Reimagining streets could lead to healthier cities

Bicycles in Toronto's Roncesvalles Village. Image: wyliepoon/Flickr

Image: wyliepoon/Flickr

During the COVID-19 pandemic, cities worldwide have been repurposing streets to create more room for walking and cycling. In some, temporary measures to help people maintain physical distancing, like lower speed limits and limited car access, are providing impetus for permanent changes that prioritize healthy mobility choices over cars.

Cities are being reimagined as places not just to move cars (often with a single occupant) as quickly as possible, but as places where everyone has the right to get around safely.

Montreal’s plans may be the most ambitious in North America. In June, it’s adding 200 kilometres of temporary active transportation routes and reconfigured streets for cyclists and pedestrians. That’s in addition to 127 kilometres of permanent infrastructure and road network changes to increase cycling and pedestrian connections between parks and commercial and residential areas.

My hometown Vancouver is temporarily repurposing 50 kilometres of road space for active transportation. I hope some become permanent.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo vowed her city won’t return to its pre-pandemic status quo for cars. Already committed to being cycle-friendly, the city is remodelling its core for more mobility options, barring older polluting cars from entering and adding 650 kilometres of pop-up cycle ways. Seventy-two per cent of its on-street car parking spaces are being removed to accommodate new bike lanes.

Milan, one of the cities earliest and hardest hit by the virus, is transforming 35 kilometres of streets over the summer. It’s using low-cost temporary priority cycle lanes, widened pavements and reduced speed limits to expand cycling and walking spaces.

Even car-dependent American cities are taking transformation leaps. Seattle’s temporary street closures — 32 kilometres of roadway, mostly in “areas with limited open space options, low car ownership and routes connecting people to essential services and food take out” — have become permanent. Portland and Oakland are creating slow-safe street programs, modifying and closing roads to vehicle traffic.

Bogota, Colombia, which prioritized non-vehicle street options decades ago, is now seeing the rewards. The city’s “ciclovía” regularly closes 120 kilometres of arterial city streets to motorized traffic every Sunday between 7 a.m. and 2 p.m. During the pandemic, weekday motor-vehicle closures have been added.

The safety and health benefits of re-purposing streets away from car domination are clear. During the pandemic, more and better pedestrian and cycling space allows for safe exercise and easy access to necessities. It relieves pressure on roads and transit and allows front-line workers to commute safely. Many countries, including China, GermanyIreland, the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Canada, have seen a surge in urban cycling during the pandemic shutdown.

Cities are reimagining public spaces with wider, more interesting sidewalks, extended patio areas and creative lane-way redesigns. Street parking spaces can be converted to outdoor dining areas, docks for bike shares or pollinator-friendly gardens. Economic recovery efforts could focus on ways for unemployed culture-sector workers and artists to animate public spaces to welcome people back.

Building active transportation infrastructure is a good bet for economic recovery. A University of Massachusetts study found that for every dollar invested, bicycle infrastructure projects create more employment and use more locally produced materials (albeit fewer overall) than car-only road projects. They can create up to 11.4 jobs for every $1 million invested — 46 per cent more than car-only road projects.

Removing cars from more roads will also help retain some of the air quality improvements we’ve seen with plummeting car use. Pollution from fossil fuel-powered vehicles is deadly. Recent research found bad air causes 8.8 million deaths annually worldwide. That’s more than the number of people killed by tobacco smoke. For those with COVID-19, evidence shows air pollution increases the likelihood of getting gravely ill.

As municipal governments improve active transportation options, senior governments can’t ignore the need for public transit emergency operating funding. As well as being an important climate solution, well-functioning transit will be key to preventing a rush back to cars.

The shortcomings of car-oriented street-scapes are being highlighted like never before during the pandemic. The health crisis is forcing cities to rethink how people get around and consider possibilities for connected, car-free corridors. Today’s temporary solutions are pointing the way to tomorrow’s healthier, safer, more resilient cities that welcome everyone.


David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation communications and policy specialist Theresa Beer. Learn more at

4-Day Work Week: Guysborough, Nova Scotia Municipality Office Tries It Out

The COVID-19 pandemic is bringing about a serious change to work culture.

A businesswoman walks with her briefcase in Toronto’s Financial District, Wednesday May 23, 2018. PETER J THOMPSON/POSTMEDIA

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit Canada, Barry Carroll’s small office, like many others across the country, had to adapt.

Carroll is the chief administrative officer of the municipal office of Guysborough, Nova Scotia, where he runs the day-to-day operations of a 60-person staff. While many in Carroll’s situation were stressing over the logistics of running an operation without a physical office, he realized the pandemic presented an opportunity to do something he’s always wanted to — rejig the entire set up.

That’s when Carroll decided he would introduce a pilot program to test out a four-day work week.

“Several years ago we started to focus a great deal on the mental health of our employees,” Carroll told HuffPost Canada. “We’re always looking for something to have a big impact, we thought we could make a real difference here with this particular opportunity.”

CENTRALITALLIANCE VIA GETTY IMAGES Stock photo of a woman in an office setting. A N.S. municipal office is running a pilot four-day work week program.


A four-day work week, he said, involved his staff still coming in and doing their regular jobs, but the extra day off meant additional time to rest, and one less day they’d have to commute in for work.

“It seems to be something that would be great for young families, or daycare parents,” he said.

Before starting the pilot, which officially began June 16, Carroll had already tested some of the logistics out. During the pandemic, his staff were allowed to split their week — two days at the office, and two days working from home. Carroll figured he could split his staff into two groups, and let them divide up the week.

Under the pilot, Carroll has half of his staffers work from Monday to Thursday. The second group works from Tuesday to Friday. Which means on Mondays and Fridays, the Guysborough office only has half its staff — but they still manage to keep all their services running.

“Honestly, during COVID-19, we found all kinds of efficiencies,” said Carroll. “People were in the workplace taking on jobs that they don’t traditionally do.”

‘I think everyone’s got a bounce in their step’

On the first day of their four-day week, Carroll already saw the impact of working toward a longer weekend had on his employees.

