Green recovery gains momentum as world confronts multiple crises

Image: Cameron Venti/Unsplash

Image: Cameron Venti/Unsplash

After the 2008 stock and housing market crash plunged the U.S. and world into economic upheaval, governments came to the rescue, with trillions of dollars in corporate bailouts. Executives at the insurance firm AIG were so happy with their US$152-billion package (more than U.S. and European countries spent in total on developmental aid the same year), they celebrated with a $440,000 trip to a luxury spa resort!

As with the 2008-2009 financial crisis, CO2 emissions have dropped during the pandemic. But the 2009 economic stimulus and recovery ignited a renewed spike in emissions. The measures revived struggling economies and it wasn’t long before industrial interests were again fuelling engines of habitat destruction, pollution, climate disruption and other environmental devastation.

COVID-19 is revealing that recovery’s unstable foundation. As governments worldwide develop plans to recover from this pandemic’s impacts, we have to ensure it’s a lasting recovery that puts us on track to confront current and future threats, including the climate and biodiversity crises.

An International Institute for Sustainable Development study, conducted at the request of leading Canadian environmental organizations including the David Suzuki Foundation, argues any corporate bailouts and stimulus spending should come with “green strings” attached. Measures to stimulate the economy shouldn’t make the climate crisis worse and should aim for a sustainable, equitable, resilient future for all.

As economists and others worldwide have been saying, our recovery from this pandemic will be stronger if we correct course away from activities that cause climate disruption, biodiversity loss, environmental devastation and increasing disease spread — and exacerbate inequality.

Former Bank of Canada and Bank of England governor Mark Carney says the world can’t afford to miss an opportunity as it did after the 2008 financial crisis. “You can’t wish away the systemic risk,” he said. “In the end, a small investment up front can save a tremendous cost down the road.”

Research shows environmentally targeted stimulus measures offer as many or more employment and economic benefits as neutral or harmful measures. Studies of U.S. stimulus policies during the 2008-09 global financial crisis found green policies performed well, especially compared to fossil fuel infrastructure funding.

survey of 230 leading economists representing 53 countries, published in the Oxford Review of Economic Policy, found “green stimulus measures” were “among the most beneficial for the economy, as well as having strong potential to cut emissions,” and “could help decouple emissions from growth, avoid stranded assets — and stranded jobs — and redirect the global economy towards a more prosperous net-zero emissions pathway.”

The IISD study calls on Canada to adopt a range of measures, from making funding for industry conditional on measurable plans to reduce emissions to net-zero by 2050, to ensuring support goes to workers and not executive perks, buybacks and dividends.

Study co-author Aaron Cosbey said government recovery plans will determine our environmental footprint for decades. “We’ll end up spending hundreds of billions of dollars on relief and recovery — an unprecedented investment by Canadian taxpayers. It’s the government’s right and duty to attach conditions to that spending, making sure it drives us toward the future we all want: a green, prosperous Canada.”

The European Union is already taking up the challenge, forming a “green recovery alliance,” initiated in response to calls from European environment ministers “for the European Green Deal to be centralised in the EU’s post-pandemic recovery plan.”

“We are choosing to accelerate the ecological transition when the time comes to reinvest in the economy,” said European Parliament environment committee chair Pascal Canfin. “COVID-19 has not made the climate crisis go away.”

Amsterdam is the first city to replace the antiquated economic growth model with “doughnut economics” as a guide for public policy decisions. Oxford University economist Kate Raworth developed the model, based on the idea that an economy should meet everyone’s core needs within the means of the planet.

Many are feeling the effects of the pandemic — isolation, job loss, economic upheaval, illness, death — and the desire is to quickly return to “normal.” But “normal” isn’t good enough, as we learned in 2009. To ensure our well-being and survival, we must build back better. We have the knowledge, resources and research to do it. All we need now is political will.


David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior writer and editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at 

Renewable energy projects in Canada’s remote communities have doubled in past five years

Pembina Institute report finds new systems, as well as energy efficiency programs, helped reduce use of diesel for heating and electricity generation by 12 million litres per year, but total diesel consumption is still increasing due to population growth

Solar panel installation

The number of renewable energy projects, such as solar panel installations, have doubled in remote communities across Canada over the past five years. Photo: EE Image Database via Flickr

The number of renewable energy projects in Canada’s remote communities has doubled since 2015, which is helping to mitigate diesel use, according to a new report by the Pembina Institute.

The report quantifies how renewable energy systems, as well as energy efficiency programs and electrical grid tie-ins, are helping communities pivot away from fossil fuels for heat and electricity generation.

“What’s needed is a hard look at both sides of the coin, so to speak — where we have come from, but projecting the future and where we need to go,” said Dave Lovekin, Pembina’s director of renewables in remote communities, noting that a litany of government-sponsored programs aimed at transitioning to renewable energy contributed to the reduction.

The research looks at total energy use in communities between 2015 and 2020, though most renewable energy projects came online within the past two years. The report found that while diesel is being displaced by renewables projects and energy-efficient systems, overall consumption of fossil fuels is still increasing due to the growing population.

Location of diesel-reliant remote communities. Communities coloured orange use diesel for both electricity and heat; blue use diesel for heat but are connected to electrical grids; yellow use diesel for heat but are tied into small hydroelectric facilities. Map: Pembina Institute

Across Canada, 451 remote communities rely exclusively on diesel for electricity and/or heat. The more remote a community is, the higher the likelihood that diesel is used, Lovekin said, pointing to the North, which has frigid temperatures and many poorly insulated houses.

Nunavut’s electricity, heat and transportation needs, for example, are met with diesel. There have been improvements in the territory in the past five years, but diesel reliance is still pegged at 99 per cent, the report says.

