 31, 2018 5:34

According to a May 2020 report prepared by Ontario’s Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), it was during this period that Jeffers put his hand on one of the officer’s guns and tried to remove it from its holster — an act that was witnessed by the nearby nurse.

One of the Durham officers was wearing an active body cam at the time, as part of a pilot project, and the audio apparently captures him warning his partner about the attempt to take his weapon. The second officer reacted by delivering what the report describes as “four elbow strikes” to Jeffers’s head, knocking him unconscious.

Constables cleared by investigator

The outside investigator, a former York Regional Police officer, cleared both Durham constables of allegations of arrest without cause and excess use of force, ruling that their actions were justified.

One of the constables sustained scratches to his face in the struggle, and Jeffers was arrested on charges of assault and trying to disarm an officer, but the matter was later dropped, in part because the officers failed to read Jeffers his rights.

The lawyers for the couple have asked for, but have yet to receive the body cam video. And the Durham Regional Police Service is refusing to release it to the media.

In a statement issued Monday, the force said it will not comment on the case because of ongoing civil litigation. The Jefferses filed suit last November seeking a total of $1.6 million from the police and hospital — and a newly filed request by the family for a review of the OIPRD decision.

In a statement to CBC News, Lakeridge Health said it will not speak about “individual patient experiences” because of privacy concerns, but that it “strives to provide excellent patient care to all members of our community.”

Faisal Kutty, who represents the Jefferses, said he has serious concerns about the investigative report, noting that neither Rainford, nor Wilson-McLean, were interviewed. (They were apparently contacted in March, but didn’t receive a response to their request to delay a face-to-face meeting over concerns about COVID-19.)

“We don’t think the review was properly done,” he said. “The investigator is actually doing the job of protecting the cops, not really looking for truth and justice. And so that’s why we are now trying to ask for a review.”

Livingston and Pamelia Jeffers are suing Durham Regional Police and Lakeridge Health Ajax Pickering Hospital after a violent altercation with two police officers outside the hospital in October 2018. (Submitted by Jeffers family)


The Jefferses themselves did not attend Monday’s news conference. Kutty said that they are still suffering from the psychological fallout of that evening, and were fearful that the police might show up.

At the news conference, Kutty’s co-counsel, Kalim Khan, drew parallels between his clients’ experience and the recent killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, and the violent arrest of Chief Adam Allan by Alberta RCMP in March

Kutty contends that the couple are also victims of systemic racism and implicit bias on the part of the police and the hospital, factors that saw them treated as threats rather than people in need of assistance.

Told they could go home for night

No one, Kutty said, disputes that a doctor told the Jefferses that it was all right for them to go home for the night and return the next day — unaware that one of his colleagues was about to start preparing the paperwork to have Pamelia Jeffers assessed on mental health grounds.

Livingston Jeffers had a previous run-in with police. In 2007, he was convicted for mischief and counselling murder with regards to a series of difficult-to-decipher posters that he put up around Scarborough after losing his condominium in a bank foreclosure. The verdict was later unanimously overturned by the Ontario Court of Appeal.

“What we need to know, what we need to decide as a society is — even if somebody is mentally ill, is this how you treat them?” Kutty said. “You take them down violently, when according to the witness, they were leaving?”

He said the Jefferses, in addition to the compensation, are seeking an apology from the police and hospital and a promise of change. They also want to see mandatory training on de-escalating disputes and confrontations.

“When somebody is allegedly suffering from mental health issues, they owe [them] an additional, extra duty of care to treat them with compassion,” said Kutty.


Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.

This Yukon First Nation wants to use native plants to help remediate abandoned mine sites

‘We want to return our lands back to what they were

Reclamation work on the abandoned Faro Mine is set to start in 2024. A native plant nursery in the works in nearby Ross River wants to play a part. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal

With unreclaimed mine sites littering Kaska territory, the community of Ross River is hatching a plan to help solve the problem: an industrial-scale nursery replete with native plants.

In southeastern Yukon, the Faro, Ketza and Wolverine mines have all seen their owners go bankrupt, leaving behind contamination and hefty cleanup tabs. Here, the community of Ross River, which is less than 180 kilometres away from all three mines, sees an opportunity.

The native plant nursery will be the first of its kind in Yukon, according to the project’s organizers, with a scale and mandate of supporting major reclamation projects that sets it apart from other nurseries in the territory.

