‘There’s a direct relationship’: Brazil meat plants linked to spread of Covid-19

Conditions at plants contributed to transmission of virus, experts say, as country remains second only to US for deaths

JBS and BRF, two of the country’s biggest meat companies, are under the spotlight over their handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

Brazilian meat plants helped spread Covid-19 in at least three different places across the country as the virus continues to migrate from big cities to the country’s vast interior, experts have said.

At the beginning of this week the country was second only to the US with 1.88 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and 72,833 deaths .

Its powerful agribusiness sector is allied with the country’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, who has dismissed the pandemic as a “little flu”. The beef sector is worth $26bn (£20.7bn), according to the Brazilian Confederation of Agriculture and Livestock (CNA), while its chicken industry is worth another $8bn.

Meat plants have stayed open during the pandemic, and staff work closely together, often in refrigerated areas. Other countries, including the US, Canada, Ireland and Germany, have also seen clusters around slaughterhouses.

 A JBS employee in Passo Fundo has his temperature checked. China recently suspended imports of meat from plants owned by BRF and JBS. Photograph: Diego Vara/Reuters 

The conditions can create perfect Covid-19 breeding centres, said Priscila Schvarcz, a prosecutor from the Public Ministry of Labour (MPT), a branch of the federal prosecution service charged with supervising labour laws.

“We see a lot of workers infected,” said Schvarcz, a member of a national meat plant taskforce based in Rio Grande do Sul state in southern Brazil.

Rio Grande do Sul has been hard hit. As of 23 June, 4,957 meat workers had tested positive at 32 plants in the state – a third of the total coronavirus cases in the area, prosecutors said. Five employees and 12 people in contact with them had died.

A study for the MPT showed that Covid-19 cases in central and southern Brazil were clustered around towns where meat plants were located and workers lived. “There is a direct relationship,” said Ernesto Galindo, the researcher who produced the study.

China, Brazil’s biggest trading partner, suspended imports of meat from plants owned by two of Brazil’s largest meat companies, BRF and JBS, at the beginning of this month. Brazil’s ministry of agriculture also suspended exports from a JBS plant in Rio Grande do Sul, business daily Valor said.

BRF said it was working with the Brazilian and Chinese authorities to resume deliveries. The company said that 98 of 2,873 workers at its plant in Lajeado, Rio Grande do Sul, tested positive in late May. JBS did not comment on China’s suspension of imports.

‘The focus was cows, not employees’

At a JBS plant in Dourados, in Mato Grosso do Sul state in the centre-west region, more than 4,000 employees were tested and nearly a quarter were positive, prosecutors said. The company suspended 1,600 workers on full pay but did not close the plant. As of 14 July, the town had 3,481 cases, a quarter of the state’s total.

The JBS plant in Dourados “was the initial focus for the outbreak”, said Andyane Tetila, an infectious diseases specialist in Dourados who works for the state health service. The JBS plant has 103 indigenous workers, many of whom live in nearby reserves where more than 150 people were subsequently infected, said Indianara Machado, an indigenous nurse who works in the reserve.

 Employees work at JBS in Lapa in March. Prosecutors have said close working conditions at meat plants make them vulnerable to the spread of Covid-19. Photograph: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters 

JBS said it had put all its indigenous workers on paid leave and is supporting initiatives to control and prevent new coronavirus outbreaks in more than 100 municipalities across Brazil. Labour prosecutors said JBS moved quickly to contain the outbreak. “The company collaborated,” said Jeferson Pereira, a labour prosecutor in Dourados. “It contracted nurses and technicians to accompany visits.”

Another 85 people tested positive at a BRF plant in the town. The company said workers in this situation are suspended on pay, given medical attention and monitored by occupational health specialists at the company until they recover.

In June, a judge closed a JBS plant in the remote Amazon town of São Miguel do Guaporé in the north-west of Brazil for the second time after infections rocketed. As of 25 June, 377 of the plant’s 940 employees were infected – then more than half of the town’s caseload, prosecutors said.

Leandro da Conceição, 33, one of the workers in the plant, said he lost his sense of smell and taste. When he told his supervisor, he was ignored and kept working even though he got sicker and sicker.

“It reached a point I couldn’t stand it any more. I told my superior I was not well,” he told the Guardian. “His focus was the cows, not the employees, it was production.”

