Black Lives Matter London rally calls to ‘defund the police’

About 1,000 people gathered outside London City Hall on June 20, 2020, to call for change and address the systematic racism with police departs towards Black and Ingenious people. 

 About 1,000 people gathered outside London City Hall on June 20, 2020, to call for change and address the systematic racism with police departs towards Black and Ingenious people. . Sawyer Bogdan / Global New

“Enough is enough” and “no justice, no peace” were the words echoed at the steps of City Hall at the Black Lives Matter rally in London, Ont., on Saturday.

There were around 1,000 people outside London City Hall on Saturday afternoon to call for change and address the systematic racism within police departments towards Black and Ingenious people.

This rally comes two weeks after the first Black Lives Matter rally in Victoria Park that saw crowds estimated at over 10,000 people.

READ MORE: ‘We will no longer be silent’: London Black Lives Matter protest sees thousands rally

Saturday’s rally outlined the group’s demands of defunding the police and removing school resource officers from schools.

“Defunding the police means taking the funds used to over-police Black and Indigenous communities and to heavily police homeless people and relocating them into infrastructure to boost the Black and Indigenous communities,” said Alexandra Kane, spokesperson for Black Lives Matter London.

Black Lives Matter London spokesperson Alexandra Kane speaking to the crowd of people at the Black Lives Matter on the steps of London City Hall. June 20, 2020.
 Black Lives Matter London spokesperson Alexandra Kane speaking to the crowd of people at the Black Lives Matter on the steps of London City Hall. June 20, 2020. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

Kane said that by defunding, they don’t mean dismantle or abolish the police service, but they would like to see unnecessary funds repurposed into health care, mental health services and education.

Sawyer Bogdan@sleebogdan

Spokesperson for Black Lives Matter London Alexandra Kane talks about what defund the police means. BLM is holding their second protest to talk about their demands to end racism and police brutality towards Black and Indigenous people @AM980News

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Another key issue for Black Lives Matter London is removing school resource officers from London schools.

“Kids — Black kids especially — develop a fear of the police from an early age because they see the heavy policing in their neighbourhood,” Kane said.

On Thursday, the London Police Services Board met for their monthly meeting where Dr. Javeed Sukhera, board chair, presented a letter of 12 proposed actions for the board to address racism with policing.

The letter called on the London Police Services to find areas where they could cut funding that could be distributed to other city services more in need and to consult with community members and school boards about the role of school resource officers.

READ MORE: London Police Services Board Chair addresses systemic racism with letter to the board

Reacting to the letter, Kane said it was a start but said they wouldn’t stop protesting until they see real change.

“Action is what we are looking for.”

“We have had these conversations since the abolition of slavery,” she said. “Yes, they continue to speak out and talk about it, but so far, that’s all they have done.

“We will not be silent until these words are met with actions instead of empty promises,” said Black Lives Matter organizer Keira Roberts. Roberts is one of the five teen girls who initially started the Black Lives Matter rallies in London.

Black Lives London co organizer Keira Roberts speaking to the crowd of people at the Black Lives Matter on the steps of London City Hall. June 20, 2020
 Black Lives London co organizer Keira Roberts speaking to the crowd of people at the Black Lives Matter on the steps of London City Hall. June 20, 2020. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News

“I am tired of asking nicely, and I am beyond angry that in order for changes to be made, the world has to watch Black people be murdered in cold blood just to speak up to show and care,” Roberts told the crowd on Saturday.

Sawyer Bogdan@sleebogdan

Black Lives Matter protestors are marching around Victoria Park in London following the rally outside City Hall @AM980News

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READ MORE: Black Lives Matter London calls for defunding police as service’s budget grows 35% in a decade

There were around 1000 people outside London City Hall to call for an end to the systematic racism with police departs towards Black and Ingenious people. June 20. 2020.
 There were around 1000 people outside London City Hall to call for an end to the systematic racism with police departs towards Black and Ingenious people. June 20. 2020. Sawyer Bogdan / Global News


When Looking at removing racism from policing, equal representation in the justice system plays a key factor, said Lera Nwineh, Western Law student and Black Lives Matter volunteer.

Nwineh spoke at the rally about what it’s like being one of only two Black students currently enrolled in the program.

Nwineh, who moved to Canada 10 years ago when he was 16, said he did not understand what it meant to be Black when he first moved because his race had not been an issue until he moved to Canada.

Going into his second year, Nwineh said he is trying to work with the administration to create more diversity in Western Law, something he said the administration now seems more open to talking about in the last few months.


“I am working on figuring out how we can get more Black men and women into positions of power in the legal system because the lawyers and judges all get resources from the law schools,” Nwineh said. “If the law schools aren’t making continuous effort to improve diversity, then it means the legal field is not making a conscious effort to understand diversity.”


Kennedy Stewart’s Big Cop-out

He heads BC’s largest city and its police board but pretends he can’t lead anti-racist change.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart: He’s wrong that councillors are powerless bystanders. Police boards are mandated to ‘take into account the priorities, goals and objectives of the council of the municipality.’

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart’s response to calls for police reform was painfully lame.

Someone should do something, he said Thursday.

But it certainly isn’t me.

Instead, Stewart called for a provincial government review of policing, including “an investigation of systemic racism and disproportional violence experienced by Black and Indigenous community members.”

“If we are to make major structural changes to policing, it is the province that must act,” he said.

He’s right that the provincial government is an important player.

There are 11 municipal police forces in B.C., including Vancouver. (Much of the province is policed by the RCMP.) And the Police Act gives police boards, dominated by members appointed by the provincial government, a lot of power. Stewart chairs the nine-member Vancouver board, but he’s the only elected and publicly accountable member.

But Stewart is wrong when he says he and Vancouver’s councillors are powerless bystanders.

The Police Act says police boards are responsible for determining the “priorities, goals and objectives of the municipal police department.”

But they are also required to “take into account the priorities, goals and objectives of the council of the municipality.”

If Stewart and Vancouver’s councillors agreed on measures to combat systemic racism — and shared them publicly — the police board would have to respond, or be held to account. That doesn’t take a provincial government review. Just leadership.

It’s the same on police budgets. The Police Act gives most of the power to unelected police boards to decide how much money municipal police forces get.

But councils can say no and set their own budgets, freezing or cutting spending on police and promising to fund other services.

That would force the B.C. government’s director of police services to impose a budget and justify the decision to overrule the councillors who voters chose to represent them.

Stewart and Vancouver’s council have those powerful tools.

Instead he passed the buck at a moment when real change is needed and possible.

But Stewart could be leading the discussion about funding police to fill the basic and important responsibilities they’re trained for — investigating crimes, responding to complaints, gathering evidence, making arrests.

And about reallocating much of their current funding to other people who can do the work better (and way cheaper).

Like the wellness check on Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old woman from Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation in British Columbia who had moved to New Brunswick to be closer to her daughter. Moore’s ex-boyfriend called police and asked them to see if she was OK. An officer from the Edmundson police force made the call.

Minutes later, she was dead, shot by the officer who was supposed to be ensuring her safety.

There are many unanswered questions. But let’s start with the most fundamental. How does it make sense to send an armed police officer with no real training in health care to check on someone’s wellness? In fact, what are the chances that in fact the arrival of a police officer will make things worse?

A Victoria police officer set out the rationale for reforming police funding in one sentence. “You don’t do social work with a gun.”

Yet that’s what we’re asking police to do — wellness checks, dealing with people with mental health and addiction, trying to move homeless people with nowhere to go.

None of which they’re qualified for. RCMP officers, for example, are only required to have a high school diploma. After 26 weeks of RCMP training in Regina, they’re on the job.

Why send a police officer to try and move a sleeping person from a store doorway? Why not a social worker who can begin the process of moving them into housing and knows what resources might be available?

Why send police to deal with substance users? Why not outreach workers who can connect people with supports and — hopefully — a safe supply of drugs?

It would be, obviously, far more effective.

And it would cost much less. The median salary for officers in the Vancouver Police Department is $121,000, according to data compiled by the Vancouver Sun. A social worker is typically paid less than half that amount.

A Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police research project found up to 80 per cent of calls didn’t have anything to do with criminal offences. They were related to “social disorder, mental health and other issues.”

So why send an armed, uniformed and highly paid police officer on a mental health call?