The Yukon Research Centre at Yukon University quantified the need for and barriers to accessing native plants for reclamation efforts in a 2017 report. This work drew on interviews with ecologists, consultants and industry players and found that using native plants was preferred and generally considered best practice in remediation, but was not always an option due to access.

Ross River’s native plant nursery could remedy this.

“We want to return our lands back to what they were,” said Jody Inkster, environmental manager and biologist at Dena Cho Environmental and Remediation Inc., which is leading the nursery project on behalf of the Ross River Dena Council. “It’s going to take a long time to do that, and to begin that process, we need to bring back the vegetation. Right now, we’re left with these abandoned mine sites that we’re trying to clean up for future generations.”

Why native plants?

Mine sites in Yukon can be harsh environments for plants to grow. Not only is there a short growing season in the territory, but there’s a lack of organic material, dry soils and high concentrations of metal in these sites, according to the Yukon Research Centre report. Native plants are best, as they are adapted to grow and survive in Yukon. Plus, using them ensures that invasive species aren’t introduced.

While the Yukon government requires mining companies to replant lands they’ve disturbed as part of the reclamation process, there’s no clear stipulation that native plants be used, the Yukon Research Centre found. Regulations allow instead for use of what’s available and adaptable to the local environment.

Ross River’s plans would ensure that different types of local grasses, shrubs and trees, for instance, are available, while removing transportation costs from producers in southern regions. And, once firmly established, there could be potential to sell to buyers across the borders of the Northwest Territories and Alaska that have similar, and similarly adapted, flora.

“Using native plants, they’re adapted to where they grow,” Inkster said. “They’re better at establishing themselves, and we’re not introducing plants from down south from Alberta. They have the genetics to grow more successfully. It just makes sense and uses traditional knowledge, as well.”

The business case for a nursery

The cash cow for the nursery will be larger sites in need of remediation, such as the Wolverine and Faro mines. The cleanup costs for the latter, a zinc and lead mine that was once the largest in the world, could require $500 million from federal coffers (thanks to its bankrupt owner).

Remediation at Faro mine is expected to begin in 2024 and will require a lot of revegetation work — more than 600 acres worth, or up to 200,000 seedlings per year over 10 to 15 years of work, according to the Yukon Research Centre.

The Wolverine mine is another candidate for locally sourced seedlings, though a start date for reclamation hasn’t yet been determined. In 2018, the Yukon government requested an additional $25 million from the bankrupt Yukon Zinc company to remediate the former underground mine that primarily extracted zinc. A recent Yukon Supreme Court decision waived this request, while ruling that any further money squeezed from the site — through the liquidation of assets, for instance — will go to the territorial government for reclamation work.

“These are, collectively, multi-billions of dollars of remediation work,” said Stanley Noel, chief executive officer of Dena Nezziddi Development, the economic development arm of Ross River Dena Council, which owns Dena Cho Environmental and Remediation. “Those are our critical clients.”

The Faro Mine was abandoned in 1998, leaving behind 320 million tonnes of waste rock and 70 million tonnes of tailings. Photo: Matt Jacques / The Narwhal

Native plant nursery in Ross River

A rendering of the Ross River Dena Council’s proposed native plant nursery. Image: Dena Nezziddi Development Corporation

But it isn’t only the delinquent miners and abandoned contaminated sites of today that Ross River has in its sights. Mining companies still operating in Yukon, or still working towards opening their doors, will be the reclamation projects of the future and an opportunity to get it right.

Mining company BMC Minerals is already on board with the idea of a native plant nursery for industry, contributing $35,000 for a feasibility study of the project (the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency contributed another $80,000, while the community of Ross River kicked in the rest, but declined to share the total amount).

BMC’s Kudz Ze Kayah project, a proposed open-pit and underground mine roughly 115 kilometres south of Ross River, is working its way through the environmental assessment process right now. Noel said the company has expressed interest in buying seeds or seedlings, though nothing has been confirmed and prices haven’t been set.

“We’re not looking to do charity here,”  Noel said. “We are looking to create a business that is profitable, that gets us involved in a meaningful and sustainable way. We’re responding to an opportunity, more than anything, and we’re going to do everything we can to incorporate what the community needs and wants.”

A side project to address food security

Like much of the North, food prices are high in Ross River, Inkster said. The grocery store relies on truckloads of food making their way up from the south and any delay en route can mean bare shelves and spoiled produce.

There is a seasonal greenhouse in Ross River, capable of yielding some fresh produce, Noel said, but they hope to increase that capacity through the nursery project.