Conceição was sent home after he produced his own positive test result. He and another worker later lost their jobs after a WhatsApp audio that featured them and other workers complaining about infections at the plant was published by local media. Both men were told falling production was the motive. “They had no reason to sack us,” he said. “I never missed work.”

Local labour prosecutor Helena Romero said: “We realised that the company was not carrying out containment measures, we observed that often workers kept working even though they had symptoms, and this could have contributed to spreading the illness.” The plant has since reopened.

After the outbreak in Lajeado, BRF signed an extrajudicial deal with labour prosecutors. The company said it had tested 31,000 employees nationwide in the past two months. Four of its plants had closed for testing and all 34 are now operating. Preventative measures included reducing bus capacity by half and suspending workers in Covid-19 risk groups. A permanent committee of specialists monitors its actions.

JBS – the world’s biggest meat company – has not signed any agreements with prosecutors. Court orders have imposed temporary shutdowns and in some cases testing at three of its plants in Rio Grande do Sul. On 23 June, a judge ordered all workers to be tested at a fourth JBS plant in the state. All have since reopened, prosecutors said.

JBS did not explain why it had no agreements with labour prosecutors and declined to comment on outbreaks at individual plants. “JBS does not comment on legal decisions,” it said.

The company said that the health and safety of its team members was its key priority. It had adopted a strict protocol on control, prevention and safety at all processing units, in full compliance with government-mandated rules.

JBS said it followed guidance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as well “specialised physicians”. “Each test assessment takes place on a case-by-case basis,” the company said. It disinfected factories daily and takes workers’ temperatures, and has increased its fleet of buses and put those in risk groups and anyone with symptoms on paid leave.

SOURCE

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Biodiversity blooms in cities when green spaces go wild

From Dublin to Dessau, cities are leaving once manicured green spaces to rewild with native flowers and grasses that attract more diverse insects, birds and wildlife. Such a paradigm shift will take time, however.

What would happen if we stopped curating green spaces in cities, if we locked away the lawn mower and allowed native grasses, herbs, shrubs and wildflowers to do their own thing?

What would happen if we stopped curating green spaces in cities, if we locked away the lawn mower and allowed native grasses, herbs, shrubs and wildflowers to do their own thing?

 

Rewilding is a paradigm shift away from a centuries-long tradition of managing and controlling green spaces, whether in the form of hunting grounds or aestheticized public spaces.

A relatively new idea that only entered the dictionary in 2011, rewilding was recently described by ecology writer and curator Anna Souter as the act of encouraging “land to become self-willed.”

Beyond traditional ideas of managed conservation, “rewilding tries to approach a place with imagination and a sense of curiosity about what might happen if human beings stopped trying to manage nature,” she wrote.

Many rewilding projects focus on returning great swaths of land to wilderness, but, more recently, European cities have shown a trend toward smaller, urban initiatives.

Pollinator-friendly

Since 2015, the Dublin City Council (DCC) has been allowing native wildflowers once considered weeds to flourish and seed in park grasslands, open spaces, roadside ditches and even graveyards. Rather than being cut back, clover and dandelion are also left to create habitat and food for insects, bees and other pollinators.

Colorful wild flowers in a meadow at St Anne's Park in Dublin.St Anne’s Park in Dublin has been colonized by diverse wildflowers

“A third of native bee species are at risk of extinction here in Ireland, which has highlighted how practices needed to change,” DCC’s biodiversity officer Lorraine Bull told DW. Herbicide usage is way down as a result of the program. On average, 80% of these urban green spaces are now pollinator friendly.

An early urban rewilding site was the High Line in New York, a once-abandoned elevated railway that went wild over decades before being adapted into a blossoming public park.

Opening in stages since 2009, the High Line gardens are merely “edited” to“mimic the dynamics of a wild landscape.” A matrix of grasses support wildflowers, trees and shrubs that come and go as in nature. Some species have simply blown in with the wind.

‘Cities dare wilderness’

Rewilding has also been adopted across Germany. The cities of Dessau, Hanover and Frankfurt am Main began a five-year rewilding project in 2016 called “Städte wagen Wildnis”(Cities Dare Wilderness) that aims to increase habitat for diverse species. In contrast to highly managed German parks, these urban centers are leaving allotted spaces mostly uncultivated. Self-regulation is the mantra.