Kennedy Stewart could have raised those questions. He could have called for reform in the Vancouver Police Department.

He didn’t.  [Tyee]


A Nation Mourns for Chantel Moore

Another Indigenous life stolen by police. We won’t stop until there’s justice.

Chantel would not have died if the officer knew how to approach a single woman’s door respectfully, without arms and violence, in the middle of the night.’ Photo via Facebook.

On June 4, we all woke up to the devastating news that Chantel Moore, a beautiful 26-year-old Tla-o-qui-aht/Nuu-chah-nulth woman was senselessly shot by a police officer in Edmundston, New Brunswick, during a wellness check.

Chantel had a young daughter and had so much life to live and so much to give to the world. She was well loved by a very large family and many friends. And a nation mourns.

My soul screamed: Not again! Not one of our own! Another Indigenous woman killed at the hands of the police, at the hands of someone who was supposed to protect her.

When will the violence and racism ever end? What will it take to change things so Indigenous Peoples do not have to fear the police? So many thoughts went through my head on hearing this horrendous news.

My heart ached for the family, and I immediately got on the phone to let them know my prayers and strength were with them and vowed to do everything I could to bring justice for Chantel. And I shall.

While police and investigators refuse to reveal the facts of what happened, it increases the family’s stress and need to understand. All they know is she was shot and killed. Brutal facts with few details. There are conflicting stories from the police and what the family saw as evidence at the scene.

The police officer who came after midnight to do a wellness check was pounding on her door to wake her up. Police had been sent to check on her because of concerns she was being harassed.

Imagine being in your own apartment with someone banging on your door in the middle of the night. Police say she had a knife in her hand. Is it any wonder she had felt the need to protect herself, if that was the case?

The family fails to understand how a large police officer couldn’t fend off a smaller woman without shooting her, and why he had no ability to de-escalate the situation. There were no witnesses, so all we have is the police officer’s statement. No one can speak for Chantel. This just is not right. This is not acceptable by anyone’s standard. It is wrong. It should never have happened.

Many are crying out for justice for Chantel, but what does that look like?

First and foremost, the officer must face punishment. I am sure the investigator’s report will show wrongdoing, and he may face criminal charges, lose his job or face other disciplinary actions.

But most of all, justice for Chantel means that senseless shootings of Indigenous Peoples must stop and never happen again. We must change the way Canada does policing, as it obviously is not working.

Should we as Indigenous Peoples feel fear when we see a police officer? No, we should be able to look at them and feel protected, not wondering if they will shoot or beat us.

How did it come to this, and how can we change it?

As Indigenous people, we have to ask what it will take for us to have trust in the police again, or even a working relationship.

We also need to ask what are the alternatives are to the RCMP? How we can ensure mental health checks are done by people trained in responding, not police officers? What policies need to change to prevent more deaths, and what funding is required?

We must sit down immediately with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller and RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki and re-evaluate the role of police in responding to crisis situations. We must ensure officers are trained to de-escalate situations to avoid senseless killings.

And we must ensure trained, unarmed, non-violent first responders respond to crisis situations involving wellness checks, mental health and addictions — not police. We need people who know how to work with individuals with mental health issues and teams of people trained to deal with wellness checks and mental health incidents.

For Indigenous Peoples, this is an act of self-determination. We must determine how we care for our communities and our people. And that must reflect and acknowledge the legacy of colonialism and the underfunding of education, housing, health and economic development in our communities.

Indigenous Peoples must be involved in this re-evaluation to change policing in the communities we live in. We must re-examine the First Nations Policing Program and invest in self-administered Indigenous alternatives. We must also stress the importance of investment in economic and social programs for on and off-reserve members.

Chantel would not have died if the officer knew how to approach a single woman’s door respectfully, without arms and violence, in the middle of the night. Rodney Levi would still be alive if the officers knew how to deal with someone who was having a mental health crisis. These are things we can’t take back, but things we can change in the future to prevent other Indigenous Peoples from meeting the same fate.

At the foundation of this police violence is colonialism. Chantel and Rodney’s deaths occurred during the same week we saw the senseless beatings of Chief Allan Adam and a Dene man, Benjamin Manuel, in Yellowknife. Since April, at least five Indigenous people have been killed by police. Chantel Moore. Rodney Levi. Eishia HudsonJason CollinsStewart Kevin Andrews.

Another Indigenous man, Everett Patrick, died in police custody. Regis Korchinski-Paquet, a Black-Indigenous woman, fell to her death from her balcony while police were in her home. Her death is being investigated to see if and how police were involved.

This is not including the investigations of police violence in Nunavut.

This violence is a stark reminder that the historical role of policing in forcibly controlling and displacing Indigenous Peoples continues to this day. Indigenous Peoples are disproportionately brutalized, criminalized and killed as a result of policing in Canada. What is our crime? Being Indigenous.

We ask all Canadians to support Indigenous Peoples and demand action from the Canadian and provincial governments in policing. We must make our homes and communities safe and not have to fear police violence.

We are at a turning point. We must recognize this violence as a problem and work together as nations to say enough is enough. Not one more life. Systemic racism in Canada exists because of colonialism and the goal of “getting rid of the Indian.”

Many things have changed in our relationship with government, but policing has not. From suppressing our culture and ceremonies during the potlatch ban to implementing laws that tried to get rid of us, our relationship with the RCMP has been violent since the outset. It is time for the federal, provincial and municipal governments to recognize systemic racism in policing and take immediate action with Indigenous Peoples to address it.

When I say a nation mourns, I don’t just mean Tla-o-qui-aht, Nuu-chah-nulth or other Indigenous nations. I include Canada and other nations across the globe, as this news has reverberated aroun

d the world.

Now the work begins, so the Chantels of the world no longer lose their lives senselessly at the hands of police.  [Tyee]


Judith Sayers  (Kekinusuqs) is from the Hupacasath First Nation in Port Alberni, B.C. She is president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council.


Inclusion of Indigenous reps after a spill part of ‘reconciliation’: Suzuki Foundation

David Suzuki Foundation calls for transparency, inclusion of First Nations monitors after oil spills

Workers clean up the oil spill in Abbotsford near Trans Mountain’s Sumas Pump Station on Saturday, June 13, 2020. (Shane MacKichan file photo)

Ensuring local Indigenous reps are involved quickly after an oil spill like the one in Abbotsford last week is a key part of “reconciliation and environmental justice,” says the director general for the David Suzuki Foundation.

The crude oil spill from the Trans Mountain pipeline at the Sumas Pump Station is a stark reminder that accidents are bound to happen with this type of fossil fuel infrastructure.

READ MORE: Drone photos show the scale of spill

“As long as Canada continues to transport oil, spills will happen – and they will always create the risk of detrimental impacts on nature and people,” said Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation.

The spill site is near a cultural site and burial grounds of the Sema:th First Nation and Stό:lō Coast Salish Peoples.

It’s seen as “unacceptable” that Sema:th First Nation’s monitors were not cleared to access the site for 12 hours after the spill incident was reported.

Full transparency and inclusion of Indigenous nations whenever any type of spill occurs is called for.

“They need to have continuous access to monitoring stations and the ability to see with their own eyes what has occurred on their unceded territory. This is a key part of reconciliation and environmental justice.”

A rapid transition away from “this toxic and outdated fuel,” to protect wildlife like salmon and orca, combat the climate crisis and maintain the well-being of our communities is necessary, he noted.

“It’s concerning that the spill occurred where a lake used to exist and where the groundwater is a local potable water source,” Ritchlin said.

The spill leaked 1,195 barrels, which is up to 190,000 litres, of oil just south of the Lightning Rock site. As much as five large trucks would be required to transport the equivalent amount of crude oil.

READ MORE: Pipeline shut down as cleanup started

Trans Mountain has reported approximately 84 spills since 1961 – which is more than one a year.

In this case, the oil flowed to an adjacent field owned by Trans Mountain and leased for agricultural uses. The company’s on-site monitoring has not indicated an immediate threat but provincial authorities need to confirm that.