“I think everyone’s got a bounce in their step,” said Carroll. “From the day we brought the idea to the full staff, everybody was really excited about it.”

Carroll doesn’t think it’s a radical idea, he just thought about what would work best for his staff. And his staff seemed to agree with him — they were given the choice to opt out of the program and continue their five-day week instead, but not a single person picked that option. Carroll said if there’s something good that’s come out of the pandemic, it’s this.

“A five-day work week and other models have been in place since the industrial ages,” he said. “And you know, we’ve changed, our workplaces have changed.”

Watch: What would a four-day work week mean for Canada? 
Clare Kumar, a work and productivity expert who’s made it her mission to make corporate workplaces have “a more compassionate view of their working employees,” could not agree more.

 Kumar said the current five-day model was created to suit the needs of the industrial revolution, where workers were mostly doing repetitive tasks. The five-day work week was first implemented in the U.S. in 1908, so that Jewish communities could celebrate Sabbath and workers could take a break from their previous seven-day work week.

Factory employers during the industrial age started to run into problems when workers started showing up inebriated because they didn’t have enough time off for recreational activities, and more importantly, recovering from recreational activities. And so they changed the system, giving workers two days off with the expectation that they would show up, in a proper state, for the start of their work week.

Kumar said the five-day model doesn’t account for the fact that as jobs have changed — not just because they require more skills, but also that employees commuting times are getting increasingly longer.

COURTESY OF CLARE KUMAR Work and productivity expert Clare Kumar says the pandemic has given people time to reflect on their work culture.


The pandemic, which has forced many to work from home, also meant that people, much like Carroll, had more time to reflect on why they were working the way they were.

“We haven’t been for a long time, we’ve evolved into a society that’s not very reflective and the more reflective we can be, the more we can say, ‘huh, is this working for me when I really think about it?’ said Kumar. “We do need an evolution and some people are further along that curve than others.”

As countries around the world make their way through the COVID-19 infection curve, government officials are starting to address ways to restore their  economies. In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern suggested a four-day week as a way of doing just that, giving people more time to travel and spend money into the country’s tourism industry, which has absorbed the financial brunt of the pandemic.

“Ultimately, that really sits between employers and employees,” Arden said in a Facebook live. “But as I’ve said, there’s lots of things we’ve learned about COVID and just that flexibility of people working from home, the productivity that can be driven out of that.”

We do need an evolution and some people are further along that curve than others.Clare Kumar, productivity expert

In Japan, Microsoft implemented a four-day work week, giving employees Fridays off, and found that workers productivity went up by 40 per cent. The move even cut Microsoft Japan some slack — they saved 23 per cent in electricity costs and found that even one day less of work saved a significant amount of paper.

A 2018 Angus Reid poll found that half of Canadians would prefer a four-day work week, even if it meant longer work days.

“Investing in humanity and respecting humanity will generate greater productivity, greater results, greater retention, less attrition, all of those things,” said Kumar. Shealso noted that one less day of commuting to work could even mean an improvement in the condition of roadways, transit and other infrastructure.

“By changing the hours to some degree you can change the pressure on rush hour, a little bit,” she said. “And also hopefully people would actually get  some time to relax, play, restore, build relationships.”

IMNATURE VIA GETTY IMAGES A four-day work week could possibly reduce the strain on transit services caused by rush hour.


Meanwhile in Guysborough, Carroll didn’t expect a pilot program for his small Nova Scotia municipal office would garner so much attention. He informed taxpayers about the new system, he said, and local news picked it up. Then all the major outlets followed.

“Since then it’s taken a life of its own,” said Carroll. While he said his staff didn’t go into it to become a national case study, he hopes their initiative might help bring about a change in work culture.

“You want people to produce for you these days, they have to want to produce.”

At the end of January 2021, Carroll said his office will evaluate the success of the pilot. But he’s sure that while some problems might pop up, the overall outcome will be positive.

“People are so dedicated,” he said. “That’s one of the basis as to why I knew this would work — the dedication of our staff. That’s the reason this would be successful.”


Premila D’Sa, Associate Editor, HuffPost Canada


Is Canada headed toward a four-day work week?

Youth hit back against Ford government’s effort to dismiss climate case

Shelby Gagnon (left) takes a selfie with other youth after filing their climate action challenge against the Ford government. Gagnon (right) outside her home in Thunder Bay

Seven youth and the lawyers fighting to get Ontario’s Doug Ford government to face their constitutional complaints about climate inaction say the court is exactly where the battle should be waged.

And no matter if their next court date — scheduled for July 13 — is to be conducted in a reopened Toronto courtroom or virtually via video link, their lawyer wants it broadcast.

“This is a case as to whether the people, the citizenry, can go to court and force the government to do the bare minimum to combat climate change,” Nader Hasan, a lawyer for the applicants, said in an interview.

“It will either be in-person or it will be virtual with the ability of people anywhere to tune in and watch it,” he said. “We’ve made it very clear that we want this to be available to the public at large.”

They argue the government is threatening the lives and wellbeing of its population by failing to protect them from climate change, and the courts must decide whether that failure violates constitutional rights granted under the Charter.

It’s an argument Premier Ford’s government lawyers don’t even want to make.

In April, the government asked the court to throw out the case before it could proceed to a full hearing, where both sides would have the ability to put forward evidence and call on experts.

Hasan said Ford and his government were arguing that “no matter how dire climate change is, no matter what we’re capable of showing insofar as climate change is an existential threat to humanity, none of that matters because a court is not the right place to do anything about this issue and our courts are powerless to act.”

Stockwells lawyer Nader Hasan is representing the youth in their fight against the Ontario government’s policy on climate change. 

Government lawyers argue the adequacy of their emissions target should not be decided by a court, that it would be impossible to prove direct harm caused by Ontario’s climate policy, and that the applicants have no standing to seek legal remedy on behalf of future generations.

(Ford’s legal team is meanwhile awaiting a Supreme Court decision on its challenge to the constitutionality of the federal government’s carbon pricing scheme. It is due in September, delayed by COVID-19.)