Five years ago, Dessau, which is in Germany’s former East, was characterized by a declining population and a plethora of abandoned buildings and vacant lots. To urban planners, rewilding made a lot of sense. So, the city started buying up enough unused properties and land to create a 120-hectare boomerang-shaped public green zone to return to nature. The grounds of existing housing estates became part of rewilding project. It was intended that ‘daring’ wilderness would not only encourage biodiversity, but make the city more attractive and improve the lives of the residents.

Tall purple flowers grow wild in a meadow in Dessau
A wild meadow in a former industrial area of Dessau City planners in Dessau rewilded former industrial areas

“The extensive flowering meadows attract an amazing variety of species,” Christiane Jahn, head of the city planning department, told DW, adding that the rich habitat resulting from the four-year project attracts songbirds, hedgehogs, butterflies and some of the 67 bee varieties endemic to the state of Saxony.

While the outer perimeter of the wilding zone will be left to become woodlands again, the large inner meadows are managed — but only to a minimal degree, with the area only mowed once or twice annually.

“They are very robust and tolerate drought in summer better than the short lawns of other green spaces,” says Jahn of the meadows that proved resilient to the unusally dry summers of 2018 and 2019.

Rewilding for human health

Researchers are now pointing out the manifold benefits of rewilding for human health and well-being.

According to Jacob Mills, a researcher at the University of Adelaide’s School of Biological Sciences and Environment Institute, humans traditionally lived in wilder environments, meaning children were exposed to a broader variety of microbes that build stronger immune systems.

“More time spent indoors, poor quality diets and less exposure to wild environments has led to significant increases in non-communicable diseases such as poorer respiratory health,” Mills told DW.

A recent study co-authored by Mills is an early investigation into how “microbiome rewilding” in urban green spaces — from lawns to vacant lots, parklands and revegetated woodlands — can help fight chronic illness.

The study also builds on the knowledge that a greater diversity of microbial compounds in soil can also reduce stress and anxiety.

“We’re investigating if rewilding urban centers can help rewild our microbial experience to what our evolutionary history has dictated to us that we need,” Mills said.

Dessau wild fieldDessau’s rewilded meadows survived the extreme summer of 2018

Cultural barriers

Allowing urban green space to run wild is both an ecological and cultural leap forward that is also facing inevitable resistance. For people conditioned to manicured lawns and cultured gardens, wild sprawls of native grasses and even wildflowers are often regarded as unsightly weeds.

While in upwardly mobile Frankfurt the population tends to support the Cities Dare Wilderness initiative, in Dessau some residents are “much much more critical,” Kirsten Lott, the city’s director of parks planning, told DW.

And such opposition is not uncommon.  For Lorraine Bull, similar pushback was common in Dublin, but is being overcome.

“Traditionally in Ireland, there is an ethos of having everything neat and tidy. Weeds are perceived as something that should be removed rather than appreciated.”

But ongoing community consultation and workshops are educating residents about the way such “untidy” rewilded zones “provide both habitat and food for a range of wildlife.”

As urban residents start to reconnect with biodiverse and constantly transforming natural habitats on their doorstep — and enjoy potential health benefits — a plethora of new urban initiatives indicate that the rewilding paradigm shift is underway.

SOURCE

How Corona has given disaster capitalism the green light

Corporations are exploiting the virus for profit while the public is distracted

Disaster capitalism, vulture capitalism, crisis capitalism, misery profiteering, or just: human greed.

Every time we’re confronted with crisis in the modern world the vultures of the corporate world are soon circling their next prey. In her seminal book, The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein plots the history of the twenty-first century as a struggle of populations against free market neo-liberalism. Each time a country undergoes crisis, whether engineered or not, in swoop the disaster capitalists armed with degrees soaked in free market dogma. They prescribe removal of all impediments to the market characterised by pesky government intervention. Instead of providing aid when they need it most, governments have allowed crisis after crisis to be exploited for profit. The current pandemic is no different.

Klein argues that the disaster capitalists are already on the move with Trump’s proposed $700 billion stimulus package that includes cuts to payroll taxes (which fund many entitlements). The world-renowned author told Vice:

‘They’re not doing this because they think it’s the most effective way to alleviate suffering during a pandemic — they have these ideas lying around that they now see an opportunity to implement’.