In the lead up to the 2019 federal election, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau flew to Nunavut’s capital city of Iqaluit and made a pledge to eliminate the reliance on diesel for electricity in remote communities by 2030. The Liberal party says investing in “clean, renewable and reliable sources of energy” is the way to do this. The promise ties in to the government’s aspiration to hit net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

But according to the federal government, as of September of 2019, Canada was off track for its 2030 emissions reduction target by 22 per cent. And the Pembina report notes that the government has not set a goal of eliminating diesel use for heating.

Martha Lenio, an Arctic renewable energy expert for WWF-Canada, said heating must be targeted if a dent is to be made in reducing diesel use. In Nunavut, where Lenio is based, heating accounts for two-thirds of diesel use, she said.

The Pembina report illustrates there is momentum toward meeting the government’s emissions reduction targets across remote communities, but it says more investment is needed.

“We have a long way to go,” Lovekin said.

The good: communities are turning to renewable energy systems

There’s been an 85 per cent increase in projects that reduce diesel consumption in remote communities since 2015, the report says, whether through energy efficiency or renewables projects. It also notes that the scale of renewables projects is increasing. Solar photovoltaic installations in some areas now generate 500 kilowatts of power — a jump from the average capacity of 10 to 20 kilowatts in earlier projects.

The report captures Old Crow’s solar array — the largest in the circumpolar North. Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm recently told The Narwhal that the project would displace 189,000 litres of diesel per year once completed. Over its decades-long life cycle, this would equate to a 1,270-tonne reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, including those that come from flying diesel fuel into the roadless community.

Another project the study looks at is Fort Chipewyan’s solar array, which, once completed this year, will displace 800,000 litres of diesel annually for the Alberta community. In a news release, Pembina said it will be the largest solar project in a remote community.

The bad: more diesel is being burned

The report calls the 682 million litres of diesel projected to be used in remote communities in 2020 “staggering.” (Two-thirds is expected to be used for heating purposes, while the other third will be used to create electricity.) In 2015, 655 million litres of diesel was used for heat and electricity, according to the report.

In 2020, 79 per cent of electricity in remote communities is projected to come from diesel, the report says, noting that Nunavut and Nunavik, in northern Quebec, rely most heavily on the fuel; 19 per cent will come from renewables; two per cent from other fossil fuels.

Iqaluit diesel fuel

In Iqaluit and remote communities across Canada, fuel tanks are fixed to houses for heating oil. Photo: Elaine Anselmi

Diesel fuel is projected to provide 69 per cent of heating this year in remote communities, with renewable options  — wood stoves and biomass — providing 21 per cent. The remaining 10 per cent is expected to come from other fossil fuels.

There are human and environmental concerns attached to diesel use. Particulate matter from burning diesel can get into the air, impacting human health, Lovekin said. The biggest concern he’s heard from communities, though, is that spills could happen either in situ or when diesel is being transported.

“The environmental harm to bodies of water, land, aquatic life is substantial,” he said. “It takes a lot of money to clean.” 

Changing the economics of Canadian energy moving forward 

The buck doesn’t stop at government coffers. Private investors and banks can also play a role in getting communities off diesel by offering zero-interest or guaranteed loans for energy projects, Lovekin said.

“Indigenous communities are very much hamstrung by government grants and the cycles and processes of those grants,” he said, noting that roughly 70 per cent of communities included in the report are Indigenous. “We’ve got to change the economics of these projects.”

“We have to continue to listen to communities and community leaders in what they want in their clean energy transition and if those communities want to drastically reduce their diesel [use].”

Lenio is hopeful, seeing the movement toward clean energy gain speed across the North.

“This report contributes by collecting that data needed to make some meaningful projects that make sense for communities,” she said. “A lot of the groundwork has been laid. I think in a few years, you’re going to see larger projects starting to bring down diesel use in the remote communities.”


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


Chiefs call for racism inquiry during meeting today with N.B. premier

People walk to honour Rodney Levi in Red Bank, New Brunswick on Friday, June 19, 2020. File photo by The Canadian Press/Stephen MacGillivray

Indigenous leaders in New Brunswick are renewing a call for an independent, Indigenous-led public inquiry to investigate systemic racism and two recent police shootings in the province.

Wolastoqey and Mi’kmaq chiefs will bring up the issue during a meeting with Premier Blaine Higgs Thursday afternoon in Fredericton.

They expressed disappointment following a June meeting with Higgs during which the premier turned down their request for an inquiry and instead suggested a task force to review recommendations made from previous inquiries.

In a letter to the provincial government dated Wednesday, the Wolastoqey chiefs say an inquiry must look at how the justice system in New Brunswick is failing Indigenous peoples.

“We stand firm in our belief that this province must have an independent inquiry that reviews the systemic discrimination against Indigenous people in the policing and justice systems in New Brunswick,” they wrote.

They say a task force cannot oblige the government to collaborate and it cannot access information that the government wants hidden.

The chiefs’ calls follow the fatal shootings of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi — two Indigenous people killed by police in June.

“The circumstances surrounding the deaths of Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi are tragic, but they are not isolated incidents and are only the tip of the iceberg of longstanding issues our people have with the justice system in this province,” they wrote.

Mi’kmaq leaders are also calling for immediate reforms to the justice system, including improved police training and standards and increased Indigenous involvement in police oversight.

In a letter to the premier dated July 2, they call for a change in the approach to law enforcement including the creation of a community-based initiative they are calling Mi’kmaq Peacekeepers.

“This will be a system of unarmed safety officers from our communities, trained in de-escalation tactics and to address issues of mental health, addiction, poverty and trauma,” they wrote.

Indigenous leaders in New Brunswick are renewing a call for an independent, Indigenous-led public inquiry to investigate systemic racism and two recent police shootings in the province.

Levi, 48, was attending a barbecue near the Metepenagiag Mi’kmaq Nation when someone allegedly called police to complain about an “unwanted person.”

The Mounties have said a suspect carrying knives was jolted with a stun gun, but that failed to subdue him. He was shot when he charged at officers, police said.