Youth fighting Doug Ford’s climate inaction say the court is exactly where the battle should be waged.

The youth and their legal team from Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP were responding this week to the Progressive Conservative bid to have the Ontario Superior Court of Justice dismiss the climate action case.

The young people’s application argues that the Ford government’s decisions to dismantle existing climate policy and replace it with much weaker legislation threatens the constitutional right to life, liberty and security of the person (section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) and unfairly makes young people and future generations bear the brunt of the damage (section 15, about equality before the law).

They say Ontario has a legal duty to confront the climate crisis, which ample scientific evidence links to future harms, and that future generations should be included because “it would be unjust to burden future generations with an unwinnable fight.”

One of the applicants, Shelby Gagnon, from Thunder Bay, said she’s fighting out of concern that the climate crisis will hurt Indigenous Peoples’ ability to control their food supply and her ability to harvest traditional medicines.

“Over the last few months, I have coped with the uncertainty of living through a global pandemic by spending time on the land,” Gagnon, 23, said in a statement. “As a young, Anishinaabe person, I am deeply concerned that future generations will not have this option.”

Hasan said at a hearing on the merits he would expect to present a range of climate scientists and others who would lay out the case for how specific Ford government actions had created specific charter violations.

He said a full hearing could also include consideration of what counts as Ontario’s fair share of a worldwide ‘carbon budget.’

The office of the attorney general, Doug Downey, acknowledged receiving the filing but otherwise declined to comment.


Alastair Sharp / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer


Overdose Deaths Surge as BC Celebrates Virus Success

More than a year ago, Bonnie Henry set out a plan to save drug users’ lives. The provincial government said no.


Dr. Bonnie Henry: ‘We must look at alternatives to the criminal justice system to get people the assistance they need.’ Photo: BC government.

Public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry renewed her April 2019 call to decriminalize illicit drug use Thursday after B.C. reported 170 overdose deaths in May, the highest in the province’s history.

The toll was almost double the overdose deaths in the same month a year ago.

“We must look at alternatives to the criminal justice system to get people the assistance they need,” Henry said Thursday at a news conference, noting that it would take federal government changes to Canada’s Criminal Code.

But Henry said the B.C. government had the ability to introduce “de facto decriminalization.”

Henry said the pandemic has disrupted the drug supply chain and resulted in an increase in fentanyl concentrations.

The chilling report from the BC Coroners Service suggests the pandemic has undone much harm reduction work in the province, despite an expanded safe supply program and a new overdose prevention app earlier this month.

“It is both sad and deeply frustrating to see the number of illicit drug deaths reach a new high in B.C. four years after the declaration of a public health emergency,” said Lisa Lapointe, chief coroner, in a news release.

Overdose deaths in B.C. now total 554 so far this year, with more than 100 people dying each month for the last three months in a row.

More than 5,545 people have died in the province since January 2016.

“Before COVID-19, there was so much more to do, but we were heading in the right direction,” said Mental Health and Addictions Minister Judy Darcy in a news release. “Yet, with the immense pressure of two public health emergencies, so many unprecedented factors are bearing down swiftly on us all at once.”

Vancouver, Victoria and Surrey were the most affected, while northern B.C. continues to have the highest per capita rate of overdose deaths.

Overdose prevention and supervised consumption sites continue to report no deaths at their sites.

Dr. Mark Tyndall, an expert in substance use and drug policy at the University of British Columbia School of Population and Public Health, says decriminalizing people who use illicit substances would not immediately curb overdose deaths given the tainted drug supply.

“We really need to always treat this as a poisoning epidemic and we really needed to offer people alternatives to street drugs.”

Henry acknowledged that safe supply has been slow starting, but noted ministers are considering how parts of her recommendation can be implemented at the provincial level.

Tyndall doesn’t think the new record deaths will be a turning point in the province’s response to the opioid crisis.

“It’s tragic and shocking, but at the same time it’s not really that surprising,” he said. “Five years of this has really numbed people to doing something.”  [Tyee]



Endangered Species Laws Given Broad Reading in Recent Decisions

Federal judge sides with tiny frog, rules against Quebec developer

Canadian courts released two judicial review decisions in May regarding the implementation of species at risk legislation, which indicate a trend towards a broad, expansive interpretation of such laws.


On May 15, 2020, the Federal Court of Appeal (Appeal Court) upheld the validity of the emergency order stopping a development proposal near Montréal in order to protect the western chorus frog, and in doing so, confirmed that federal orders under s. 80 of SARA affecting private land are constitutional. For more information about the emergency order and the prior court decision, please see our July 2016 Blakes Bulletin: Federal Government Order to Protect Frog Habitat Stops Land Development in Suburban Montréal and September 2018 Blakes Bulletin: Court Rules SARA Emergency Orders are Valid and Compensation May Be Available.

The Appeal Court determined that the emergency order power, which has only been used twice, is narrow in scope and intended to deal with a situation where a species’ immediate survival is threatened and requires urgent action and, as such, does not invade provincial jurisdiction. The Appeal Court noted that the emergency provision, which specifically applies to private land for non-federal species, does not authorize the governor in council to impose measures to protect the species and designated habitat, but only to enact provisions prohibiting activities likely to harm the species and that habitat.

Previous decisions from Canadian courts have established that environmental protection is one of the ‘evils’ that Parliament can address through its jurisdiction over criminal law. The Appeal Court relied on these decisions to confirm that federal jurisdiction over criminal law must allow Parliament to act to prevent the loss of wildlife species, in particular in the face of a threat of imminent harm. The precise identification of prohibited activities and the area within which the habitat of a listed wildlife species must be protected was also considered by the Appeal Court to be a more adequate approach than an unnecessarily broad measure that may have a disproportionate impact on the exercise of provincial powers. In the Appeal Court’s view, providing the governor in council with the authority to carefully tailor the prohibited activity to the circumstances in which the imminent threat to the survival or recovery of a species arises was a valid exercise of Parliament’s criminal law power.

The Appeal Court also confirmed that the Minister’s decision not to compensate the appellant could be the subject of a separate action.