Manitoba Mé​​​​​​​tis minister says he’s revolted by police brutality against Indigenous people

Recent fatal shootings by Winnipeg police are unacceptable, Dan Vandal tells Commons committee

Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal rises in the House of Commons last week. Speaking to a Commons committee on Tuesday, Vandal said he’s been revolted by recent videotaped examples of “police brutality” against Indigenous people in Canada. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Northern Affairs Minister Dan Vandal says he has been revolted by recent videotaped examples of “police brutality” against Indigenous People in Canada.

Vandal, who is Métis, told a House of Commons committee Tuesday that systemic racism against Indigenous people stems from the colonial attitude of Canada’s founding government, whose top policy objectives were “to civilize, to Christianize and to assimilate Indigenous people into Canadian life.”

“That’s really the basis of the racism. It needs to stop,” he told the Indigenous and northern affairs committee.

“It needs a dramatic government intervention and I hope our government will be able to lead the way because the images that we saw of police brutality are absolutely unacceptable.

“We need to stop the hate, the violence and we need to stop the racism.”

Video surfaced earlier this month of an Inuk man being knocked over by the door of an RCMP vehicle in Nunavut and of an Alberta First Nations chief, Allan Adam, being tackled and punched in the head by a Mountie during an arrest over an expired licence plate.

As well, two Indigenous people have been shot dead by police in New Brunswick this month — Chantel Moore during what was supposed to be a wellness check by Edmundston police department officers and Rodney Levi after the RCMP was called to deal with an “unwanted person” at a barbecue.

“For me personally, they’re revolting,” Vandal said of the images of some of those incidents widely shown on television and online.

“It’s something that really our country, our society can no longer put up with.”

When he first got involved in local politics in his hometown of Winnipeg 20 years ago, Vandal said the Aboriginal justice inquiry was under way in Manitoba, which eventually came up with “a big book of recommendations” for addressing discrimination faced by Indigenous people from police, the courts and the prison system.

“The bottom line is 20-some years later there’s not a lot of change in the city of Winnipeg. We’ve had three shootings of young Indigenous people in the last six months and that’s unacceptable.”

Eishia Hudson, 16, was shot and killed by Winnipeg police in April 2020. Police said the teen and other youths robbed a Liquor Mart before starting a full-blown police chase. (Eishia Hudson/Facebook)


Vandal was joined at the virtual committee meeting by Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett and Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller, who also condemned the recent incidents.

“We have all been upset by the images on our screens and the undeniable evidence of systemic racism in Canada,” said Bennett.

“Right now, we are in a moment when Canadians are recognizing that there’s unfairness built into our systems, that these systems have always been unfair towards Indigenous peoples,” said Miller.

Miller and Bennett both pointed to community-based Indigenous policing, which the government is working to advance, as part of the solution.

Vandal said the government’s commitment to self-determination for Indigenous communities so that they can “take care of their own governance … whether it’s child and family services, whether it’s policing, whether it’s health, I mean that basic philosophy I think is going to bring many more positive returns than what we’ve been doing thus far.”

New Democrat MP Mumilaaq Qaqqaq, who represents Nunavut, took issue with non-Indigenous Canadians discussing the discrimination faced by Indigenous People.

“I will say it’s been very difficult to listen to the conversations that have been going on and Indigenous experiences being discussed as if non-Indigenous peoples will ever be able to fully grasp what it means to be Indigenous in Canada,” she said.

No charges to be laid against 3 VPD officers in connection with probe of disgraced detective: Crown

Alberta RCMP has wrapped 3-year investigation into constables Adam King, Zach Guy and Silvana Burtini

A file image of Vancouver Police Department officers. VPD constables Adam King, Zach Guy and Silvana Burtini have been under investigation by the Alberta RCMP since 2017. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

No charges will be laid against three Vancouver police officers accused of deceit during the investigation into the misconduct of former detective James Fisher, Crown prosecutors have announced.

A statement from the B.C. Prosecution Service on Wednesday said a special prosecutor — whose appointment to the case was not previously announced to the public — had determined the “standard for criminal charges had not been met for any of the officers and no charges were approved.”

Alberta RCMP’s major crime unit ran the three-year investigation into constables Adam King, Zach Guy and Silvana Burtini, over “allegations of serious misconduct” that were possibly “criminal in nature.”

Investigators sent a report detailing their findings to prosecutors in B.C. on Aug. 7, 2019, the statement said. Special prosecutor Joseph Doyle made his decision after looking over that file.

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner confirmed to CBC News earlier this week the investigation had concluded.

“The OPCC does not oversee or have control over criminal investigations; however, we are monitoring this matter closely and are awaiting the response from the B.C. Prosecution Service,” deputy police complaint commissioner Andrea Spindler wrote in an email.

“Regardless of whether Crown elects to not proceed with charges, the officers will still be under a conduct investigation under the Police Act.”

It was not made clear whether Alberta Mounties recommended specific charges against the three officers or what those charges might have been. Spindler said she didn’t have that information.

An Alberta RCMP spokesperson referred all questions about the investigation to E-division in B.C., but a B.C. RCMP spokesperson was unaware of the case and has yet to respond to questions.

The B.C. Prosecution Service was first asked about the case on Monday afternoon.

Allegations of deception and corruption

What’s known about the investigation into King, Guy and Burtini has come largely from court proceedings involving men arrested by the three officers, their former colleague Fisher and the rest of the Vancouver Police Department’s Counter Exploitation Unit.

In a January voir dire in the trial of accused pimp Omar Alameddin, a B.C. Supreme Court judge heard that all three officers are accused of making or procuring false statements, while Burtini and King face additional allegations of corruption.

Alberta RCMP began looking into the officers in response to a June 15, 2017, referral for outside investigation from the OPCC.

According to the VPD, concerns about the constables’ conduct were raised during the internal criminal investigation into Fisher, a former detective who has admitted to taking sexual advantage of young victims of sex crimes.

During the voir dire in January, a defence lawyer said evidence collected by VPD investigators suggests Fisher asked King and Burtini to speak with one of the women he had abused in an attempt to squash rumours about sexual contact.

The court heard allegations that neither officer took notes or recordings during that meeting, and they later informed a superior officer the young woman had denied making allegations against Fisher.

Former VPD detective James Fisher pleaded guilty to sexual exploitation and breach of trust in 2018. (Government of British Columbia)


Fisher eventually admitted to kissing that same young woman three times when she was 17 years old.

King, Guy and Burtini remain on duty with the VPD, though they have been transferred to other units. Burtini is a former high-level soccer player who represented Canada at three Women’s World Cups.

Fisher pleaded guilty to breach of trust and sexual exploitation in 2018 for kissing two young sex trafficking victims and was sentenced to 20 months in jail.

The last year has seen numerous allegations that his misconduct was much more serious and extensive than previously known.

There have been allegations that Fisher sexually abused several other young women during the course of his investigations into Vancouver pimps, beginning mere months after he joined the Counter Exploitation Unit in 2011.

The extent of his misconduct is a central question in appeals filed by three Vancouver pimps who are challenging their convictions. Last week, the B.C. Court of Appeal ordered two of those men to be released on bail while they wait for a hearing.

Bethany Lindsay is a B.C. journalist with a focus on the courts, health, science and social justice issues. Questions or news tips? Get in touch at or on Twitter through @bethanylindsay. With files from Rhianna Schmunk

Love is Blind: How Germany’s Long Romance With Cars Led to the Nation’s Biggest Clean Energy Failure

A world leader in cutting emissions from electricity production, the German government, in thrall to the auto industry, ‘overlooked’ pollution from cars and trucks.

BERLIN—The night before the leaders of the European Union met in Brussels in 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a phone call.

After more than a year of talks, the EU nations had agreed on a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks.

But Merkel, the leader of the largest and most economically powerful of those countries, had a last-minute change of heart.

In a call to Ireland’s prime minister, Enda Kenny, the European Union president, Merkel persuaded him to delay a vote on the transportation issue. Using threats to close auto plants in other European nations and promises to cooperate on other issues, Germany then lobbied its way to a plan with more favorable terms for its auto industry.

“It was, for everybody, shocking,” said Rebecca Harms, a former member of the European Parliament from the Alliance 90/The Greens party, who was representing Germany in Brussels.

An Ongoing Problem

Germany’s transition to clean energy has had successes that can serve as models for other countries of how to combat climate change. But one of the most important lessons comes from a failure: The nation’s decades-long unwillingness to cut emissions from cars and trucks.