Moore, 26, was fatally shot June 4 when an officer from the Edmundston Police Department was conducting a “wellness check.” Police allege she lunged at an officer with a knife.

Quebec’s independent police watchdog agency — the Bureau des enquetes independantes — is investigating the killings, because New Brunswick does not have its own police oversight agency.

The Mi’kmaq leaders say the results need to be made public, so they can be subject to public scrutiny.

Higgs said on the eve of the meeting that he’s open to an inquiry if there are clear parameters and the expectation of results that can be acted on.

“Let’s not turn this into a process that doesn’t allow us to get traction and to make some real, effective changes,” Higgs said.

“Let’s define the parameters in a meaningful way, and decide what we can do and what timelines, and let’s just make it happen.”

As for a New Brunswick agency to investigate police, Higgs said he believes a regional agency with a New Brunswick component is the best solution.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 9, 2020.

Vancouver MP Kwan ‘wholeheartedly’ supports ending police street checks

NDP MP Jenny Kwan told National Observer that street checks “have a history of discriminate use among racialized Canadians.” Vancouver Police Department Facebook photo

The member of Parliament for Vancouver East says she “wholeheartedly” supports ending police street checks, as city council tackles the issue amid a push from dozens of prominent organizations calling for a ban.

NDP MP Jenny Kwan told National Observer that street checks, where police stop a person and question them in public, and possibly record their personal information, “have a history of discriminate use among racialized Canadians.”

“I wholeheartedly support an end to this practice, which the NDP has long advocated for abolishing,” she said.

Kwan’s comments come the day Vancouver city council is expected to deal with a motion put forward by Mayor Kennedy Stewart, that would have him inform the Vancouver Police Board that it was council’s priority to end the practice of street checks.

The motion points to Vancouver Police Department (VPD) data that has revealed that out of roughly 100,000 street checks between 2008 and 2017, Indigenous and Black people were greatly overrepresented.On Monday, more than 70 organizations called on Stewart, who is chair of the police board, and B.C. Premier John Horgan to put in place an “immediate ban” on police street checks, which they called “arbitrary, racist, and illegal.”

Vancouver East NDP MP Jenny Kwan speaks in the House of Commons on June 18, 2020. House of Commons screenshot

‘There is a responsibility resting on your shoulders’

The BC Civil Liberties Association, Black Lives Matter-Vancouver, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and many others wrote in an open letter that street checks have “no basis in law,” and are both harmful and discriminatory for Indigenous, Black, and low-income communities.

“We call on you to exercise your powers and jurisdiction to implement an immediate ban on the harmful, arbitrary, illegal and racist practice of police street checks,” the letter reads.

Vancouver East MP @JennyKwanBC says she “wholeheartedly” supports ending police street checks, as city council tackles the issue amid a push from dozens of prominent organizations calling for a ban.

“Amidst protests against police killings of Black and Indigenous people, your statements about addressing systemic racism are not enough. There is a responsibility resting on your shoulders and you must take immediate action to eliminate street checks.”

Vancouver police claim these checks are not done randomly or arbitrarily. They say they only occur when a police officer believes someone is involved in criminal activity or some other “suspicious circumstance.” The police department says its statistical analysis of street checks is that most involve “repeat offenders.”

VPD director of public affairs Simi Heer said street checks are used “infrequently” and are a “useful crime prevention tool.” They have also plummeted by 91 per cent year over year, said Heer.

That drop follows the establishment of new provincial policing standards on Jan. 15. The VPD says it finalized its policy for street checks in line with the new provincial standards around the same time.

“If this trend continues throughout the year, it will equate to less than one street check per front-line officer in a calendar year,” Heer added. “In comparison, for every street check conducted, there are 500 calls for service for police.”

But the open letter argues that these new standards do not outright prohibit the practice of street checks, and while they regulate them, police officers are not required to tell people they don’t have to provide personal information.

VPD also says its officers are required to tell the person being stopped that the check is “voluntary.” But the groups behind the letter say that even though someone is theoretically allowed to leave during a street check, the “inherent power imbalance between a police officer and a member of the public” often leads people to believe they have no choice in the matter.

The groups point to several community demands to address systemic racism in policing: defunding the police and redirecting resources to community groups, putting in place civilian oversight bodies, and removing police forces on unceded Indigenous lands.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on June 18 that systemic racism “exists in all of our institutions, including all of our police forces.” He discussed the “shared responsibility” between federal and provincial governments over the multiple police services across Canada.

“It can’t just be a federal issue, although there is plenty for us to do at the federal side,” he said.

Vancouver Police Chief Adam Palmer told Glacier Media last month that he agreed Canadians had a long history of racism that can’t be denied, and that “I’m not naive to think that we don’t have some people in this department, or any police agencies, that perhaps have views that are inappropriate, or dark-hearted, or whatever you want to call it.”

But he said the police department had oversight tools to “root those people out” and that they represented a “huge minority” of staff.

“We don’t have racists at the VPD. This is not a racist organization,” said Palmer.


Carl Meyer / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer


Canada also has an environmental racism problem

Environmental racism is the burden imposed on racialized communities by disproportionately locating hazardous and toxic industries in their neighbourhoods, says Independent Senator Rosa Galvez. Photo by Université Laval

In Shelburne, N.S., water wells are contaminated by an old dumpsite and the Black community suffers from high cancer rates. Sarnia, Ont., known as “Chemical Valley” — Canada’s largest concentration of petrochemical industries — grapples with associated water and air pollution putting the health of the Aamjiwnaang and Walpole Island First Nations at risk.

From the mercury contamination of a paper mill in Grassy Narrows, to E. coli contamination on Kashechewan Reserve, to Boat Arbour, many communities of colour are beyond the saturation point for exposure to pollutants. There is a type of racism that we have only just started to discuss in Canada: environmental racism.