On May 29, 2020, the Nova Scotia Supreme Court (N.S. Supreme Court) allowed a judicial review brought by an individual and several groups of naturalists, supported by the intervenor East Coast Environmental Law Association, of the failure of the provincial Minister of Lands and Forestry (Minister) to implement the habitat protections under the Nova Scotia Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The ESA requires the Minister to appoint recovery teams for species which are listed as endangered or threatened, and to prepare a recovery plan within statutory deadlines. Among other things, recovery plans must identify the habitat of the species and areas to be considered for designation as core habitat. Designation as core habitat can result in regulations providing protection for the habitat, or orders from the Minister regarding activities impacting it. The government must prepare management plans for species listed as vulnerable.

The applicants alleged that the government had failed to implement the recovery and management planning and core habitat identification for six representative species: mainland moose, ram’s-head lady slipper, Canada warbler, black ash, wood turtle and eastern wood pewee. The evidence before the N.S. Supreme Court demonstrated the planning processes were in various stages of implementation, although certain aspects had occurred only after the judicial review application was filed.

The N.S. Supreme Court found that the directory nature of the term “shall” used in the ESA did not mean the Minster had discretion not to comply with his duties to form the recovery teams and prepare the requisite plans. The Court also relied upon the precautionary principle, describing it as a legislative tool that prevents government from pointing to imperfect data as an excuse for failing to implement a statutory duty. Finding that the Minister exhibited a “chronic and systematic failure” to implement actions required to be taken under the ESA, the Court allowed the judicial review. The Court also agreed to issue orders to the Minister to ensure that the duties would be carried out, but declined to set deadlines or to order court supervision as had been requested by the applicants.


Both courts used very strong language in reaching their respective decisions, such as the Appeal Court’s use of the term “moral obligation” in describing the duty to prevent the disappearance of wildlife species. There is no question that courts are prepared to hold the federal and provincial governments’ feet to the fire if they fail to implement the various laws regulating activities impacting such species, and to interpret the laws generously so as to ensure they remain valid. Litigants can expect this trend will continue. Despite the differences in statutory schemes, courts are consistently giving these regimes a broad and liberal interpretation to ensure effective implementation.

Anne-Catherine Boucher
Janice H. Walton

Blakes periodically provides materials on our services and developments in the law to interested persons.This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice or an opinion on any issue. Blakes would be pleased to provide additional details or advice about specific situations if desired. For permission to reprint articles, please contact the Blakes Marketing Department at 416-863-4345 and © 2019 Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.


2020 likely to be the warmest year on record globally

While the public’s attention is consumed by concern over the global pandemic and protests against social injustices, the chronic condition of climate change continues to escalate. In fact, it’s becoming more and more likely that 2020 will be the hottest year globally since records have been kept, dating back to the late 1800s.

Reviews of temperatures for May 2020 have now been reported by four standard-bearer climate data organizations including NASA, NOAA, Berkeley Earth and the European agency Copernicus. The unanimous conclusion: Last month was the warmest May on record globally, with the caveat from NOAA that it was a virtual tie with May 2016.

According to NOAA, one of the few places on Earth to be cooler than average in May was much of Canada and the eastern United States. But that did little to counteract 2020’s overall warmth.

For the year to date, both NASA and Berkeley Earth rank 2020 as the second warmest globally, a shade behind 2016. This is particularly impressive considering in 2016 there was a Super El Niño. In El Niño years the tropical Pacific Ocean releases copious heat into the atmosphere and record warm years are expected. This year there is no El Niño.

In addition, we are currently at the bottom of the 11-year solar minimum, a time when incoming energy from the sun decreases. This is further proof that solar minimums don’t have a substantial impact on climate.

Jeff Berardelli@WeatherProf

Solar minimum is not so grand I guess. Jan-May is 2nd warmest period on record and Berkeley Earth says the chance of 2020 being the warmest year on record is almost 90%.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter
To put this into perspective, the world’s five warmest years on record have all occurred since 2015, with 2020 highly likely to continue that trend.

Climate scientist Ed Hawkins’ now famous #WarmingStripes visualization provides a simple way to grasp the dramatic changes. At the request of CBS News, Hawkins generated this image below showing January through May temperature anomalies, from 1850 to 2020, with 1850 starting on the left. Each line represents one year, with blue for cooler than normal and red for warmer than normal — the reddest of which appear in 2016 and 2020.


Warming Stripes visualization of January through May departure from average temperatures. Each line represents a year from 1850, at left, to 2020, at right. Blue = cool years; Red = warm years. 

The visualization has become a worldwide symbol of climate change, inspiring art installations, the facade of a train station and even the logo for the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Committee on the Climate Crisis. In fact, to mark the summer solstice later this week, hundreds of thousands of social media users are expected to participate in this year’s ShowYourStripes campaign Thursday, June 18, by displaying their city’s local Warming Stripes.

Since the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the globe overall, the reddest set of stripes are likely to be found in cities in the far north. Global temperatures this May were given a big boost by astonishing warmth in western Siberia, where some locales were 18 degrees Fahrenheit above normal for the month. As a whole, western Siberia averaged 10 degrees above normal for May, obliterating anything previously experienced.

What’s perhaps even more impressive is that this relative warmth has persisted since December, with average temperatures in western Siberia also 10 degrees Fahrenheit above normal — doubling the previous departure from average in 2016.


As a postdoc in the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University, Zack Labe studies changes in the Arctic for a living. “The Siberian warmth is truly remarkable. It’s not only the magnitude of warmth, but what is more striking is its persistence,” says Labe.

To put the heat into perspective, on May 23 the Siberian town of Khatanga, far north of the Arctic Circle, hit 78 degrees Fahrenheit. This was 46 degrees above normal and shattered the previous record by a virtually unheard-of 22 degrees. Then on June 9, Nizhnyaya Pesha, an area 900 miles northeast of Moscow near the Arctic Ocean’s Barents Sea, hit a sweltering 86 degrees Fahrenheit, a staggering 30 degrees above normal.