Once the nursery is established, the idea is it will bankroll the construction of a hydroponic system for food production, built within shipping containers. This would offer year-round access to fresh food, but could be a long way off, Noel said, possibly three years down the road.

Fix the environment first, then reap the rewards — that’s the idea behind the whole project.

Next steps for the native plant nursery

Dena Cho is looking at the ins and outs of financing the roughly $1-million project to bring it to fruition. Drawing on recommendations in the feasibility study, they’re also sketching out different options for the scale of the project, and partnerships with other Yukon First Nations.

It could take roughly two years to produce the quantity of seeds and seedlings required to follow through with remediation efforts, Noel said. But they’ll hold off on propagation until they have confirmed clients on board.

“We’re working to identify some fall season clients,” Noel said. “If we know we have the right clients, we might be able to start our project this fall, but it’s very ambitious and very unlikely at this point in time, especially with the coronavirus.”

Whether those clients will come forward in such uncertain times is hard to say, but the need for plants, built for Yukon’s environment, will only increase in the coming years as remediation plans move ahead at large, abandoned mine sites, the Yukon Research Centre noted in its 2017 report.

The people here want to nurse the local environment back to health, turning the page on operators that have scarred the land and left.

“The community of Ross River has seen some of the most egregious remediation and contamination sites in the Yukon,” Noel said. “There’s a real long history of things not being done the proper way.”


Julien Gignac Julien Gignac is The Narwhal’s Yukon correspondent, based in Whitehorse. Of Mohawk and French descent, he has a penchant for writing about Indigenous and environmental issues. He’s worked at several newspapers, including The Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star and, most recently, Yukon News, where he covered politics. He likes a good landscape. Julien’s position at The Narwhal is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.


Top Indigenous leader demands zero tolerance for police excessive use of force

Chantel Moore is shown in this undated photo posted on a GoFundMe memorial page, Support for family of Chantel Moore. Handout photo by GoFundMe

The only way to overcome racism in Canada’s policing agencies is to impose systemic change and a zero-tolerance policy aimed at eliminating the excessive use of force, the head of the country’s largest Indigenous organization said Monday.

Perry Bellegarde, national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, spoke with journalists via conference call to express his outrage following a series of violent, and in some cases fatal, encounters between police and Indigenous people across Canada.

“Police are there to protect and serve, not assault and kill,” he said from Ottawa.

“We’ve got to stop this tragedy of First Nations people getting hurt and/or killed at the hands of police …. We know there is racism, both systemic and overt …. In order to deal with systemic racism you need systemic change.”

On Friday night, 48-year-old Rodney Levi was shot dead by a New Brunswick RCMP officer near the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation after the Mounties were called Friday to deal with an “unwanted person” at a barbecue. The RCMP have said a suspect carrying knives was jolted with a stun gun, but that failed to subdue him. He was shot when he charged at officers, police said.

On Saturday, the chief of the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation, Bill Ward, said Levi had mental challenges but was not a violent man. The chief said Levi was at the barbecue to seek guidance from a church minister.

On June 4, 26-year-old Chantel Moore was shot by an officer from the Edmundston Police Department. Police later said an officer performing a “wellness check” allegedly encountered a woman with a knife. Moore, from the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia, had moved to the community in northwestern New Brunswick to be closer to her mother and young daughter.

Quebec’s Bureau des enquetes independantes, an independent police watchdog agency, has been called in to investigate both cases in New Brunswick. The Quebec agency is investigating because no such unit exists in New Brunswick.

When asked if there should be an independent investigation aside from the Quebec-based probe, Bellegarde said “there is going to be a fear and mistrust about police policing police.”

He said he was in favour of more civilian oversight and the addition of First Nations leadership as a “part of these investigations” to ensure transparency. However, he did not specifically call for a separate investigation.

“No, I would ask for some civilian or First Nations leadership involvement and inclusion as part of it,” he said. “Unfortunately, right now, that’s the existing rules and process.”

The only way to overcome racism in Canada’s policing agencies is to impose systemic change and a zero-tolerance policy aimed at eliminating the excessive use of force, the head of the country’s largest Indigenous organization said on June 15, 2020.

The shootings have prompted calls for a separate, independent inquiry and an overhaul of policing in the province, where the minister of Aboriginal affairs has already said there is a problem with systemic racism.

As well, the shootings have become part of a broader international discussion about police brutality and racism, which has gained prominence since police in Minnesota were implicated in the death of a Black man during a violent arrest on May 25.