Germans’ love affair with cars and the auto industry’s political clout meant that, from 1990 to 2019, the country made almost no headway in cutting the transportation sector’s emissions, which represent about one-fifth of total emissions. During that same time, Germany was making substantial progress in reducing emissions from electricity production.

The German government repeatedly deferred to its auto industry, wary of doing anything that might affect manufacturing jobs and raise car prices for consumers. Cars and trucks are the country’s No. 1 export, led by Volkswagen and followed by Daimler and BMW, companies that together constitute a huge force in politics and policy.

Whether in national legislation or with the European Union, the government long acted as an advocate rather than a regulator of these corporate giants.

The result was dissonance: Germany nourished wind and solar power and democratized its electricity system through local cooperatives. At the same time, it was burning gasoline and diesel with abandon. The failure to cut vehicle emissions was severe enough to derail progress on meeting climate goals for the whole economy.

Last summer, I went to Germany to see where the energy transition stood now. I did not expect that I would spend so much time talking about cars.

I learned that the struggle to cut auto emissions is Germany’s great unsolved problem, and the process of addressing it was just beginning, a shift that is at once cultural, political and economic. In 2019, Volkswagen announced a major change in strategy to emphasize electric vehicles, calling for “political and social forces” around the world to join in accelerating the transition to EVs. Months later, the German Parliament passed the country’s first-ever carbon tax for motor fuel.

The United States faces its own long-term challenges in cutting transportation emissions, and can learn from the German example.

“The bigger lessons are really in the failure stories,” said Jonas Meckling, a University of California, Berkeley, professor of energy and environmental policy, who previously worked as a senior advisor for the German environment ministry.

One lesson, he said, is that an energy transition is not monolithic. It is made up of a series of challenges, and governments need strategies for each major sector of the economy. But even more important, he said, the leaders need to build and then maintain public support for making changes in each sector. And that gets complicated in a country where the love of cars runs deep, and speed is almost a religion.

It would take the scandal that came to be known as Dieselgate to set change in motion.

A High-Speed Joyride for Everyday People

I had been in Germany for more than a week before I felt like I got to the heart of the car culture, a day when I was visiting renewable energy sites across the rural state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Along the way, I realized from highway signs that I was near an attraction called the Nürburgring and stopped to take a look.

The Nürburgring is an auto racing complex that seats about 150,000 people, with tracks known for their challenging twists and high-banked curves. I was there on a weekday, standing in a big parking lot facing the back stretch of one of the tracks, where dozens of people were standing or sitting in lawn chairs.

Spectators wait for a glimpse of fast cars at the Nürburgring, a landmark racing complex in the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate, photographed in August. The complex hosts pro racing and also is open for driving by the general public. Credit: Dan Gearino/InsideClimate News

They were waiting for the instant when a car roared by. The cars were driven not by professional race car drivers but by everyday people, who had paid 25 Euros (about $28) for the privilege of taking a few laps around the legendary track—a joyride.

The Nürburgring is the German track “with the most emotion,” said Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, an auto analyst and former director of the automotive research center at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. The curves have a danger that attracts drivers in a way that is different from modern oval courses, he said.

Most routes to and from the racing complex include the Autobahn, the federal highway system that has long stretches without speed limits. While I was there, the highways had too much traffic for anyone to really cut loose, but even the idea of having no speed limit has made the country legendary for gearheads.

But the absence of speed limits is, in a way, just a symbol of Germany’s long romance with the automobile.

How the Love Affair Began

Germany’s attachment to motor vehicles is not surprising in a country that can make a strong case that it was the birthplace of the automobile.

In 1886, Carl Benz completed building a three-wheel “motorwagen” in his workshop in Mannheim in southwestern Germany. Two years later, his wife, Bertha, drove the vehicle on a 120-mile round trip to visit her mother in Pforzheim, a journey that helped to publicize that this was a machine capable of long trips.

Benz’ company eventually merged with one of its rivals, Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft, best known for the Mercedes-Benz brand. Meanwhile, the company that would become BMW started in 1916 in the southern city of Munich.

In 1937, the Nazi government founded Volkswagen in an effort to develop a car that was affordable for everyday Germans. After World War II, the company moved on from its Nazi origins to become a linchpin of Germany’s economy.

A Volkswagen Beetle rolls off of the assembly line in the 1940s at the company’s flagship plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. Credit: Volkswagen

A Volkswagen Beetle rolls off of the assembly line in the 1940s at the company's flagship plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. Credit: Volkswagen

A Volkswagen Beetle rolls off of the assembly line in the 1940s at the company’s flagship plant in Wolfsburg, Germany. Credit: Volkswagen

Cars were soon Germany’s leading export, and Germans embraced a culture of driving and speed. The auto industry became one of the most influential interest groups, cultivating close ties with the center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats in federal and state politics.

Volkswagen, in particular, had unusually close ties to the government. The company had an unconventional ownership structure in which the German state of Lower Saxony was part owner, and the state government had two seats on the company’s board of directors. The company’s union also had seats on the board.

As a result, it was not unusual for people who later went on to top jobs in the federal government to have “Volkswagen board member” on their resumes.

For many Germans, the interests of the auto industry and national interests were indistinguishable, and the government often behaved more like the industry’s advocate than its regulator.

In an Energy Transition, a (Large) Oversight

Germany began its Energiewende, or energy transition, in earnest in 2000, led by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and a center-left coalition of Social Democrats and Alliance 90/The Greens.

The new leaders made rapid changes, but they were focused on the country’s largest emissions source, the electricity sector. The moves led to a boom in renewable energy and an ability for local communities to control projects and benefit from them. The transportation sector, however, was almost ignored.

Schröder was one of the officials who had been a Volkswagen board member during his time as prime minister of Lower Saxony from 1990 to 1998. His association with the company and his government’s lack of action on transportation emissions were not a major concern, underscoring how the close connection between the auto industry and government was largely accepted.

In 2005, voters gave the center-right Chistian Democrats a plurality in the parliament, led by the new chancellor, Angela Merkel, who would turn out to be a staunch defender of the auto industry’s interests.

Merkel took office at a time when other European governments were frustrated with the European Union’s history of regulating tailpipe emissions through voluntary standards which the automakers could take or leave—and often left.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel steps out of Volkswagen Passat GTE plug-in hybrid car at a 2014 event for her party, the Christian Democrats. Merkel has been a staunch defender of her country’s auto industry. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Over the next few years, a pattern emerged, in which Germany did little at the national level to deal with transportation emissions and also worked to weaken rules being considered by the European Union.

In 2007, the European Union enacted its first mandatory emissions rules for vehicles, a plan that would have been more stringent if Merkel’s government had not successfully pushed to set the standards at a level amenable to Germany’s auto industry.

But that was just a warmup for an even bigger fight to come.

Throwing the Rules Overboard

The standards that the EU passed in 2007 took effect in 2009, in the middle of a global economic downturn. Environmental advocates were pleased to see early evidence that mandatory rules seemed to be working in a way that voluntary rules had not.

And they were eager to get back to the table to update the rules and make them more stringent, a process that came to a head in 2013.

Dorothee Saar, head of transportation policy for Deutsche Umwelthilfe, a leading German environmental group, participated in more than a year of negotiations in which environmental advocates and auto industry representatives worked on the details with policymakers from member states, including Germany.

Dorothee Saar is head of the transportation and air quality for a prominent German environmental group. Courtesy of Deutsche Umwelthilfe,

The deal they reached was a fair compromise, she said, with rules that were not as tough as environmental groups would have liked, but clearly a step in the right direction.

On a Monday in June, members of the European Parliament and representatives of national governments signed an agreement that laid out the specifics of the policy, with timetables and emissions levels. This set the stage for heads of state to hold a final vote three days later at an EU summit meeting.

Then, out of nowhere, Merkel intervened. She phoned various heads of state to ask them to join her in pushing to reopen the negotiations.

The most important of those calls was to Enda Kenny of Ireland, who controlled the summit agenda. Following Merkel’s personal plea, he removed the vote from the schedule.

Saar learned of the sudden change of plans from a newspaper.

“What a mess,” she said, remembering her reaction. “Everybody was fighting for such a long time, with so much effort, and you think you have a deal.”

Merkel’s actions had short-circuited the regular process of EU lawmaking. In the background, an auto industry trade group was circulating a document warning that the stricter emissions rules would lead to job losses.