The average heat across Russia from January to May is so remarkable that it matches what’s projected to be normal by the year 2100 if current trends in heat-trapping carbon emissions continue. In the image below, the data point for 2020 is almost off the charts and matches what climate models expect to be typical many decades from now.

Flavio Lehner@ClimateFlavors

A remarkable event indeed. A taste of the average conditions at the end of the century under a high emission scenario (RCP 8.5) in the MPI climate model. 

View image on Twitter
Robert Rohde@RARohde

Five months into 2020, and there has been a huge, record-breaking warm anomaly over Asia (up to +8°C).

If 2020 goes on to be the warmest recorded year, despite the lack of an El Niño event, then this year’s monstrous Asian anomaly will be the reason why. 

View image on Twitter

This leads to the question, what is causing this extraordinary heat? Climate scientists are always quick to point out that individual events are not caused by climate change, but climate change acts as an amplifier. A good analogy is a subwoofer on a stereo — the sound already exists, but the amplifier magnifies the sound and blasts it out.

“Over the last few years we have observed remarkably extreme events in the Arctic due to warmer than average temperatures,” explains Labe. Reflecting on the Arctic’s record-warm May, he said, “While it is difficult to attribute this event, especially to understand all of the drivers, it is consistent with climate change within the Arctic.”

While it doesn’t explain everything, a commonly accepted explanation for areas in or near the Arctic experiencing these remarkable warm spells is the decline of sea ice, and in some cases snow cover, due to rapidly warming temperatures. The lack of white ice, and corresponding increase in dark ocean and land areas, means less light is reflected and more is absorbed, creating a feedback loop and heating the area disproportionately.

The below image is a month-by-month ranking produced by Labe showing all months since January of 1979 in the Arctic. Blue represents cooler than normal months, and red means warmer than normal. The number ranking for each month and year can be seen in each box, with May 2020 ranking at No. 1.


The dramatic warming in the past few years is rapidly reshaping the Arctic. Over the past four decades, sea ice volume has decreased by 50%. Warming and drying of the landscape is leading to unprecedented Arctic fires, with the summer of 2019 being the worst fire season on record. Right now, what are being called zombie fires — fires that were never quite extinguished over the winter — are flaring back up.

Svein T veitdal@tveitdal

Climate crisis: ‘Zombie fires’ return to warming Arctic, year after unprecedented blazes 
Critical peatland at risk, with region warming much faster than the rest of the planet

View image on Twitter
In some cases, the ground is literally giving way as a consequence of permafrost melting. This has resulted in the appearance of several huge craters in Siberia, which scientists are linking to Arctic amplification from human-caused climate change.

In fact, just weeks ago, in the Siberian city of Norilsk, it appears to have factored into the leak of more than 20,000 tons of diesel fuel from a reserve fuel tank at a power plant. The fuel accident — one of the biggest in modern Russian history — colored nearby rivers crimson red and prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to declare a state of emergency. Russian officials have blamed permafrost melt for the accident.

The persistence of the warm air in Siberia and the Arctic as a whole has led scientists at NASA and Berkeley Earth to increase their odds of 2020 being the warmest year on record. Even though 2020 is currently running second to 2016, Berkeley Earth is giving 2020 a 89% chance of ending up as the warmest year. NASA has also increased its estimate of the chances to 72%.

Gavin Schmidt, the director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the reason confidence is growing that this year will turn out to be the warmest globally has to do with the lack of El Niño. “Normally, record years start out with a big El Niño event [like 2016] and the anomalies decline through the year,” he said.

In other words, in El Niño years the relative warmth typically lessens as the year goes on. However, Schmidt explains, “This year is odd because we didn’t start off with an El Niño, and so statistically we aren’t expecting the anomalies to decline.” This means the  odds are temperatures will remain warm. Thus Schmidt surmises, “it’s possible it will catch up to and outpace 2016 by the time we get to the end.”

One added consideration is the recent decline in pollution due to the global pandemic lockdowns. Burning fossil fuels releases particulate matter like aerosols, which typically reflect sunlight back to space, keeping Earth a bit cooler than it would otherwise be. However, the dramatic short-term decrease in air pollutants may allow more sunlight in, warming the climate even more.

Schmidt says this has not yet been factored into forecasts, but it could tip the scales, “This will be a real effect. It’s not going to be huge, but it could be the difference between a record or not.”


The Charter’s forgotten fundamental freedoms

We will diminish the scope of our admired Charter of Rights and Freedoms if we don’t make better use of the less familiar rights in Section 2.

n April, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms turned 38 years old. The Charter, which forms part of our Constitution and thus part of Canada’s supreme law, is widely celebrated by Canadians. It is fair to say that the Charter has, with age, also come to form part of our national identity.

Despite Canadians’ appreciation of the Charter, many are not intimately familiar with its contents. This can suddenly change when we believe that the government has wronged us and recourse to the Charter becomes necessary. Dramatic events can also call our attention to the Charter. COVID-19 has reminded us that the Charter guarantees certain rights that we might take for granted, such as the right to peacefully gather in person and the right to enter, leave, and move about the country to earn a livelihood – subject, as all Charter rights are, to justifiable limits.

While we should not expect Canadians to know the Charter by heart, it is surprising that after nearly four decades of its existence there is an entire portion of the Charter that has largely gathered dust. It is even more surprising that this portion of the Charter is the set of civil liberties labeled in the text as “fundamental freedoms.” The truth is that most of these fundamental freedoms could properly be called “forgotten freedoms” in light of their legal underdevelopment and the lack of attention paid to them.

Section 2 of the Charter states that everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

(d) freedom of association.

Some may be surprised by the claim that section 2 of the Charter has been forgotten. Indeed, some of these freedoms are litigated frequently and have been the subject of extensive judicial consideration and academic commentary. Freedom of religion and freedom of expression are examples. However, the other interests protected by section 2 have been largely ignored. Freedom of conscience has been paid minimal attention by the courts, and the freedoms guaranteed alongside freedom of expression – thought, belief, and opinion – are also nearly invisible in our jurisprudence. Freedom of the press and other media of communication have been overlooked as standalone protections. As for freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association, the former has scarcely appeared in court decisions and the latter has puzzlingly been restricted to the labour context.