Klein isn’t alone. Journalist Marie Solis fears much the same, saying:

‘these are the perfect conditions for governments and the global elite to implement political agendas that would otherwise be met with great opposition if we weren’t all so disoriented’.

Rising Pharmaceuticals, the drug giant who owns chloroquine phosphate, a drug that has been touted as a possible treatment for the coronavirus, raised the price of the drug by 98 per cent between December 2019 and January 2020 from roughly $3.87 to $7.66 for a 250-milligram tablet. They quickly backtracked after public backlash, not wanting to be seen as another Martin Shkreli.

In Canada, the Alberta Government have used the distraction of the pandemic to rapidly deregulate oil extraction in the Alberta tar sands. They have been Alberta pushing through the construction of controversial oil pipelines, swiftly dismantling legislative, regulatory and financial barriers to oilsands development, and they have even suspended environmental reporting and amended air-quality monitoring requirements because of ‘undue hardship’ for fossil fuel firms.

Climate change deniers have used the lockdown as a way to vilify environmentalism. Brendan O’Neill, the Editor of the Koch brothers-backed website Spiked, compared the lockdown to the ‘warped dystopia’ of a green future and argued that ‘this pandemic has shown us what life would be like if environmentalists got their way’. Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), the Tufton Street-based climate deniers, have also joined the cause posting an article that audaciously claims in contrast to climate change: ‘plagues are real’. Meanwhile, Clintel, the Dutch climate science denial group, issued an open letter urging the world to ‘fight virus not carbon’. They even demanded that the EU’s Green New Deal be abandoned because, ‘compared to COVID-19 climate change is a non-problem’.

Friends of the Earth (FOE) have warned that the pandemic has given us ‘disaster capitalism at its worst’. FOE analyst Lukas Ross issued a statement condemning fossil fuel companies for, ‘wasting no time exploiting the coronavirus for profit’. Oil and gas firms have been jumping at the chance to lobby for tax cuts and regulatory cuts whilst the public is distracted. FOE found that at least 11 firms lobbied the US Government to include tax cuts in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. They succeeded as well. The FOE report states that:

‘At a cost of $13.39 billion to taxpayers, the CARES Act temporarily raises the interest deduction cap for 2019 and 2020 from 30% to 50% of income. Even more expensive, the CARES Act allows net operating losses from 2018, 2019, and 2020 to be deducted against income taxes paid over the last five years — at a cost to taxpayers of $88 billion over the next two years’.

Nothing New

As is always the case, the powerful choose moments of crisis to further expand their power. Naomi Klein puts it thusly:

‘We’re seeing in real time that we are so much more interconnected to one another than our quite brutal economic system would have us believe’.

In the words of British songwriter Beans on Toast, ‘Everything’s for-profit, everything’s for-profit’.

Expect calls for the free market trifecta of the sale and privatisation of public assets and services, mass cuts to both the welfare state and regulatory restrictions, and top rate tax cuts. 2008 should have been the swan song for this type of free market economics, yet here in the UK we swiftly elected a government who made Thatcher’s sweeping sale of state assets in the 1980s look like a suburban garage sale. Thatcher sold £21bn worth of shares in British Airways, the British Airports Authority, British Petroleum, Rolls-Royce and the Royal Ordnance Factories. Osborne blew that out of the water. It was estimated that 2016 alone saw the sale of British assets worth £60 billion. The student loans book fetched an estimated £12 billion, whilst King’s Cross raked in £360 million. Private Ambulances cost the taxpayer £60 million annually, part of the £9.2 billion now spent every year on services delivered by the private sector.

In my book, Brexit: The Establishment Civil War, I argue that post-Brexit there is a shock coming that will allow the free marketeers in Boris Johnson’s cabinet to fully enact their fourth wave of Thatcherism. Corona virus and the ensuing economic and social chaos is that shock, and the vultures are already feeding on the corpse.

SOURCE

Josh Hamilton is Author of Brexit: The Establishment Civil War and Host of Chatter

Province says ‘unconquered people’ lawyer was repeatedly told to abandon argument

Defence filed by province of N.S. says lawsuit by former justice lawyer should be dismissed

The Sipekne’katik flag flies at Alton Gas protest site in 2017. (Robert Short/CBC)

The province of Nova Scotia has laid out its defence against a lawsuit from a former justice department lawyer who presented in court a controversial legal brief that implied Sipekne’katik First Nation did not need to be consulted on a natural gas storage project because they were a conquered people.