It was an election year in Germany, and Merkel’s party would face voters in a few months. Her party ended up gaining seats in the Sept. 22 election, maintaining control of the German federal government.

Rebecca Harms is pictured in 2019. Credit: Philipp Schulze/picture alliance via Getty Images

Harms, the European parliament member, was horrified by what had happened with the emissions rules. She was from Lower Saxony and she understood the importance of the auto industry to the economy. But she thought it was time for more stringent rules.

“The real scandal is that Germany is not just softening the climate goals, but that Germany also throws the democratic rules overboard,” she said at the time, referring to Merkel’s action, which she said essentially cut out the European Parliament and substituted negotiations among a few high-placed individuals.

Reopening the negotiations, however, only led to minor changes to the agreement. Six months later, the sides agreed on a plan to impose tougher emissions rules by 2021 instead of 2020, with new provisions that would give automakers extra credit for electric vehicles that would count toward offsetting emissions for other models.

Harms now thinks Merkel’s actions affected the credibility of the process in a way that ended up doing much more damage than the changes to the policy.

“Interfering in the done deal at that moment severely harmed the reputation of the German chancellor,” she said, noting that Merkel had been, until then, one of the EU’s leaders on climate policy.

In response to a question from InsideClimate News about Merkel’s role in the 2013 negotiations and the criticism that she has been too close to the auto industry, a spokesman for the Merkel government said the chancellor “maintains working relationships to all major sectors of the German economy.” He added that the EU rules for carbon emissions from vehicles, including those passed since 2013, set a “global benchmark.”

“Germany is both a key driver for an ambitious European climate policy and a globally competitive location for car manufacturing,” the spokesman said. “Thus the German government is constantly balancing climate policy and economic policy objectives.”

To someone outside of Germany, it might have seemed odd that the nation was a leader in calling for action on climate change and supporting renewable energy, but also a steadfast adversary of attempts to deal with transportation emissions.

Yet, inside the country, it made sense.

“Our economy still is dominated by the mobility sector, mainly by the German automotive industry and the suppliers,” said Christian Hochfeld, director of Agora Verkehrswende, a Berlin think tank that focuses on clean transportation policy.

Transportation emissions, he said, are “the elephant in the room” when it comes to Germany seriously addressing climate change.

Auto manufacturers, including parts suppliers, employ more than 800,000 Germans, making the industry an economic powerhouse. Those numbers alone would be enough to wield political influence. But the industry also has plants in nearly every German state, giving it local and national power.

In 2015, though, this bedrock industry was about to squander its goodwill.

Deconstructing ‘Dieselgate’

The German government’s efforts to protect the auto industry made even more sense in the context of a growth strategy at Volkswagen, and the government’s desire to avoid getting in the way.

In 2015, Volkswagen was eight years into a corporate plan to increase its annual sales to 10 million vehicles, a number that was likely to make the company the world’s leading automaker. It was an audacious strategy to overtake General Motors and Toyota, and it would require Volkwagen to boost its sales from a healthy, but not world-leading, 6.2 million in 2007.

Volkswagen, led by a hard-charging CEO, Martin Winterkorn, needed to increase sales everywhere: tapping the vast growth potential in China; emerging from niche status in the United States; and maintaining strong sales in Europe.

Volkswagen aimed to grow in the United States by competing in the SUV segment, and by marketing its diesel vehicles as good for the environment. The catchphrase for the company was “clean diesel.”

A 2009 marketing photo for the Volkswagen Touareg TDI, a time when the company was promoting the idea of “clean diesel.” Credit: Volkswagen

A U.S. advertising campaign featured three brassy “old wives” who drove their diesel Volkswagen, while dispelling old wives’ tales about how diesel is dirty.

“Aren’t diesels dirty?” one of the women asked. The reply: “They used to be dirty, but this is 2015.”

While it was true that Volkswagen’s diesel engines were fuel efficient, with low carbon dioxide emissions, diesel vehicles emitted high levels of nitrogen oxide, a major contributor to air pollution.

To sell diesels in the United States and meet air quality regulations, Volkswagen needed to install equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. But this equipment also harmed the vehicles’ performance, making the cars feel sluggish when they were driven.

So the company cheated. Its engineers developed software that could detect when a car was driving onto a lab platform for emissions testing and would then engage pollution controls. On the open road, however, the vehicles spewed nitrogen oxide at levels up to 40 times legal limits.

The decision to cheat came from near the top of the company. Winterkorn would later say he knew nothing of this until the vehicles had been on the road for years, an assertion that goes against his image as an executive obsessed with details.

Executives below the CEO’s level held a meeting at Volkswagen’s headquarters in Lower Saxony in which they discussed and approved the illegal plan, according to Faster, Higher, Farther, a book about the Volkswagen scandal by New York Times reporter Jack Ewing.

“Some of those present felt that the cheating was simply wrong,” Ewing wrote. “Among them were idealists who truly believed they were working to build a cleaner engine. The idea of cheating was demoralizing; it was not what they had signed up for. Others argued that all the carmakers cheated. Volkswagen had to take shortcuts, too, or it wouldn’t be able to compete, they said.”

A Volkswagen spokesman declined to comment about this account of the meeting, citing ongoing litigation.

Volkswagen was not the first company to use a so-called “defeat device” to cheat emissions testing. In 1998, seven manufacturers of heavy trucks agreed to pay a total of $1 billion to settle charges brought by the U.S. Justice Department that the companies had used defeat devices.

For Volkswagen, with sales much greater than the heavy truck makers, the potential penalties were much more severe.

The scheme might have gone undetected if not for a small group of researchers from West Virginia University that did tests of various brands and vehicles to see how emissions in the lab compared to emissions on the road. The project was part of a larger effort overseen by the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation on behalf of California’s emissions regulator.

After several tests, it was clear something was amiss with the Volkswagen cars.

Volkswagen initially deflected, then blustered, accusing the testers of making mistakes. But the company had been caught, and the evidence continued to accumulate.

Volkswagen publicly admitted its wrongdoing on Sept. 20, 2015. Winterkorn resigned three days later. And the company faced a German government that felt badly betrayed.

Trouble in the Marriage

The Volkswagen scandal released the pent-up energy of activists and others in European countries who for years had been frustrated by the power of the auto industry to avoid or reduce regulations.

It also led to a slew of investigations of other German automakers that used diesel engines, ensnaring Daimler and BMW, although BMW’s violations were small, and hitting other Volkswagen brands such as Audi and Porsche. Non-German companies, like NissanFiat Chrysler and Renault also faced investigations and penalties for violating diesel emissions rules.

But none had been as brazen as Volkswagen or had paid anywhere as close to as high a price, adding up to what is now 31 billion euros—about $34 billion—in fines and legal settlements. The legal challenges are ongoing, with recent actions in courts that may allow still more lawsuits by EU consumers and U.S. county governments.

Merkel urged Volkswagen and other companies to fully disclose what they had done, but her government also wanted to make sure that the scandal did not lead to bans on diesel technology, which remained a key part of German industry.

“I am just as disgusted with this deception as you are, with this cheating of customers,” Merkel said in a 2017 interview.

Longtime observers of German politics and business could see signs that the government and the auto industry were no longer in lockstep, setting the stage for another round of European Union talks about increasing vehicle emissions standards in 2018. The participants took familiar stances, with many nations and environmental advocates calling for strict regulations, and Germany urging a more gradual approach.

But the negotiations did not play out as they had before. Other countries pushed harder for aggressive action, and were less deferential to Germany. The result was a compromise, but one that went further than ever before.

Under the new rules, adopted in December 2018, countries are required to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from new cars by 15 percent by 2025 and 37.5 percent by 2030, compared to a 2021 baseline.

The rules are forcing automakers to make major changes, because the only way to meet the requirements is to sell a lot of zero-emission vehicles to help reduce their fleets’ average emissions.

Yet Germany’s process of learning from its mistakes was still in an uncomfortable middle chapter. The country was still figuring out how much appetite it had for dealing with vehicle emissions and whether it was willing to take any substantial actions at the national level.

The consequences of inaction were becoming clearer. The German government said in 2018 that it was likely to miss, by a lot, its 2020 targets for cutting emissions, a goal Merkel’s government had set with much fanfare in 2007.