There’s Something in the Water is a book and documentary on the pioneering work of Ingrid Waldron of Dalhousie University on the devastating impacts of pollution on Indigenous and Black communities in Nova Scotia.

Waldron’s work embedded in the communities has helped give a voice to their plight and shed light on an issue which has historically been invisible to Canadians and politicians. It has recently generated legislative initiatives provincially and federally in order to start addressing environmental racism in Canada.

Environmental racism is the burden imposed on racialized communities by disproportionately locating hazardous and toxic industries (hazardous waste sites, landfills, incinerators) in their neighbourhoods.

No one wants heavily polluting industries in their backyards, so these tend to be located near poor communities of colour who often do not have the resources to fight them. The pollution deteriorates air, soil and water quality, and compromises the communities’ health and well-being.

The concept of environmental justice emerged in the United States in the 1980s when predominantly Black neighbourhoods started voicing concerns around toxic infrastructure projects surrounding their communities. Their efforts led to an office of environmental justice being created within the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and presidential executive action.

In South Africa, environmental justice is rooted in that country’s constitution and a principle defined in law “so that adverse environmental impacts shall not be distributed in such a manner as to unfairly discriminate against any person, particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged persons.”

Unlike many other countries, Canada does not have a legislated environmental justice lens, and, therefore, the issue remains mostly invisible and unaddressed.

Three researchers, including senator Galvez (right), collect plants for phytoremediation in Rivière-Ouelle, Quebec, in 2017. Photo by Université Laval

Pollution is also systemic violence against people of colour and closely relates to the police violence that has been at the forefront of the national debate. The creation of the RCMP’s predecessor’s in 1873 was closely tied to the extension of Canada’s colonial control over Indigenous territories in what would become Western Canada and later played a key role in forcibly relocating Indigenous peoples to reserves to help clear the way for the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Thus began the criminalization and structural poverty-producing system Indigenous peoples still suffer from today.

“Many communities of colour are beyond the saturation point for exposure to pollutants.There is a type of racism that we have only just started to discuss in Canada: environmental racism.”

In recent years, Indigenous peoples have led a number of high-profile movements fighting for social and environmental justice in Canada. Prof. Jeffrey Monaghan of Carleton University has documented how police and other security agencies responded by developing a prolific surveillance regime that targets Indigenous movements as national security threats.

The extensive policing of Indigenous peoples or groups in the “war on terror” has been rationalized by the development of categories and labels such as “Aboriginal extremism” and “critical infrastructure” specifically to criminalize Indigenous movements that challenge extractive development, demand self-determination, or contest federal and provincial claims to Indigenous lands, which often lead to expropriation for the benefit of foreign shareholders.

Further, the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls highlighted the link between resource extraction and spikes in violence against Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people, a finding echoing Amnesty International Canada’s accounts of violence and abuse of Indigenous women at labour camps in Manitoba and British Columbia.

In 2013, the RCMP arrested more than 40 members of the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick for blocking a road to resist shale gas and fracking activity on their territory. In January 2019 and again in 2020, the RCMP invaded Wet’suwet’en territory and arrested land defenders at the Unist’ot’en camp, sparking solidarity blockades across the country.

Whilst we have some data showing Indigenous persons are disproportionately killed by the RCMP, there is no statistical racial data on arrests or victimhood of crimes (at the hand of police or others) other than homicide. Basically, we do not have a clear overall picture of the extent to which policing amounts to the enforcement arm of corporations seeking to extract and export natural resources in this country under the banner of critical infrastructure protection.

Beyond these more visible police interventions, there is also evidence of important surveillance and profiling of Indigenous activists by the RCMP. Classified surveillance information was gathered on Indigenous and other opponents of the Northern Gateway pipeline and then shared by the RCMP and CSIS at “energy sector stakeholder meetings” organized by Natural Resources Canada where about half of the hundred participants were from energy corporations, including the Gateway pipeline proponent.

In 2014, the BC Civil Liberties Association filed a complaint against the RCMP for allegedly spying on anti-pipeline protesters. Part of the case got embroiled in court battles and gag orders and the RCMP commission’s interim report completed in June 2017 has still not been made public, three years later.

If we seek real action against systemic racism in Canada, we can no longer ignore the interplay of racial and environmental justice and the role of policing communities of colour in order to enable irresponsible polluting corporations.


Profile picture

It’s time to take a ‘leap of faith’ and test basic income in Canada, says senator

With CERB set to expire in October, B.C.’s Yuen Pau Woo says now ‘may be a better time than any’ for a pilot

Sen. Yuen Pau Woo, facilitator of the Independent Senators Group, says now is the perfect time to pilot a basic income program in Canada. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

There’s no time like a pandemic to test out universal basic income in Canada, says Sen. Yuen Pau Woo.

Woo, a B.C. senator and head of the Independent Senators’ group, recently asked the Parliamentary Budget Office to analyze the potential cost of providing a basic income to all Canadians for six months.

The PBO says the project could cost anywhere from $47.5 billion to $98 billion, depending how much the government claws back payments to people who earn other income.

The analysis is based on Ontario’s basic income pilot, under which individuals received $16,989 annually, and couples received $24,027. That program was launched under the previous Liberal government in the province and cancelled by Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford.

With the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) set to expire in October, Woo says now is the perfect time to pilot a national basic income program in Canada. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Nil Köksal.

This idea of creating a universal basic income has been discussed and debated, as you know, for many years. Why do you feel the federal government should do this now?

The starting point is the grim economic outlook for the balance of this year and into 2021. We’ve just had a fiscal snapshot from the finance minister, which suggests that the recovery will be modest and possibly very erratic. That suggests to me that we will need income support of some sort into 2021.

To the extent that we need special income support, this is an opportunity to pilot basic income, perhaps at a provincial level, to see if this might be a better way to help Canadians and to reap the benefits that the proponents of basic income have been touting for many years.