What explains the obscurity of many of the Charter’s fundamental freedoms? An optimistic theory is that attention is only paid to civil liberties in a bill of rights if those liberties are curtailed by governments. This theory would suggest that these fundamental freedoms are more often than not respected by the state, such that they need not be defended in court.

Though there is certainly some truth to this theory when speaking of a robust liberal democracy like Canada, it is hard to reconcile with the abundance of litigation over a select few of the fundamental freedoms. Is it really the case that government is far more inclined to interfere with freedom of religion and freedom of expression than the other fundamental freedoms? We think not. It is more plausible that the reasons why the fundamental freedoms have by and large been forgotten are more numerous and nuanced than the notion that these freedoms are routinely respected by the state.

One of these reasons may be the result of litigation strategy. Where a case might fit more cleanly into the category of freedom of conscience but could also be handled via freedom of religion, it is unsurprising that litigants may make their claim within a more familiar Charter right that courts have regularly interpreted rather than invite the court to break new legal ground. The same could be said for freedom of thought, belief, or opinion. Claimants, lawyers, and judges are likely inclined to be cautious and to use freedom of expression, a tried and tested Charter right, wherever it is possible to do so.

However, this approach – focusing on freedoms that are well-developed, and under-emphasizing those that are not – may ultimately diminish the content of the Charter, and the scope of what it was intended to protect. While all of the fundamental freedoms are inter-connected, they are distinct and protect unique interests, each of which merits discrete consideration. As the Supreme Court noted in 2015 with respect to freedom of association, the fundamental freedoms are not “derivative” of one another – rather, each freedom must be recognized “as an independent right with independent content, essential to the development and maintenance of the vibrant civil society upon which our democracy rests.” If we fail to unpack the “independent content” of each freedom, we risk devaluing their distinct contributions to a “free and democratic society” – the standard that the Charter sets out for Canada.

Each of the freedoms in section 2 was deliberately included in the Charter and deemed fundamental by its drafters because they believed each of these freedoms plays an independent and necessary role in the realization of a free and democratic society.

In a 2009 decision, Justice Louis LeBel of the Supreme Court invoked this idea. He noted that the drafters of the Charter specifically included freedom of religion in the document even though, taken together, “freedom of opinion, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression and freedom of association could very well have been sufficient to protect freedom of religion.” The inclusion of religious freedom, in his view, means that this form of freedom “must be given meaning and effect.” The same is true for all the other fundamental freedoms. None is superfluous. Each of the freedoms in section 2 was deliberately included in the Charter and deemed fundamental by its drafters because they believed each of these freedoms plays an independent and necessary role in the realization of a free and democratic society.

Another danger of adjudicating one type of freedom through recourse to a related but distinct type of freedom comes into focus when government takes action that interferes unambiguously with the freedom that has been ignored. Recent litigation in Ontario over conscientious objection by physicians to providing referrals for procedures they deem immoral or unethical was almost exclusively treated by the courts as a matter of religious freedom, even though the activity in question – as the term conscientious objection suggests – may be better captured by freedom of conscience. A recent decision on this issue by Ontario’s highest court declined to even consider arguments about freedom of conscience, focusing instead on religious freedom.

Certain fundamental freedoms have been hindered by under-definition, which leads to them being unavailable where they should naturally apply. While the Supreme Court has in recent years given reason to believe this may change, freedom of association has suffered this fate by being practically restricted to labour and union issues. The casualties are a wide range of associations in our society – charitable, political, cultural, social, and many others – that depend on this freedom but fall outside of the collective bargaining context.

In order to recover the forgotten fundamental freedoms, we must first become aware of their obscurity. Last September, a group of lawyers and legal academics met in Toronto to discuss these freedoms. The fruit of that meeting is a book on this theme that will be released later this year. An educational video series has also been produced, along with a special webinar, which was presented on the Charter’s 38th anniversary. These are the inaugural efforts of The Forgotten Freedoms Project, an initiative with which we are involved. The project is dedicated to raising awareness of underappreciated civil liberties in Canada.

We hope that this project will encourage other scholars to explore the history and content of forgotten freedoms. Most of all, we hope that various sectors of civil society will receive this knowledge and advance positions in the public square that enliven these freedoms.

But if this recovery effort is to succeed, awareness and advocacy will not be enough. Lawyers and judges must show courage by resolving Charter claims according to their proper Charter freedoms. It is tempting to use a Charter freedom that has amassed significant legal mileage even if it is not the best fit for the claim at hand. But that temptation can be resisted if we recognize what is at stake: fidelity to the Constitution, which professes our highest ideals and aspirations for Canada. Convenience and expediency are surely inadequate reasons to give any part of the Constitution, including the fundamental freedoms, short shrift. And if we neglect any of these freedoms, we inevitably cheapen the bedrock principle that binds them together: freedom itself.

We seem to have overlooked not only the substance of many fundamental freedoms, but also the place they occupy in the vision that animates the Charter. As the Supreme Court stated in its first decision concerning a fundamental freedom, these freedoms are the “sine qua non” – the indispensable ingredient – of the “political tradition underlying the Charter.” Throughout our history, profound sacrifices have been made to secure this political tradition, and to preserve the fundamental freedoms upon which it depends.

It is therefore not enough that these freedoms be remembered. If Canada is to be the free and democratic society contemplated by the Charter, these freedoms must also live and breathe within our constitutional practice.

Brian Bird
 is a 2019-20 John and Daria Barry Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University.



Dwight Newman
, QC is a professor of law at the University of Saskatchewan.
Derek Ross
 is a constitutional lawyer and executive director of the Christian Legal Fellowship, an intervener in the Truchon case and the CMDS v CPSO litigation.

Former GG Michaëlle Jean says it’s ‘irresponsible’ to deny systemic racism exists in Canada

Jean says Quebec Premier François Legault should know systemic racism is alive in the province

Former governor general Michaëlle Jean: ‘The legacy is still there — racism is still raging on.’ (Mathieu Thériault/CBC News)

Former governor general Michaëlle Jean says it’s “irresponsible” for Quebec Premier François Legault to suggest that systemic racism doesn’t exist in his province.