In a notice of defence filed on June 22, the province, representing Premier Stephen McNeil and former justice minister Diana Whalen, deny all the allegations put forward by Alex Cameron, who is alleging defamation, abuse of public office, constitutional violation and constructive dismissal.

Cameron had been representing the government during a court challenge by Sipekne’katik of the Alton Gas project, but was removed from the case in December 2016 after a public backlash and media firestorm developed from coverage of the matter.

Cameron had argued in writing that the province did not have a duty to consult the First Nation on the project near the Shubenacadie River because that requirement only applied to “unconquered people,” which he implied was not the case with Mi’kmaw communities.

At the time, McNeil and Whalen repeatedly told the media that Cameron’s brief did not present the government’s opinion, and the premier said he had “no idea” it was being put forward.

What the province says about who knew what, when

Cameron has alleged then-deputy justice minister Tilly Pillay, and Julie Towers, CEO of the Office of Aboriginal Affairs, were made aware of the argument ahead of hearings in 2016 and raised no objections during a meeting to prepare for the case.

At the time, the Sipekne’katik was asking a judge to stay the environment minister’s approval of Alton Gas pending the First Nation’s appeal.

In its notice of defence, the province outlines when it says officials had discussions with Cameron about his arguments.

On June 8, 2016, there was a call involving Towers and Justin Huston, the Office of Aboriginal Affairs executive director.

Cameron said he would raise arguments about the validity of “treaties and claims of Aboriginal title,” according to the notice of defence, but both Huston and Towers “impressed on him” he didn’t need to since the province recognized its duty to consult Sipekne’katik and had done so.

On June 14, Cameron filed a stay brief that acknowledged the First Nation had a right to fish in the Shubenacadie River for food, social and ceremonial purposes. But, it said, the duty to consult them on Alton Gas was “not engaged” since they didn’t possess treaty rights as laid out in the Supreme Court of Canada’s historic Marshall decision in 1999.

The province said Cameron didn’t send a draft of this brief to the Department of Environment or any other department before filing.

The next month, the stay was dismissed. A meeting took place on July 25, 2016, with Cameron, Huston, Towers and Pillay. Huston and Towers repeated their concern that Cameron had taken a position in the stay brief that didn’t reflect Nova Scotia’s position on its duty to consult, according to the defence. They reiterated they had already done so at the “highest” level.

Cameron said province needed ‘resolve’ on issue

Then came the appeal brief, which Cameron filed on July 29, 2016. It argued that Sipekne’katik First Nation had submitted to the Crown in 1760 — meaning they weren’t “unconquered” and the province didn’t have a duty to consult with them.

Cameron had not sent a draft of the brief to the Department of Environment or Towers before he filed it, according the defence.

That’s when the questions began, and McNeil was asked about the brief in November 2016 in both Province House and by the media.

A Mi’kmaw camp is seen on the shores of the Shubenacadie River in Fort Ellis, N.S., on Sept. 26, 2016. (Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press)

 

The Alton Gas Appeal hearing was set to begin Nov. 14, 2016, and the province’s notice says that in the days leading up to the hearing, Cameron looped in Bernie Miller.

Miller was the deputy minister of the Office of Priorities and Planning at the time, a senior adviser to the premier and an “old acquaintance” from Cameron’s time in private practice.

Cameron wrote to Miller on Nov. 11 that the Alton Gas project “ha[d] met with native opposition” and there had been “howls about it from certain quarters in the media.” He wrote it may be that “some in government would like the point [that no duty to consult might be engaged] dropped.”

Cameron then said the province should not retreat from the arguments he’d already brought forward, saying it could be to its long-term disadvantage and it might be that “the government needs some resolve on this one.”

There was a call on Nov. 12 as well as emailed discussions on Nov. 13 with multiple provincial officials and Cameron, including deputy minister of justice Karen Hudson.

In the call, Hudson asked Cameron who had told him to go ahead with the “no duty to consult” argument, according to the notice of defence. Cameron was “defensive” and said he was protecting the best interests of the province.