Finance Minister Bill Morneau delivers the federal fiscal ‘snapshot’ to the House of Commons on Wednesday, July 8.   17:19

Is there, do you think, now the political will and support from the public to actually make it happen this time?

Well, frankly, no, I don’t think there is political will. But there is a lot of public discussion and sympathy for the idea.

I’m a realist here and I’m also mindful of the political resistance to this idea. But this may be a better time than any to put the idea to test in a way that really does fill a need.

You did ask the parliamentary budget officer to figure out how much this might all cost. The estimate for a six-month program is somewhere between $47.5 billion to $98 billion. Can the federal government actually afford to keep spending like that?

The parliamentary budget officer produced the gross costs that you cited … but they also came up with estimates of offsets, fiscal offsets, that would defray the costs of the basic income. And they pegged the offsets as as high as $46 billion.

Of course, there are political choices to be made as to which offsets to use. But the point here is that a basic income does not and will not be as costly as the gross cost.

And to the extent that we have to spend money on income support — and, you know, we’ll spend $60-$70-billion dollars on CERB — most people would say that this is money well spent. If we’re going to have to provide this kind of support, why don’t we look at a range of options, including basic income?

How do you go about convincing people, though, who are already concerned about the money that the government has paid out since this crisis hit? A lot of resistance for people who say it’s too open to abuse, that it gives people an incentive not to work. So how do you change that thinking?

Well, this is not CERB, and that’s precisely my point. The government could well decide to simply extend the CERB. I don’t think they will do that. But if they were to do that, we would be left to the same problem that the critics have raised, which is that there’s no incentive to work … to earn money beyond the $1,000 threshold.

The basic income concept that the PBO has modelled includes a number of scenarios where there would be some benefit reduction, but not 100 per cent benefit reduction.

That, I think, addresses many of the concerns about disincentives to return to work.

It will take a leap of faith. And that’s why I’m saying that this is an opportunity for us to, at the very least, conduct an experiment.– Sen. Yuen Pau Woo 

Another criticism that some folks have is that, you know, it’s too blunt an instrument…. For example, an out-of-work university student with wealthy parents doesn’t have the same needs as someone, for example, who may have lost a spouse in a workplace accident. What do you say to that?

We already have a number of basic income-type measures, you know, wage supplement, guaranteed income supplement, childcare benefit and so on. So this is not, in principle, different from those, but it would have a wider coverage.

But the underlying principle here is that all Canadians are vulnerable to shocks in the economy, shocks in their personal lives that may put them in a situation where they are, all of a sudden, vulnerable. And we saw that very starkly in the COVID-19 crisis.

The basic income does not provide for a lavish lifestyle, not by any means, but it provides individuals with, fundamentally provides them with freedom. Freedoms to, obviously, house themselves, feed themselves, freedoms to pursue education, for example, to not put themselves in precarious situations. These are particularly important for disadvantaged communities. You know, whether we’re talking about a lot of First Nations communities and other racialized minorities.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the COVID-19 crisis is that there are many gaps in our social safety net system. And there seems to be a determination on the part of Canadians of all political stripes to patch these gaps. Basic income would be one way of doing that.

The federal government today is facing a lot of criticism about the numbers it’s released [in] its fiscal snapshot out today. How hopeful are you … that they will hear you out as you push for this plan?

You have to work with the groups that are willing to do the work and to make the investment, and that’s why I suggested that the provinces that have already talked about basic income as part of their own provincial platforms and talked about pilot projects and so on may be the easiest to persuade.

I don’t underestimate the political challenges, but this is an opportunity that’s before us. We all know that major social policy reform happens after big crises — you know, after the war and after the Depression and so on. This may be the equivalent for Canada and other Western industrialized countries.

It will take a leap of faith. And that’s why I’m saying that this is an opportunity for us to, at the very least, conduct an experiment, if you will. Maybe a time-limited experiment that can be used to demonstrate if, in fact, [there are] benefits.

And I’m talking about benefits that go beyond monetary gain. I’m talking about health benefits, education benefits, social benefits. If these come to pass, then the political consensus on the value of a basic income might come together much more quickly than we had previously thought.


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Edited for length and clarity. 

Independent investigator to determine extent of anti-Indigenous racism in B.C. health-care system

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond said presence of racism in B.C. health-care system is not in question

Turpel-Lafond said a report will be made public within months. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Independent investigator Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who was asked to look into B.C.’s health-care system, says her examination will be wide-ranging and will attempt to determine the range and extent of anti-Indigenous racism in the system.

“This investigation is not trying to discover whether racism exists in B.C.’s health-care system. It does exist,” she said during a news conference.

On June 19, provincial Health Minister Adrian Dix announced that B.C. would be investigating allegations health-care staff in emergency rooms were playing a “game” to guess the blood-alcohol level of Indigenous patients.

Dix appointed former judge Turpel-Lafond to investigate.

Turpel-Lafond said the purpose of the investigation, led by a small team, is not to “name and shame,” but to be a truth-telling exercise. The review will be conducted in stages, starting with a focused look at the “game” played in hospital emergency rooms.

Watch | Turpel-Lafond says racism does exist in B.C.’s health-care system:

She encouraged Indigenous people to come forward with their stories, as well as people working in the health-care system who may have been bystanders to racist actions — adding she’ll be disappointed if her final report does not include participation from health-care professionals.

“You will face no incrimination in your workplace,” she said.

“I can say though if I do find that there have been violations of the criminal code or the standards of health professions … as I look into these investigations, I will report that to the appropriate authorities, to be dealt with by them.”

At a briefing later Thursday, Dix said the participation of Indigenous British Columbians as well as health professionals across the province would ultimately lead to a better health-care system.

“This report will be acted on. This is essential. This is important,” Dix said.  “That is why we are asking, in particular, Indigenous people across British Columbia and health care professionals to engage with this so we can make our health-care system better and safer for everybody.”