In Ottawa, Justin Trudeau said it was important for the families of the victims to get answers.

“My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of those who’ve died,” he said. “We are working right now with communities to address the first things that need to be done most rapidly.”

In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs said he understood that many people want to know what went wrong when police encountered Moore and Levi.

“We are still waiting to learn all of the facts, but the process of beginning to heal and implement real changes cannot wait,” he said, adding that he would be attending a previously scheduled meeting with First Nations chiefs on Wednesday.

“This must be a time for us as a government to listen,” the premier said.

Higgs announced his government would not be moving ahead with legislation that would have granted police and the government sweeping new powers under the Emergency Measures Act to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Among other things, the new law would have given police the power to stop and question people at will.

“I have heard the calls for dialogue and the concerns of our First Nations chiefs,” Higgs said, adding that Levi’s death had changed his opinion of the legislation.

Bellegarde made a point of mentioning that Levi was a well-liked individual who was facing challenges.

“He had some mental health issues, and there was a mental health crisis, and now he’s dead,” Bellegarde said. “The family has a lot of questions. The community has a lot of questions.”

Bellegarde also talked about a recent video showing police in northern Alberta arresting an Indigenous leader in a manner he described as an attack. The 12-minute dash-cam video shows the violent arrest of Allan Adam, chief of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, on March 10.

“When you see a second police officer race into the frame and violently take down Chief Allan Adam, that’s excessive use of force,” Bellegarde said. “There was no talking. There was no trying to de-escalate the situation. It was a straight attack. A zero-tolerance policy would send a strong message to all police forces — that it will not be tolerated.”


Inside Clean Energy: The Racial Inequity in Clean Energy and How to Fight It

The industry is growing, but jobs and financial benefits are not distributed equally.

A trainer works with a student at a 2019 solar install in Washington, D.C. overseen by GRID Alternatives, a national nonprofit that makes renewable energy and job training accessible to underserved communities. Courtesy of GRID Alternatives

A trainer works with a student at a 2019 solar install in Washington, D.C. overseen by GRID Alternatives, a national nonprofit that makes renewable energy and job training accessible to underserved communities. Courtesy of GRID Alternatives

In this moment of reckoning and reflection about racial inequity in our country, it’s time to be forthright about the inequalities in the rapidly expanding business of clean energy.

This industry is providing economic opportunities, but the benefits are not distributed fairly across races and income levels. Predominantly white and affluent communities are getting most of the jobs in the solar industry, and also most of the clean air and financial benefits of having solar on their homes.

“Today the solar industry has to reckon with the fact that we do have an industry that is trying to play within a system that is built on structural racism and we have to think more holistically about how to change that system,” said Melanie Santiago-Mosier, managing director of the access and equity program for Vote Solar, who described the industry’s problem of “employment and deployment.”

Some background: In 2019, the solar industry’s workforce was 7.7 percent “black or African American,” according to the Solar Foundation, while black workers represent 13 percent of the U.S. labor force.

At the same time, residents of neighborhoods with black or Hispanic majorities are much less likely to have rooftop solar than residents in white neighborhoods, even after accounting for differences in income and home ownership rates, according to a paper published last year in the journal Nature Sustainability.

Among the reasons for this disparity in rooftop solar use may be that solar companies are marketing their services less in black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

It doesn’t take much of a leap to see a connection between underrepresentation in the solar work force and the lower use of solar in some neighborhoods. Whole communities are much less likely to have job contacts in the industry, and are also less likely to know someone who has rooftop solar and can talk about its benefits.

These discrepancies touch on a larger environmental justice issue: Majority black neighborhoods also have higher levels of air pollution from industry and fossil fuel electricity than majority white neighborhoods, according to a large body of research.

The inequities in solar power are a major concern because the solar industry is likely to be an increasingly important part of our economy.

If the benefits of this industry are mostly limited to people who already are in a position of privilege, this leads to justified resentment. And that resentment can be exploited by industries that want to slow down the transition to clean energy. For example, some utilities have sought help from NAACP chapters to oppose rooftop solar, based on the idea that the benefits of solar are going to mainly white and affluent households, shifting costs to everyone else. The utilities’ argument is shaky at best, with little evidence that solar cost-shifting is anything more than a minor issue, but there is no escaping that black communities have not gotten a proportionate share of the benefits of solar.

I’m mostly focusing on solar power today because the issues with rooftop solar are glaring. But advocates have also raised equity concerns about access to electric vehicles and energy efficiency services.