There was a discussion around whether the argument could be “pulled back,” which Cameron urged strongly against since the province could be at risk of an adverse finding by the court.

After back-and-forth emails with people including Cameron the morning of Nov. 13, Towers said the focus must be clear that they had “deep and meaningful” consultation with the First Nation.

Hudson wrote in the email chain that it “seemed wrong” to say the province had no duty to consult, and that it would “detract” from the main point that they had already done so.

That evening, Hudson wrote to Cameron that “the province will not advance a position that there is no duty to consult,” adding that she appreciated this would be “contrary” to what he had suggested.

Less than an hour later, Cameron forwarded Hudson’s email to Miller to confirm the instructions were correct.

Then Cameron went back to the deputy minister, saying Miller had informed him her instructions were “not accurate.” She replied again, saying that Miller “will advise you” on what the province wanted.

Miller had ‘brief’ discussion with premier

The morning of Nov. 14, before the hearing, Miller spoke to the premier in a “very brief discussion.” McNeil stated the province recognized a duty to consult, and “the only thing that should be argued in court” was this point.

The province is arguing Premier Stephen McNeil gave instructions that the only thing to put forward in court was the province had fulfilled its duty to consult. (Robert Short/CBC)

 

Miller then sent Cameron an email around 8:20 a.m. on the oral submissions he should advance. They included that consultation had taken place, Nova Scotia recognized a duty to consult, and thirdly that the other arguments laid out in Cameron’s brief could be put forward “if the court considers it necessary.”

The third point was meant to address Cameron’s concern about a legal adverse finding, and was not discussed with the premier or any other official, the notice said.

Cameron then went on to discuss treaties and the duty to consult argument, although the province argues he did so unnecessarily since the court did not ask to hear that submission.

In its defence, the province says Cameron had no instructions to make those submissions, and actually “sought to circumvent” Hudson’s instructions by bringing in Miller, who was not briefed on the arguments and would typically not advise in this way, “in an effort to obtain his desired instructions.”

They also say that not only did Cameron make arguments that were not the government’s position, they were wrong in law and served his “personal agenda.”

In 2009, Mi’kmaw chiefs requested that Cameron not handle government files relating to Indigenous issues due to a book he authored, Power Without Law, which argued the Supreme Court of Canada was wrong when it ruled in favour of Marshall.

Province cites truth among defences

There are a number of statements that Cameron points to when alleging defamation, including that McNeil was “furious” with the situation and how Whalen said the brief went “beyond the position of government.”

In its defence, the province denies they are defamatory since they do not name Cameron — but even if they were, they are true and protected by qualified privilege since they were made in good faith on matters of public interest.

After Cameron was removed from the case, he retired from the Justice Department on April 30, 2017.

His affidavit says he retired “because the respondents’ conduct towards me, including public statements, rendered continued employment intolerable.”

The province denies this, since Cameron kept his role, seniority and salary before deciding to resign on his own.

But, the province added that if it’s found Cameron was dismissed, there was “just cause” to do so since his conduct breached both the province’s code for public servants and barristers’ society code of conduct.

The province denies that Cameron is entitled to damages, and asked that the lawsuit be dismissed.

Cameron’s lawyer preferred not to respond when asked for comment Thursday.

SOURCE

By Haley Ryan, CBC News, posted July 16, 2020

BC’s First Annual Report Under The Declaration On The Rights Of Indigenous Peoples Act

DRIPA legislation supports existing practices

The province has released the first annual report (“Annual Report”) on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (“DRIPA”). Section 5 of DRIPA requires the Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation to provide annual updates on the province’s progress of ensuring that BC laws are consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“Declaration”). The province must also develop and implement an action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration.

There are no significant updates in this first Annual Report. This is not surprising because the Annual Report only covers the period from November 28, 2019 (when DRIPA was enacted) to March 31, 2020 (BC’s fiscal year end), and during this time some legislative sessions were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Annual Report provides an indication of what to expect from future annual reports.