‘Very difficult stories’

Turpel-Lafond said a survey, as well as a private phone line and email address, will be made available for people to call in and report their experiences. She said she is working with the First Nations Health Authority to ensure there are mental health supports for people coming forward, and that people with historic experiences of racism in health care are also encouraged to speak up.

Turpel-Lafond said early in her investigation she has found several themes emerging — primarily, one where Indigenous people seeking care are repeatedly questioned about whether they are intoxicated or dealing with an ongoing addiction before they receive care.

“The stories I’ve heard are very difficult stories,” she said, noting some have resulted in a person losing their life.

Turpel-Lafond was accompanied by representatives of First Nations leaders at her Thursday afternoon press conference. (MIke McArthur/CBC)


Charlene Belleau, the chair of the First Nations Health Council, says the investigation is long overdue.

“It’s important in my mind for the politicians, for the health-care providers, and people within our province to connect with our pain throughout this investigation, to recognize the trauma our people are going through, and somehow, collectively be able to cleanse the pain in order for us to move towards reconciliation.”

Turpel-Lafond also said that as B.C. experiences two simultaneous health crises, with the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose epidemic, she does not want to discourage Indigenous people from seeking care.

She said a report will be made public within months, and that she expects the recommendations to be implemented fully, with “significant” pressure placed on the health-care system to do so.

“The pace of the investigation is an intense pace over the last few weeks. We will be working hard over the next few months … We must not have any stone unturned on this issue.”

Institutional and systemic racism

Turpel-Lafond said an investigation into the treatment of Indigenous people in B.C.’s health-care system is long overdue, and the nature of “the game” — played by some, tolerated by others — indicates racism is institutional and systemic.

“As an Indigenous person I’m not completely shocked on one hand,” she said, adding the extent to which issues have been “sat on” is surprising.

Métis Nation British Columbia (MNBC), the governing body for Métis in B.C., have said health-care staff called the game “The Price Is Right.” Physicians and nurses would try to guess the blood-alcohol level of incoming patients they presumed to be Indigenous.

Clara Morin Dal Col, president of Métis Nation B.C., said she was fully confident in Turpel-Lafond to move this investigation forward — but warned it would be a long, difficult process.

“We were the ones who brought this story to light, and we were flooded with calls from Indigenous people, health-care professionals, and it goes much deeper than the game,” she said.

CBC News later learned that the Saanich Peninsula Hospital on Vancouver Island was one of the hospitals named in allegations.

Turpel-Lafond said the health authorities where the behaviour was reported should be taking immediate action, rather than waiting for the findings published in her report.

“We don’t have to wait. There are things that can be done to address anti-Indigenous racism immediately,” she said.

Anyone with specific experience or knowledge of racism in the health care system is asked to share information by telephone at 1-888-600-3078 or by email:



Michelle Ghoussoub


Cops policing cops and their duty to talk: The questions surrounding Ontario’s police watchdog

SIU is investigating multiple high-profile cases at a time of intense public interest

The provincial Special Investigations Unit probes incidents in Ontario involving police where there has been a death, serious injury, or allegations of sexual assault. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)

Against the backdrop of a global pandemic, conversations about race, policing, and police oversight are raging.

Much of this current movement’s impetus is due to the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May, and the worldwide protests that followed.

But in Ontario, many of these conversations are inspired incidents like the death of Regis Korchinksi-Paquet after Toronto police were called to her family’s apartment, and the fatal shooting of Ejaz Choudry by Peel police during a mental health call.

Both cases are being handled by the province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which conducts criminal probes into incidents involving police that result in serious injury or death, as well as allegations of sexual assault.

A heightened public interest in those cases has led to more scrutiny into the role of the SIU and the criticisms levied against it: namely, that it is not a truly impartial oversight agency, and has too many links to law enforcement — something the unit itself denies.

Still, many questions remain.

Who are the SIU’s investigators, and how many are former cops?

Perhaps the most common criticism of the SIU is that it employs too many former police officers, calling its impartiality into question.

“Historically, a very high proportion of SIU investigators have police backgrounds,” said Scot Wortley, a longtime researcher and professor at the University of Toronto’s Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies.

University of Toronto professor Scot Wortley says the idea that the SIU has too many investigators who are former police officers has been a public relations issue for the agency for ‘several decades.’ (Oliver Walters/CBC)


But SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon said the organization would “take issue” with the idea that it has a pro-police bias.

She pointed to an Ontario ombudsman’s report from 2008, and said that while it “called attention to a perception of pro-police bias among the work of the SIU, the report concluded that there was no objective evidence that any individual case had been tainted by improper motives.”

Hudon also said in an emailed statement that of the 13 lead investigators currently employed by the SIU, 12 have never worked as police officers. Instead, she said, their backgrounds are with organizations like the Ministry of Labour, Canada Post, and the Ministry of the Attorney General, among others.

But those numbers don’t account for the part-time investigators who cover much of the day-to-day work conducted by the unit.

SIU spokesperson Monica Hudon notes that under the Police Services Act, an SIU investigator who was once a police officer is prohibited from investigating his or her former police force. (Joe Pavia/CBC)


Back in 2008, there were 30 “as-needed” investigators located throughout the province, and 24 of them were former police officers, according to the ombudsman’s report.

Hudon did not respond when asked how many part-time investigators are working for the SIU, and how many of them are former cops.

Former SIU director Ian Scott, who ran the unit from 2008 to 2013, told CBC News that the “as-needed” investigators are “almost invariably former police officers.

“My personal view is a mixture is not a bad thing,” Scott said.

“You want the experience of some seasoned investigators to do these investigations because at their highest, they’re homicide investigations, and although the SIU doesn’t tend to lay very many charges, the ones they do tend to be high profile.”

Examining charge records

So what has the SIU’s charge record been like of late?