Svenja Schulze, the environment minister, said in a 2018 speech that it was “painful” for her to announce the impending failure.

She singled out the transportation sector, where emissions were virtually unchanged since 1990, as the main reason the country was falling short of its goal.

A Change of Heart

Volkswagen soon demonstrated that it was ahead of its government in recognizing that the future of the auto industry lay in electric vehicles.

Despite the scandal, booming sales in China offset a sales drop in the United States, and the company sold 10.3 million overall vehicles in 2016, outselling Toyota and General Motors to become the global sales leader for the first time. But Volkswagen was still in turmoil, digging out from the financial damage of the diesel scandal and trying to repair its reputation.

In 2018, the company’s board named a new CEO, Herbert Diess, who had previously overseen the Volkswagen brand. Under Diess’ leadership Volkswagen was prepared to make a leap from viewing electric vehicles as an ancillary product to saying that EVs were at the heart of Volkswagen’s future.

Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess speaks at a news conference in March 2019, announcing a major increase in electric vehicle production. Credit: Volkswagen

Diess rolled out a new strategy in March 2019, announcing an increase in the number of planned EV models and a new goal of selling 22 million EVs in the next 10 years, up from the previous goal of 15 million in the same period.

“Volkswagen will change fundamentally, and I think this has become clear over the last few weeks and months,” Diess said at a news conference at the company’s headquarters. “Some of you may still be rubbing your eyes in amazement, but there’s no question this supertanker is picking up speed. We are addressing the key trends of the future, particularly in connection with climate action.”

Diess’ plan included the flagship Volkswagen brand and all other brands owned by the company, including Audi, Porsche and Škoda. If the company reaches its target, EVs will represent 40 percent of sales by 2030, up from the low single digits today.

In the year since that announcement, Volkswagen has followed up with details of specific models and timetables. The strategy will get a big test this summer with the release of the all-electric ID.3 in Europe, a compact sedan that is the first in a planned “ID” line of electric vehicles.

Peter Mock, the managing director for the International Council on Clean Transportation’s offices in the European Union, a group that has never shied away from criticizing Volkswagen, said it looked like the company’s change of course was real.

“Of course it is a huge company, and it takes a while until these kind of major announcements have an actual impact in everyday activities,” Mock said. “But it is my impression that the company is serious about it and is moving towards taking leadership in EV production and sales within Europe and possibly worldwide.”

Saar, from the environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe, is much less convinced. She said Volkswagen’s talk is “80 percent public relations,” and would like to see the company move even faster, and place less of emphasis on SUVs and other large vehicles.

If Volkswagen follows through on its stated goals for electric vehicles, it would be a giant step toward Germany increasing its EV market share, which was 2.9 percent of new vehicles sold last year. That’s more than the 1.9 percent in the United States, but less than in countries like Norway, where a combination of incentives for electric vehicles and penalties for gasoline vehicles made EVs 56 percent of new car sales last year. (The market share figures cover all plug-in models, including all-electric and gas-electric hybrids.)

Volkswagen’s leading competitors, including Toyota and General Motors have followed with their own major plans for EVs. Automakers within Germany have also taken significant steps. In 2019, Daimler began selling the all-electric Mercedes-Benz EQC, the first in the “EQ” series that the company says will be a showcase for the new technology that will expand its electric lineup. And BMW was ahead of the curve saying in 2017 that “electrification is one of the central pillars” of its strategy, pledging to make EVs to 15 percent to 25 percent of company sales by 2025.

Enter California Dreamin’ 

Meanwhile, another big player has appeared on the scene: Tesla, the global leader in EV sales, announced last November that it would open a factory just outside of Berlin.

Tesla, based in California, sold 367,500 vehicles globally in 2019, a number Volkswagen can reach with a few good weeks of sales. But Tesla has a cachet that exceeds its market share, having staked out an identity as the leading maker of cars of the future. That makes the factory an economic development prize for Germany, and German officials have issued giddy statements about having attracted Tesla, and with it, up to 10,000 factory jobs.

Tesla’s decision to locate in Germany suggests that the company wants to be a bigger player in Europe, a clear challenge to Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW.

A man stands outside of a Tesla dealership in Berlin. California-based Tesla is building a new factory just outside the city and is hoping to increase its presence in the European market. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A man stands outside of a Tesla dealership in Berlin. California-based Tesla is building a new factory just outside the city and is hoping to increase its presence in the European market. Credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

But Tesla’s arrival in Germany is also an opportunity for German automakers, Dudenöffer said, with the potential to share suppliers and make Germany a hub for global EV knowledge and production.

“It makes a lot of sense to have to have one of your major competitors next door to you. Then you better understand him,” he said.

With German automakers committing to EVs, the German government was running out of reasons not to pursue national legislation to reduce vehicle emissions.

In December, Merkel’s governing coalition passed legislation designed to accelerate the country’s progress in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Among its many provisions, the law included Germany’s first-ever carbon tax for transportation, which will increase the cost of motor fuels such as gasoline and diesel when it takes effect next year.

The carbon tax was a clear step forward for Germany, but a small one, said Meckling, the Berkeley professor. He pointed to research, including a 2019 paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, showing that carbon pricing leads to only minor reductions in emissions from fossil fuels.

Meckling said he is looking for what steps might follow that would build on the carbon tax and would “be the real litmus test” for how serious Germany is about moving on from the internal combustion engine.

Breaking the Chains 

As bad as the Volkswagen scandal was, it may ultimately have saved the company and, by helping to enact more aggressive vehicle emissions rules, provided much-needed momentum for the German energy transition.

“Without ‘Dieselgate,’ the old management would still be in today,” said Dudenhöffer, the auto analyst, referring to Volkswagen, “and they would still be just saying ‘We have the best diesels.'”

He thinks the German government’s deference to Volkswagen before the scandal was harmful to the company by encouraging complacency rather than innovation.

Christian Hochfeld is director of Agora Verkehrswende, a Berlin think tank that focuses on environmental issues related to transportation. Courtesy of Agora Verkehrswende

This view is shared by Hochfeld, director of Agora Verkehrswende, the Berlin think tank.

“The diesel scandal broke a lot of chains between the policymakers and the car industry and it also broke a lot of chains between German people and the car industry, because they lost their trust and they lost their pride in this industry,” he said.

Now, he added, “it’s a more realistic and a more rational relationship.”

Even Volkswagen can see that the scandal has led to positive changes.

“The diesel crisis, the scandal, was a loud and clear call for action,” said Ralf Pfitzner, Volkswagen’s head of sustainability, in a phone interview. “It’s now helped us to be at the forefront of electrification.”

Pfitzner said the company has made substantial changes. One example is that when he was hired in 2017, his department was part of the public relations and lobbying side of the company, he said. Since then, though, Volkswagen has made the sustainability department a close partner of the division that works on vehicle planning and strategy.

“It’s nothing about PR. It’s really a strategic issue,” Pfitzner said, adding, “In the past, probably there was not enough distance between government and automakers and authorities.”

The government’s approach to its auto industry is changing at the same time that Germans’ love of cars appears to be waning. Younger Germans care less about cars than previous generations, Dudenhöffer said. He noted that many young people of driving age would give up their cars before they would give up their mobile phones.

The diminishing importance of driving is evident in the debate over speed limits. For decades, the idea of imposing speed limits on highways was so unpopular in Germany that few people in the political mainstream would seriously suggest it. Now, as cars get smaller and fewer people grow up learning how to drive extremely fast, there is a robust debate about whether there should be speed limits to improve safety and reduce emissions.

In January, ADAC, the German equivalent of the auto club AAA, said it was changing its stance to neutral on speed limits, after long opposing them. The group’s leaders said this reflected the fact that there was no longer a clear consensus on the issue among its 20 million members.

Even a few years ago, “it was unthinkable” that ADAC would change this view, Hochfeld said.

For anyone not paying close attention, the shift amounted to a blaring siren announcing that things have changed.

Environmental advocates are cautiously hopeful that this change is enduring, part of a broader shift that could turn around what has been the greatest failure of the country’s energy transition.