In an interview with CBC’s Power & Politics today, Jean said racism against Black and Indigenous people is deeply embedded in some of the country’s institutions, and to ignore that fact is an exercise in denial.

Legault announced an anti-racism task force on Monday to root out discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities in Quebec. He continues to insist, however, that systemic racism does not exist in Quebec.

“My definition of systemic racism is that there’s a system in Quebec of racism, and I don’t think there’s a system,” he said Monday.

“We were all touched by what happened in the United States. We don’t want to import the climate of confrontation,” Legault said, referring to the wave of protests that erupted in response to the killing of George Floyd in police custody.

Jean said she doesn’t want this moment of popular support for racial justice to focus on defining a term like “systemic racism.” She said it’s obvious, however, that some sectors of Quebec and Canadian society are dominated by white people and people of colour are often missing from the corridors of power.

“We come from a long legacy of hatred that we need to acknowledge, a legacy of hatred that came from the time of colonial conquest, based on white supremacy, domination, total dehumanization,” Jean said.

‘Racism is still raging on’

“The legacy is still there — racism is still raging on.

“But the denial becomes part of the problem. How can you address something when you don’t acknowledge the situation? … I find it very irresponsible.”

Asked if Legault’s hand-picked anti-racism panel — which does not include an Indigenous member — can do its work adequately if there is no acknowledgement of systemic racism, Jean said “denial” of systemic racism “is not helping.”

“It has to be named,” she said. “It has to be identified.”

WATCH VIDEO | Michaëlle Jean says denying systemic racism is ‘not helping’
Former governor general Michaëlle Jean says it’s “irresponsible” for Quebec Premier François Legault to suggest that systemic racism doesn’t exist in the province. 12:17

Jean, a Haitian refugee who was raised in Quebec, said she has experienced racism throughout her life, most notably when she was applying for jobs at Radio-Canada, the French-language service of the CBC.

She said one of her job interviews, in the late 1980s, was focused solely on her race, and that hiring managers repeatedly asked her if she would be able to “integrate” into an all-white newsroom.

Jean said that when one of those managers asked her if she knew she would be “the first Black person in the newsroom,” she replied, “You know what? I think we’re going to stop that conversation right here. I think there’s a problem and I’m not the problem. The problem is on your side.”

Asked about RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki’s public struggle with the definition of “systemic racism,” Jean said again that the focus shouldn’t be on a single phrase.

She said the force has to address unconscious bias among police officers that sometimes results in excessive use of force against Black and Indigenous people because of a perception that people from these communities are somehow more “dangerous.”

“It demands a constant vigilance. We need to remain constantly vigilant. This is how you ensure you have more social cohesion,” she said.

‘We’ve had enough of this’

Jean said watching the death of Floyd, a Black man, while in police custody was painful — a reflection of a police culture that has for too long ignored calls for fundamental reform.

“We’ve had enough of this,” Jean said. “We want transformational actions to be taken. We want transformational leadership.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister David Lametti have promised to tackle anti-Black institutional racism. “We will continue working towards a fairer justice system,” Lametti said in a statement to the press. “It is simply unacceptable that some Canadians experience justice differently just because of the colour of their skin.”

Beyond policing, Jean said racial disparities are evident in other sectors of society.

She noted that Black communities in Montreal have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Jean has personally lost four family members, including an aunt who was in a long-term care home.

Jean’s comments about addressing systemic racism in Canada came the same day the parliamentary Black caucus issued a letter asking all levels of government to address lingering inequities.

The caucus, which includes MPs and senators from different parties, released a list of suggested changes.

Those measures include improving the collection of race-based data (which the group identified as a priority) and reforming both the police and the justice system to eliminate bias and discrimination against Black Canadians and Indigenous people.

The caucus said mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes should be eliminated entirely. Advocates have suggested that this policy sends a disproportionate number of minority Canadians to prison.

The group also wants governments to take action to better support businesses owned and operated by Black Canadians, more Black representation in the public service and greater investments in Black culture and arts.


John Paul Tasker is a reporter in the CBC’s Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at

Confronting racism at every level can start with young people, says Masai Ujir

‘We have police issues, we have so many institutional issues, but racism is the core of this thing’

Global Wind Day: The power of wind

Windmills have been used for centuries to convert power into energy, from the early models using sails to the ultramodern, sleek blades generating green energy today.

A view of ancient windmills of Nashtifan in Khaf, Razavi Khorasan Province, Iran

These windmills in Nashtifan, northeastern Iran, are among the oldest in the world. Made of clay, straw and wood and standing up to 20 meters (65 feet) tall, they’ve been catching the area’s strong winds to grind grains into flour for centuries. One of the few such windmills still in operation, they were registered as a national heritage site by Iran’s Cultural Heritage Department in 2002.

View of windmills at Zaanse Schans in Netherlands at sunset

Early Persian models inspired the classic windmills of Europe, which have become a symbol of the Netherlands. Used to power industry and pump water out of the lowlands, there are still around 1,000 Dutch windmills left today. Sails can be used to convey messages, such as a death in the family, a happy occasion or a period of inactivity. Sail signals were even used to warn against Nazi raids.

Wind turbines in a field beside a highway; Palm Springs, California

Modern wind turbines are used around the world to provide a clean, sustainable source of energy, such as here in Palm Springs, California. Wind energy is the largest renewable energy source in the US, providing more than 7% of the country’s electricity in 2019. In the European Union, wind energy accounts for around 15% of total supply, mostly generated in Germany, Spain, the UK, France and Italy.

The Strata building at the Elephant and Castle in London

Catching the breeze

Wind turbines aren’t just restricted to windswept fields and coastlines. Modern structures have also begun adding them as an alternative way to generate electricity, though the idea isn’t widespread just yet. The Strata building in London, which opened in 2010, is the world’s first building to integrate wind turbines into its design. They generate 8% of the tower’s energy needs.