In 2019, the unit filed charges against 15 officers in 13 instances out of 363 closed cases, amounting to a 3.6 per cent charge rate. In 2018, criminal charges were laid in 15 cases against 17 officers, again accounting for 3.6 per cent of the 416 cases that were closed that year.

The SIU’s charge rate was slightly higher in 2017, with charges against 20 officers across 18 cases, amounting to 4.9 per cent of the 367 cases that were closed that year.

Asha James, a lawyer at Falconers LLP whose practice centres on public-interest litigation alongside human rights and constitutional law, told CBC News that she feels in recent years, the SIU has laid more charges than it would have in the past.

“I think just because we don’t hear about every charge that’s laid doesn’t mean that they’re not [laying them],” she said.

Asha James, an Ontario human rights lawyer, says ‘of course it is a concern’ that some SIU investigators are former police officers, but adds that in her interactions with the agency, investigators have been competent and honest. (Submitted by Asha James)


But, she added, when there’s an incident that garners media attention that doesn’t lead to charges, community members get upset, often “rightfully.” .

Barry Swadron, a Toronto lawyer who has represented many people in cases involving police through the years, has also crossed paths with the SIU.

“In some cases my clients end up saying, ‘We really didn’t get a fair shake,'” he said.

Hudon, for her part, said any suggestion that the SIU’s charge rate is low implies that there is an appropriate rate at which charges should be laid, which she attests would “clearly be inappropriate.

“Our investigations are driven by the evidence we find. Essentially, this unit must approach each investigation with objectivity and without a bias of criminality,” she said.

Do officers have to talk to the SIU?

But Wortley says in analyzing many SIU reports, he’s seen instances where the organization has said there just isn’t enough evidence to lay a charge — something he says could be attributed to officers not cooperating with investigators.

“In many cases, I think that may contribute to the inability of the SIU to just gather enough evidence to warrant a charge or not,” he said.

“Obviously critics are going to argue that the police culture is very strong, and it would take a lot for an officer to provide evidence that would incriminate a fellow officer, and there would be grave consequences to pay internally if an officer did provide such evidence.”

So should officers be compelled to speak to the SIU?

“Police associations would fight that statement to the end,” Wortley said.

Ian Scott, a former director of the Special Investigations Unit, says it’s tough to have a ‘completely civilian’ police oversight agency, but also says over time it’s possible to develop investigators who are able to do all the work homicide investigators do. (CBC)


The regulations governing police officers and their duty to speak with the SIU are complicated. In any investigation, officers are broken down into two categories: witness officers who saw what happened, and subject officers who are themselves under investigation.

Under the current legislation, subject officers cannot be compelled to speak to the SIU.

“I understand why the public has difficulty with that, because clearly, the person who knows the most about the incident is probably the person that in a shooting, pulled the trigger,” Scott said.

But, he noted, the mandate of the SIU is to carry out criminal investigations, and in Canada, anyone who is suspected of a crime has the right to remain silent.

It would be possible for the province to produce legislation that would compel subject officers to provide a statement to the SIU, Scott said. But if charges were laid, it would not be admissible in court, because it’s a compelled statement.

“So I think we have to ask ourselves, ‘What’s the value of having a statement that could never be used in a criminal proceeding against the accused if a charge was laid?'” Scott asked.

In 2019, the SIU filed charges against 15 officers in 13 instances out of 363 closed cases, amounting to a 3.6 per cent charge rate. (The Canadian Press)


Police officers’ entrenchment in the justice system compounds the problem of accountability, Swadron said, so it’s extremely tough for that very system to judge them properly.

“Sometimes, even when the SIU does lay a charge, there are often plea deals to reduce it,” he said.

“That’s been my experience — that in the few cases where police officers are charged, they get away with a result that a citizen would never have gotten away with.”

How long do SIU investigations take?

Almost invariably, people want to know how long an SIU investigation will take. In the most serious cases, answers usually don’t come quickly.

According to the SIU’s annual report for 2019, the unit closed 363 cases last year, with it taking an average of just over 136 days to finish them.

Toronto lawyer Barry Swadron has represented many clients in cases involving police over the years, as well as at provincial inquests. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)


But in situations that are “full-blown” investigations that result in director’s reports or charges, the average length for a case balloons to just over 187 days — which is still down from almost 202 days the year before. Both the deaths of Korchinksi-Paquet and Ejaz Choudhry will likely fall into the latter category.

The SIU did note in its report that it has made “significant inroads” in reducing its backlog of cases, with 151 open cases as of the end of 2019, compared to 231 at the end of 2018.

Still, Swadron says the length of time it takes for SIU investigations to be completed always bothers him.

“If the decision takes a year or two, a lot of the climate is such that the people aren’t going to remember what happened,” he said.

“The heat of the moment is gone.”


Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Toronto home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at

Taking solar panels to the next level

(Thomas Hall/CBC)

In the world of solar energy, the main measure of success has always been panel efficiency. Progress over the years means the best photovoltaic (PV) systems can now turn more than 20 per cent of the sunlight hitting them into electricity.

“Solar cell efficiency is the figure of merit in the PV community, and improving efficiency is the most common research effort,” Carlos Rodríguez Gallegos, a research fellow at the Solar Energy Research Institute of Singapore, told CBC via email.

“Yet the amount of energy produced by a panel – its energy yield – can also be increased by other techniques.”

With that in mind, Rodríguez Gallegos and his team recently analyzed the effectiveness of two well-known techniques: bifacial modules and axis tracking.

As the name suggests, bifacial modules have PV cells on both sides of the panel, with direct sunlight absorbed from the top and reflected light absorbed from the underside.

As a result, the performance of a bifacial module “can considerably increase depending on the surface it is installed on,” Rodríguez Gallegos said. For example, snow has great surface reflectivity (or albedo), resulting in more absorption. Sand? Not as good. Water? Not great.