Non-Indigenous MPP will co-chair Ontario’s new Indigenous Women’s Advisory Council

Jill Dunlop should ‘step back’, let Indigenous women lead, says Kenora community organizer Tania Cameron

Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues Jill Dunlop will co-chair the Ontario government’s new Indigenous Women’s Advisory Council. (CBC)

A community organizer on social issues in the Kenora area says she’s “personally insulted” the Ontario government has named a non-Indigenous MPP as the co-chair of the new Indigneous Women’s Advisory Council.

The government announced the council June 1, stating that approximately 11 First Nations, Inuit, Metis and LGBTQ2S people will form the council, and one of them will be chosen to serve as co-chair alongside Simcoe North MPP Jill Dunlop, the associate minister of children and women’s issues.

“Whether its chair or co-chair, it should be Indigenous women. It’s the principle of it, like how on earth can this advisory council feel free to have the much-needed discussions with a non-Indigenous person in the lead? I can’t even imagine how that would look. It’s paternalistic,” said Tania Cameron.

The council will examine issues such as human trafficking, child, youth and family healing and well-being, and Ontario’s response to the Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Indigenous women in Canada, between the ages of 15 – 24, are more than three times as likely to experience violence than non-Indigenous women, and are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience intimate partner violence.

“The high rate of violence against Indigenous women and girls is unacceptable and must be addressed as quickly as possible,” Dunlop stated in the June 1 announcement.  “Indigenous women deserve to feel safe and secure. By establishing this Council, we can actively work in partnership with Indigenous leaders and community partners to deal with violence in a culturally-relevant way.”

Tania Cameron, a community organizer on social issues in the Kenora area would like MPP Jill Dunlop, who is not Indigenous, to ‘step back’ from her role as co-chair of the Ontario government’s new Indigenous Women’s Advisory Council. (Tania Cameron)


But Cameron would like to see Dunlop “step back” from the chair position and serve as a member of the council instead, noting that as an associate minister she will still receive any recommendations the group makes, and is able to ask questions of it.

“You can’t pretend to know” the lived experience of an Indigenous woman “growing up and raising her family in Ontario ” she said.

Cameron is wondering if people who are invited to join the council “will be brave enough” to respectfully decline a seat until an Indigenous woman or women is named to lead it.

‘True ally.. should be off to the side’

“It should be Indigenous people that are taking the lead role. It should be our allies in the non-Indigenous community that should be off to the side saying ‘tell us how we can help’, not assuming any leadership role, but being a true ally.”

Currently, there is no dedicated provincial forum for Indigenous women and LGBTQ2S leaders and experts to engage on violence prevention issues,  Alex Spence, Dunlop’s senior communications advisor and press secretary, said in an email to CBC, while confirming that she would remain as co-chair.

“The Associate Minister will support the council as the government representative, working with them on solutions that are related to her portfolio,” Spence said, adding “an Elder will also be invited to participate at each session to guide the council’s conversations, actions and discussions, as well as to provide culturally safe practices and support members and the work of the council.”

The ministry is confirming council membership, with the first meeting and selection of a co-chair to take place near the end of July.  The council is expected to meet twice each year.


Cathy Alex · CBC News · 


Indigenous Day (Part 1): B.C. Regional Chief Terry Teegee calls for ‘overhaul’ of policing

Glacier Media hears from Indigenous leader, police chief and government minister in advance of National Indigenous Peoples Day

B.C. Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations Photograph By B.C. ASSEMBLY OF FIRST NATIONS

Anger. Frustration. Sadness.

These are some of the emotions Terry Teegee, the Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, has felt in recent weeks.

News reports present and past of Indigenous people being badly hurt or killed in incidents involving police in Canada have affected him deeply.

He lists off some of their names: Chantal Moore, Athabasca Chipewyan Chief Allan Adam, Dale Culver and his relative, Everett Riley Patrick, who died in hospital in April after being arrested by Prince George RCMP.

“Across this country we’re seeing it more and more with Indigenous peoples being injured or killed while being arrested,” he told Glacier Media. “I’m so frustrated and dumbfounded. When you’re arrested, you shouldn’t end up being dead.”

Teegee spoke to Glacier Media in advance of National Indigenous Peoples Day, which goes June 21. His interview was one of three conducted recently to gauge the state of Indigenous peoples’ lives and issues in British Columbia in 2020.

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer and Scott Fraser, B.C. Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, also participated in separate interviews, where policing and government affairs were discussed.

Teegee, a member of the Takla Lake First Nation, joined Glacier Media via a Zoom call from the Lheidli T’enneh reserve near Prince George, where he lives with his family.

The following interview was condensed and edited for length and clarity.

Needless to say, National Indigenous Peoples Day will take on a different flavour in the middle of a pandemic. I know that large gatherings are an important part of Indigenous culture. What are you hearing from Indigenous leaders about how to safely mark this day in 2020?

I think there’ll be a lot of virtual celebrations that will be occurring that day. For many Indigenous peoples, not only in Canada and the United States, it’s a significant day. For Indigenous peoples, it’s really to take stock of where we’re at in this period in time, and look to see where we need to go, and speaking to the many injustices and the current state of affairs for Indigenous peoples in Canada —and really, I suppose, North America, as well.

Does the day take on a different resonance with what’s going on in B.C. and across the world, with people taking to the streets to condemn racism and calling for change in institutions, including police departments?

It’s a significant day because of what we’re seeing with policing systems in the United States and in Canada, and how the police have racist policies, are enforcing racist policies, and in many respects, are profiling. The vast majority are minorities. What we’re seeing today with the Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd ‘I can’t breathe’ movement…we totally sympathize because it’s cut from the same cloth.

The same thing is happening to Indigenous people here in Canada. The RCMP were here to enable law and order, which came from the colonial system. It wasn’t our law, our order. And in many respects, those laws were used to take us from our lands and put us on smaller reserves, and really enforce a colonial system. If you look at recent history, over the last 100 years, the police were used to take our children away. As a matter of fact where I’m from, Dakelh Territory, in our Carrier language we call the RCMP ‘nilhchuk-un,’ which means those who take us away. The parents saw the RCMP as the ones who took our children away to residential school.

If you were in charge of a police department, what would be your first order of business?

We’re seeing examples out of the United States where police forces are being disbanded and being torn down and being built back up to reflect the current realities in society today. Far too often right now we’re seeing that police forces and the way they’re trained is very heavy on force, it’s very heavy on penalties and not enough on understanding the situation, or the people they’re arresting — whether they have mental health issues, addictions issues, the domestic disputes.

If it were up to me, there needs to be an overhaul, a systemic overhaul of the policing system, whether it’s the RCMP or municipal police. I think we’ve really got to understand what the job really means. If you’re a police officer, what training do you need more than just the ability to arrest somebody? There are situations out there where right now they’re ill-equipped.

Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart has called on Premier John Horgan to conduct a review of policing in B.C. The B.C. government says it will review the 45-year-old Police Act and look to modernize it. What do you say to that?

We’re seeing some progress in B.C. We have I believe six First Nations, Indigenous judicial courts, sentencing courts. They are more appropriate for some of the sentencing out there for Indigenous people that find themselves in a vicious cycle of getting arrested, going to jail. We do have a justice stategy — the B.C. First Nations justice strategy. They have adopted our suggested strategy. So I think there is significant movement and it’s a good case where we can see some significant change here in British Columbia.

How would you describe the relationship between the B.C. Assembly of First Nations and Premier John Horgan’s government?

Right now, the situation here is far better than other provinces. We’ve seen the adoption of Bill 41, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act. That’s really a significant movement in terms of commitment from a level of government that sees it necessary to change their relationship with Indigenous peoples. So I think there is some positive movement which is great. We’ve seen other legislation that will live up to the Declaration. That’s what we’re working on in our action plan, and part of it too would probably be some of the judicial policies out there that really need to be changed provincially and federally.

I believe right now there is a commitment from the federal government to legislate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It’s really important that they do this, and also live up to the fact that we have our own laws, we have our own sovereignty and those have to be recognized and lived up to as well. So provincially, I think we’re in a better situation than most regions. However, there is needed steps to carry on this momentum we have with the province of B.C.

As you know, Indigenous people are overrepresented in prisons, in homeless counts, in overdoses. Why do you think that is, and what are you doing as a provincial leader to reverse those trends?