A prototype of a floating wind turbine in Lower Saxony, Germany

Riding the waves

This floating version, tested on a small lake in Lower Saxony in April 2020, could end up bobbing off the coasts of Europe in the coming years. The new model is tethered with a line to the seafloor, rather than anchored with steel frames, reducing costs and allowing it to be used in waters up to 100 meters (330 feet) deep. Energy company EnBW and Aerodyn Engineering are behind the project.

A prototype of the Wind Tree, a tree with small wind turbines for leaves

Power in the park

Smaller wind turbines haven’t generally been worth the expense. But the Wind Tree, introduced by French green tech company NewWind in 2015, uses small, leaf-shaped turbines — some outfitted with solar panels — to produce around 80% of the average household’s electricity needs. Quiet and stylish, they don’t need much of a breeze to get going. But they’re pricey: a basic model costs nearly €50,000.

Children play at a new playground made of recycled materials such as windmill blades in Rotterdam, the Netherlands

A whirlwind of fun

The lifespan of the average wind turbine is around 20 to 25 years. After that, they’re decommissioned and usually end up in landfills — the blades, longer than the wing of Boeing 747, are made of resistant fiberglass and difficult to recycle. But this playground in Rotterdam found a home for at least five old blades, creating a maze-like climbing structure complete with slides and climbing nets.


Power-to-X: The secret to a 100% renewable energy system?

By turning renewable electricity into fuel, power-to-X could free transport, heating and industrial process from fossil fuels — once costs fall.

Deutschland | Wasserstofftankfahrzeug (picture-alliance/dpa/A. Arnold)

Around the world, more and more electricity is being generated from the sun and wind. The technology has advanced massively over recent decades and the price of renewable power is plummeting.

Read more: Green growth: Africa chooses between renewables and fossil fuels

But if we look beyond the power sector at our overall energy consumption, renewables are still only a bit player. Heating, transport and industrial processes are still dominated by fossil fuels, and many of these systems can’t run on electricity; they need fuel.

That’s where power-to-X (also referred to as P2X or PtX) comes in. An umbrella term, it covers various processes that turn electricity into heat, hydrogen or synthetic fuels, meaning that ever-more of our energy system might say goodbye to coal, oil and natural gas.

Turning power into hydrogen

Power-to-X could also solve another of the energy transition’s biggest hurdles: storage. At the moment, wind turbines in northern Germany, for example, sometimes produce so much power they have to be disconnected from the grid to prevent it from overloading.


Supreme Court emphasizes positive duties owed to French-language schools under the Charter

Halton Catholic board saves French immersion program | CBC News

French Language Services Commissioner Francois Boileau said if nothing is done to address the issue, Ontario’s francophone demographic may decrease to the point where it becomes insignificant. (Canadian Parents for French)

In Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie‑Britannique v. British Columbia, a majority of the Supreme Court of Canada found that British Columbia underfunded French-language schools and clarified the test for determining when such funding issues may amount to a breach of section 23 (minority language educational rights) under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.


In June 2010, the Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie‑Britannique, the Fédération des parents francophones de Colombie‑Britannique and three parents (the coalition) filed a lawsuit against British Columbia. In the suit, the coalition alleged that aspects of the education system funding penalized the official language minority and infringed on their rights under section 23 of the Charter. The allegations ranged from a lack of adequate French-language facilities to the need for additional French-language schools. The coalition sought compensation from the province as a remedy.

The British Columbia courts, among other things, provided declarations concerning the right to educational facilities in several communities in the province. However, the Courts were not persuaded that compensation was an appropriate remedy.

Supreme Court’s reasoning

In a 7-2 decision, Chief Justice Wagner – writing for the majority – found that the lower courts’ interpretation of section 23 was “inordinately narrow.” Section 23 had a remedial purpose, designed to correct the “erosion of official language groups and to give effect to the equal partnership of the two official language groups in the context of education.” In this context, the Court further clarified a “sliding scale approach,” which guarantees whatever type and level of rights and services is appropriate under section 23 in order to provide minority language instruction for the particular number of students involved.

The majority in this decision clarified this approach, enumerating a three-part test for determining the state’s obligations under section 23:

  • The first stage requires an assessment of whether, in light of the number of students at issue, the level of services the minority proposes will make it possible to meet all curriculum requirements. Cost is a factor, but is not dispositive of the issues.
  • The second stage demands a comparative approach in order to determine whether the school contemplated by the minority language group is appropriate from a pedagogy and cost standpoint. This is meant to evaluate whether the students from the official language minority are comparable to the numbers of students in the majority language schools. If the court finds that the number of minority language students is comparable to the numbers of students in local majority language schools, that favours a finding that minority language students be provided a linguistically “homogeneous school.”
  • The third stage examines the level of services to be provided. If the court finds at the second step that the number of students is comparable and that number is at the high end of the sliding scale, then the minority is entitled to have its children receive instruction in a linguistically homogeneous school.

Applying this approach to the facts before it, the majority found that the coalition was justified in demanding more minority language schools within the communities in question and that the failure to provide them amounted to a section 23 violation.

The Supreme Court took a “strict” approach to its section 1 analysis. The majority ruled that the infringements were not saved under section 1 and, inter alia, the coalition was owed compensation as a remedy.

Takeaways from the decision

For the coalition and many francophone communities the Supreme Court’s decision marks a significant victory, both in terms of vindicating their constitutional rights and securing compensation from the government.

Legally, this case continues to highlight the Supreme Court’s openness to recognizing and specifying ways in which to assess positive duties that the state owes to linguistic minority groups under the Charter (and other quasi-constitutional documents). The Court has not been as receptive to the concept of positive obligations with respect to other rights enshrined in the Charter.

The majority’s decision also illustrates the need for provincial bodies to carefully tailor their educational policies in light of the more nuanced “sliding scale” test developed by the Court. This approach may invite both legislative and grassroot changes and may lead to greater investment in French-language schools and programs.

Finally, the majority provided a series of declarations for more French-language schools in British Columbia. The Court chose not to remain seized with the matter of implementation, an issue that the Court grappled with in its earlier decision of Doucet-Boudreau v. Nova Scotia (Minister of Education).

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