The other technique, axis tracking, is essentially following the sun. Using motors (or even simpler, non-electronic methods), panels will tilt for maximum sun exposure.

“Single-axis trackers are commonly used to rotate the module from east to west,” said Rodríguez Gallegos, “Dual-axis trackers have two axes of rotation and therefore, in principle, have the potential to rotate to any desired angle.”

Dual-axis trackers come in handy during times of the year when the sun is in a different position. With that added complexity, they are more expensive than single-axis trackers. Rodríguez Gallegos’s analysis suggested one particular combo was the most cost-effective.

“We found that bifacial solar panels combined with [single] axis trackers produce, on average, close to 35 per cent more energy [than standard fixed panels] and reduce the cost of electricity, on average, by 16 per cent.”

This is a huge shift, considering these are tweaks to a system rather than a massive leap in material efficiency, which would undoubtedly raise the overall price.

“Solar continues to employ significant technological advancements that are improving efficiency and increasing power at reduced costs,” said Geoff Atkins, an executive advisor in business development at Mississauga, Ont.-based Silfab Solar via email.

Atkins said Silfab uses a range of technology, including reflective glass coatings and optics, that “fill dead spaces between solar cells” to try to draw more yield while keeping the panels affordable.

Some of these solutions may also help Canada in particular get more from the sun.

“For latitude locations very close to the equator, the benefit of using bifacial panels is not too strong. Yet, as the latitude increases, performance also increases,” said Rodríguez Gallegos.

“Canada, being a territory located at high-latitude locations, has a notorious advantage when adopting these technologies.”

It’s hard to throw shade at solutions that could improve Canada’s solar energy output by as much as 40 to 50 per cent. In turn, that could drive up solar energy’s worldwide power generation, which sits at three per cent.


— Anand Ram


Supreme Court Rules That About Half Of Oklahoma Is Native American Land

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that about half of the land in Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation as stated in treaties. Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Supreme Court ruled Thursday that about half of the land in Oklahoma is within a Native American reservation, a decision that will have major consequences for both past and future criminal and civil cases.

The court’s decision hinged on the question of whether the Creek reservation continued to exist after Oklahoma became a state.

“Today we are asked whether the land these treaties promised remains an Indian reservation for purposes of fed­eral criminal law. Because Congress has not said otherwise, we hold the government to its word,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion.

The decision was 5-4, with Justices Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer in the majority, while Justices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

The ruling will have significant legal implications for eastern Oklahoma. Much of Tulsa, the state’s second-largest city, is located on Muscogee (Creek) land. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation cheered the court’s decision.

“The Supreme Court today kept the United States’ sacred promise to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of a protected reservation,” the tribe said in a statement. “Today’s decision will allow the Nation to honor our ancestors by maintaining our established sovereignty and territorial boundaries.”

In a dissenting opinion, Roberts, the chief justice, wrote that the decision “will undermine numerous convictions obtained by the State, as well as the State’s abil­ity to prosecute serious crimes committed in the future,” and “may destabilize the governance of vast swathes of Oklahoma.”

Kevin Washburn is dean of the law school at the University of Iowa, where he teaches a course on federal Indian law — “It’s basically 15 weeks of how the law in the United States has failed my people,” he said.

He served as assistant secretary of Indian affairs from 2012 to 2016, and he’s a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma. He called the court’s ruling “a great decision.”

“For Indian people, their land is really important, and treaties are really important. They’re sacred. And this reaffirms the sacredness of those promises and those treaties.”

“Now and then there’s a great case that helps you keep the faith about the rule of law,” he said. “And this is one of those.”

The ruling has a number of significant consequences for criminal law in the relevant portion of Oklahoma.

The first is that going forward, certain major crimes committed within the boundaries of reservations must be prosecuted in federal court rather than state court, if a Native American is involved. So if a Native American is accused of a major crime in downtown Tulsa, the federal government rather than the state government will prosecute it. Less serious crimes involving Native Americans on American Indian land will be handled in tribal courts. This arrangement is already common in Western states like Arizona, New Mexico and Montana, said Washburn.

Then there’s the issue of past decisions — many of them are now considered wrongful convictions because the state lacked jurisdiction. A number of criminal defendants who have been convicted in the past will now have grounds to challenge their convictions, arguing that the state never had jurisdiction to try them.

The case before the court, McGirt v. Oklahoma, concerned Jimcy McGirt, an enrolled member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma who was convicted of sex crimes against a child on Creek land. In post-conviction proceedings, McGirt argued that the state lacked jurisdiction in the case and that he must be retried in federal court. The high court agreed.

The ruling will affect lands of the Muscogee and four other Oklahoma tribes with identical treaties. Civil court issues are also affected.

It’s important to note that the case concerned jurisdiction, not land ownership.

Ruling that these lands are in fact reservations “doesn’t mean the tribe owns all the land within the reservation, just like the county doesn’t own all the land within the county. In fact, it probably doesn’t own very much of that land,” Washburn explained. “That’s not what a reservation is these days.”

Washburn compares a reservation to a county — terms that describe jurisdictional boundaries.

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter released a joint statement with the Muscogee (Creek), Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole nations on Thursday, indicating that they “have made substantial progress toward an agreement to present to Congress and the U.S. Department of Justice addressing and resolving any significant jurisdictional issues.”

Ian Heath Gershengorn, an attorney at Jenner & Block, argued McGirt’s case before the Supreme Court. He said his team was thrilled with the result and had felt optimistic knowing that Gorsuch could prove to be the deciding vote.

Gorsuch joined with the court’s more liberal members in the decision. Prior to his appointment to the high court, Gorsuch was a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which frequently sees cases involving Native American lands.

“Justice Gorsuch has made very clear in his short time on the bench that he takes the text deeply seriously,” Gershengorn said. “And I think you saw that the core of his analysis today was a textual one. We felt like we had the right argument at the right time for the right justice.”