We’re only five per cent of the population, and yet we’re overrepresented in incarceration rates. Women in jail — I believe in B.C. about 60 per cent of the population are Indigenous. For men and boys, we’re about 40 per cent. It’s really important to understand and know those situations and how we need to change it. It’s systemic change we need within how we treat Indigenous peoples.

Our communities need the resources for all facets of life. It’s economic development, it’s mental health, it’s health, it’s infrastructure, having high speed internet in remote communities. We’re always lagging behind the norms of normal Canadian society. The situation we’re trying to create is for those First Nations to take over jurisdiction, take over their sovereignty, to implement their ways, really to assert their sovereignty and become self-sufficient.

All three levels of government have made commitments to reconciliation. How would you assess their commitments — are they genuine?

The definition of reconciliation, let’s look at that: Who’s reconciling here? In many respects, it’s government, it’s colonialism that’s reconciling with the Indigenous people. I think we’ve seen some positive steps and progress. Many of our chiefs talk about implementing our own laws and we’re starting to see that with child welfare, here in this province and federally. We’re seeing it with environmental assessment law policies — the Environmental Assessment Act. I really saw ourselves co-writing that bill. So I think there has been some progress. Is it enough? I don’t think it is enough right now. This journey is long. It’s going to be along hard journey and we need to do this together, and there needs to be significant commitment to what reconciliation means.

You’ve been Regional Chief since 2017. What inspired you to take on a leadership role?

I saw an opportunity to speak up not only for the nations I represent, but all nations in B.C. My job is finding some semblance of justice. I wake up every day and I have to find some semblance of justice in speaking to and talking about the Forestry Act, or the judicial system, or child welfare. With all those conversations, the common denominator at any event that I’ve been asked to speak at — a week ago, I spoke to a rally here in Prince George about Black Lives Matter — all of those cases, the common denominator I’m speaking to and recognizing is that there is an injustice.

Are you optimistic about the future for Indigenous people in this province and country?

Yes. If I wasn’t’ optimistic, I wouldn’t be in this position. If I wasn’t optimistic, I wouldn’t be in these many meetings, I wouldn’t show up to the rallies. Because those things are needed. Things need to be said. Our situation is far better right now than I remember when I was four or five years old. We’ve gone through, in the last couple of years, a significant step with the adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act here in B.C.

It’s been far better than I remember it in the last 40 years. Going forward, I would like to see a far different situation, not only for my children, but for my great grandchildren and generations ahead, and now is a good opportunity to do that.

How would you like Canadians to mark National Indigenous Peoples Day in 2020?

I think for all Canadians, they should think about their relationships with Indigenous people. How do they see Indigenous peoples, the original peoples of this place we call Canada? How do they relate to Indigenous peoples, to relationships with the First Nations. Because every inch of this country has been inhabited or is a First Nations territory. If you’re in Vancouver, you’re in Coast Salish territory. What do you know about the Musqueam, Squamish and Tseil-waututh nations — all those others nations and communities in the Greater Vancouver area? The Semiahmoo people? What does the average Canadian know about Prince George, know about the history of the Carrier people here, where I’m from, where I live?

Understanding and knowing where you’re from is half the battle, but also too, understanding in our lived experience, we all experience racism. And whether the average Canadian knows it or not —it could be inadvertently — but understanding and accepting that racism is alive and well in Canada will bring us a long way to healing our relationship with not only Indigenous people, but with Black people, minorities. Know and understand the lived experience of Indigenous people, and go out there and celebrate with Indigenous people.

I think it’s a significant day that many Indigenous peoples hold dear to their heart, and I think we celebrate with everybody. And this year, we see a reckoning of racism throughout Canada and British Columbia and United States. I think June 21 would be a good day to begin a healing and understanding of this colonial relationship that we have with the Canadian government.

SOURCE Twitter/@Howellings

A cross-Canada look at defunding the police

Police officer at a Toronto Black Lives Matter demonstration in June 2020. Image: Mitchel Raphael

Image: Mitchel Raphael

According to Statistics Canada, the total operating expenditures of police across Canada have generally been increasing since 1996-1997 (data from 1987 to 2018). Now, as protests against police violence are spreading across North America, voices of activists and people who have been working with racialized and vulnerable communities demanding Canada defund and disarm police are being amplified.

This blog is about providing us with tools we can use when making our case in support of Black Lives Matters’ call to defund and disarm the police.

What does police violence look like in Canada?

Each community has a list of names of people who have been harmed by discriminatory policing. There is no comprehensive list of people harmed, but Pivot Legal has provided a report summarising “17 years of police violence in Canada,” based on the CBC’s investigative series called “Deadly Force.” Here is a great post by Leadnow about police violence in the past 67 days. And this chapter from Policing Black Lives by Robin Maynard provides an initiation to the history of discriminatory policing in Canada.

Here are statistics from the John Howard Society which show the extent of overrepresentation of Black and Indigenous people in our criminal system. As pundits and right-wing media try to manipulate our perception of the racial attitudes of other Canadians, the “Race Relations in Canada, 2019 Survey” report provides data about the real attitudes of people.

What does “defund the police” mean?

Defunding the police means reducing police budgets and reallocating those funds to crucial and often neglected areas like education, public health, housing and youth services. These much needed community support services have faced cuts while the total operating expenditures of police have generally increased for over two decades.

In 2018, an “OECD study looking at how much countries spend on services, benefits and tax breaks related to healthcare, families, old age security, unemployment, housing and more, found Canada’s public social expenditures fall well below the OECD average — even lower than the United States,” reported Press Progress.

One of the roots of over-policing and discriminatory policing is that as social supports become inadequate, the police are called in to address social problems — like poverty, mental illness, homelessness and addiction — which they are poorly equipped to handle. As we defund needed social supports in favour of a “law and order” approach, more and more vulnerable people are hurt.

What is happening in the First Nations and Indigenous communities?

In the 1990s, the federal government and First Nations communities developed the First Nations Policing Policy. Here is a history of how the policy developed and was continuously underfunded.

In 2016 The Nishnawbe-Aski Police Service (NAPS) officers voted in favour of a strike action to demand that the the Ontario government to improve working conditions for First Nations officers. According to a CBC article, “not only were NAPS officers paid less than their provincial counterparts, but they were forced to work without radios and patrol without partners. Police detachments in isolated First Nations often lacked jail cells or running water.”

In 2018, Ottawa committed to spending $291 million over five years on policing in First Nations and Inuit communities in Canada. NAPS salaries are now in line with other police forces in Ontario, and the additional funding will improve conditions and equipment for officers. However at there are two cases by the Mashteuiatsh First Nation in Quebec and the Mushkegowuk Council in northern Ontario demanding additional resources for First Nations policing.

Since the murder of George Floyd, reports have circulated about the deaths of two Indigenous people at the hands of police, and a video showing police brutally tackling and punching Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam. The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) is calling for a complete overhaul of the policing system in Canada.

Many First Nations communities have just gotten hard won resources for a chronically underfunded self-governed system, and they need more resources. However, it is important to note that the per capita federal expenditure on policing in the three territories is very high. Part of AFN’s call for an overhaul is to redirect resources to First Nations-led community policing.

What changes are being proposed in Canada?

Right now, announcements of governments examining police budgets are everywhere in mainstream media. In Victoria, the B.C. government is being asked to scrutinize the militarization of police, in particular focusing on the purchase of a heavily armoured car in 2017. B.C.’s provincial government has committed to reviewing the Police Act. In Toronto, city council is reviewing a proposal to cut the police budget by 10 per cent. In Calgary, activists are calling for caps to police budgets. Keep local and national movements going after mainstream media moves on and the spotlight fades.

What are some of the Black Lives Matter movement’s achievements to date?

On July 20-21, 2016 the Movement for Black Lives, a coalition of the three organizations — Black Lives Matter, the Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100) and the Million Hoodies — launched the #Freedomnow movement to defund police departments and redirect money to community needs. Here is a great article by the American Civil Liberties Union about how the U.S. Black Lives Matter movement built change and continues to build a revolution.

In Canada, in the early 1990s, public complaints, legal actions, empirical research and a number of high-profile incidents shined a spotlight on racial bias in policing. The Canadian Civil Liberties Union published this history of the movement against racial profiling and policing. A lot has been accomplished, but with ever increasing pressure to defund social programs and to continue building the law enforcement and prison industries, a lot more still needs to be done.