I asked Alvaro Sanchez, environmental equity director at The Greenlining Institute in Oakland, California, about the steps needed to begin fixing inequities in clean energy. His organization works to reverse racial disparities in economic opportunity, and energy is a big part of its efforts.

“What I have been thinking about in the last couple of weeks has been that it almost feels like finally everybody sees what we have been saying for a very long time,” he said, “that systematic oppression, white supremacy and racism are really at the core of the way we’ve developed everything here.”

So how do we begin to deal with this problem as it applies to renewable energy? Sanchez thinks that the government needs to take a leading role to make sure that the benefits of clean energy are available to everyone. The government is a leading funder of research and development for clean energy and provider of subsidies for projects, and he wants to see this funding come with more of a focus on equity.

Ultimately, he said, this is good for business, because renewable energy companies would be reaching many more potential employees and customers.

The Path to 90 Percent Clean Energy by 2035 (With No Cost Increase!)

A new report says the United States can get to 90 percent clean energy by 2035 in a way that adds millions of jobs and reduces energy bills.

The report, from the University of California, Berkeley, and GridLab, brings together several important threads in energy policy and economics to show how the country can move almost completely away from fossil fuels.

David Wooley, one of the co-authors and a Berkeley faculty member, said in a conference call that the benefits of this transition could help to repair the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

“The benefits of a 90 percent clean power sector are so large that it is not only feasible, it’s essential that we achieve it to hasten recovery from the current crisis, and to avoid or mitigate a next one driven by climate change,” he said.

The report looks at the environmental and economic implications of going to 90 percent carbon-free electricity, which would involve a major expansion of wind, solar and energy storage. This would save money for electricity consumers because the costs of renewable energy continue to decline relative to the costs of fossil fuels.

Among the conclusions: Greenhouse gas emissions would drop by 1.6 billion tons per year in 2035 compared to today, while the growth in the clean energy sector would lead to 500,000 new full-time jobs every year and a decrease in wholesale electricity costs of 13 percent.

The think tank Energy Innovation did a companion report that takes a deeper look at the policies that would help to bring about this scenario. The recommendations include a federal clean energy standard that would call for the country to reach 90 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035 and 100 percent by 2045.

In the conference call, I asked how much of the changes spelled out in the report are because of market forces and how much are because of policy changes.

Sonia Aggarwal, a co-author of the Energy Innovation report, said that the electricity market is responding to the low prices of renewable energy, but that progress is not fast enough to address concerns about climate change. She said the current market is constrained by the actions of regulators and the fact that some of the leading energy companies have been slow to phase out fossil fuels.

In the current political environment, it is difficult to imagine that Congress would pass a national clean energy standard.

But political viability isn’t the point, at least not right now. The authors are aiming to show what the path to a clean grid looks like, which is an important step toward building support for making it happen.

Students Successfully Push Salt Lake City Schools to Commit to Clean Energy

A student-led effort at the Salt Lake City School District culminated last week with the school board voting unanimously to commit to 100 percent clean electricity by 2030 and fossil fuel-free transportation and heating by 2040.

“We wanted to uplift and include the diverse variety of students voices across the district to make sure that the school board knew that this wasn’t just two or three kids wanting this done,” said Andie Madsen, a senior at West High School, who started the clean energy conversation at her school last year. “This is a huge student-supported initiative.”

Salt Lake City joins school districts in Los Angeles, Milwaukee and San Francisco that have committed to transitioning to clean energy.

Students from Salt Lake City School District led a campaign for the district to commit to 100 percent clean electricity by 2030 and fossil fuel-free transportation and heating by 2040. Photo Courtesy of Lisa Hoyos

Organizers held fundraising events and rallied classmates, parents, teachers and businesses.

The school board approved the resolution during an online video meeting.

“Thank you for holding us accountable for this,” said board member Samuel Hanson, praising the students who worked on the issue.

Though Madsen graduated last week, she is excited to see what younger students accomplish in the coming years. Moving forward, a task force of Salt Lake City students, parents, teachers and community members will oversee the implementation of goals established in the resolution.

Mahider Tadesse, a rising senior and co-president of the East High environmental club, sees the initiative as a first step toward tackling environmental inequity and environmental racism in Salt Lake City.

“There’s a disproportionate impact with all of the refineries and the freeways, and the airport,” she said. “They all contribute to the poor quality, and that’s where most of our minority communities live.”


BY DAN GEARINO Reporter Nicole Pollack contributed to this story.


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