The Annual Report summarizes the progress the province has made to implement the Declaration since 2017. This includes the following actions taken in 2019 and 2020:

      • Supporting Revitalization of Indigenous Languages: the First Peoples’ Cultural Council provided $15.68 million to First Nations communities across BC to revitalize connections to their languages and culture.
      • Improving Justice for Indigenous Peoples: the BC First Nations Justice Council and the Ministries of Attorney General and Public Safety and Solicitor General signed the BC First Nations Justice Strategy (PDF) (“Strategy”). The Strategy includes improving cultural competency within the criminal justice system, diverting First Nations people from the court system, establishing roles for Elders, and a systemic approach to implementing the Gladue decision, which requires courts to consider the unique backgrounds of Indigenous offenders and alternatives to incarceration during sentencing.
      • Sharing Long-term Stable Revenues: amendments were made to the Gaming Control Act for a long-term agreement to share provincial gaming revenues between the province and BC First Nations.
      • Improving Emergency Preparedness: the province created the Indigenous Agency Working Group to address the needs of rural and remote Indigenous communities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
      • Supporting Skills Training Opportunities for Indigenous Learners: the province provided $8 million in funding to run a two-year Indigenous People in Trades Training Program.

The Annual Report then addresses progress the province has made to align provincial laws with the Declaration and to design an action plan to achieve the objectives of the Declaration:

          • Early discussions with the First Nations Leadership Council to discuss the province’s legislative priorities and gathering input from First Nations on their priority areas for legislative development or amendment in accordance with the Declaration.
          • Early engagement with BC First Nations on designing an action plan began in February 2020.

The province has stated the action plan will be released in the 2020 calendar year. No other concrete future actions are discussed in the Annual Report.

SOURCE

Originally published 8 July, 2020 The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

The Wood Pellet Business is Booming. Scientists Say That’s Not Good for the Climate.

Trump’s EPA is expected to propose a new rule declaring burning biomass to be carbon neutral, as industry looks to expand its domestic markets.

Little remains but stumps and puddles in what was once a bottomland hardwood forest on the banks of the Roanoke River in northeastern North Carolina. The trees were turned into wood pellets for burning in power plants in Europe. Credit: Joby Warrick/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In rural Southern towns from Virginia to Texas, mill workers are churning out wood pellets from nearby forests as fast as European power plants, thousands of miles away, can burn them.

On this side of the Atlantic, new pellet plants are being proposed in South Carolina, Arkansas and other southern states. And Southern coastal shipping ports are expanding along with the pellet industry, vying to increase deliveries to Asia.

While the United States has fallen into a coronavirus-induced recession that dealt a blow to oil, gas, and petrochemical companies, for biomass production across the South, it’s still boom time.

The industry has exploded, driven largely by European climate policies and subsidies that reward burning wood, even as an increasing number of scientists call out what they see as a dangerous carbon accounting loophole that threatens the 2050 goals of the Paris climate agreement.

This month, the Environmental Protection Agency, acting at the direction of the U.S. Congress, is expected to propose securing that loophole with a new rule that details how burning biomass from forests can be considered carbon neutral, at least in the United States.

The industry wants to see regulations that will keep their businesses growing, including expanding U.S. energy markets that now barely exist. But some scientists and environmental groups argue that new EPA rules that are favorable to the industry would put the climate at further risk, along with forest ecosystems across biologically rich landscapes.

“Burning wood puts more carbon dioxide in the air right now, today, with certainty, than the fossil fuels you were burning,” said John Sterman, a professor of management and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has published peer-reviewed research on lifecycle carbon emissions from burning wood pellets.

To solve the climate crisis, he said, “emissions from fossil fuels need to go down rapidly, but it is equally important to keep the carbon in forests on the land.”.

For their part, the industry leaders believe they have science on their side, making a case that wood pellet production is barely putting a dent in the carbon-storage capacity of forests in the South.

The industry wants EPA rules that “recognize the benefits of bioenergy,” and that provide certainty, said Paul Noe, vice president of public policy for the American Forest & Paper Association, a lobbying group for the paper and wood products industry. “Is it recognized as being beneficial, or is it, as some say, worse than burning coal? You have to know where you stand,” he said. “We have been waiting for an answer for a decade.”

An Argument Over Forests and Trees

The idea that trees are a renewable resource and burning them is carbon neutral was written into the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 international agreement to fight global warming.

It’s supposed to work like this: Burning wood in power plants releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but newly planted trees in the forests soak up an equivalent amount of carbon through photosynthesis, which gives trees the energy they need to grow, while releasing oxygen.

The dispute revolves around how quickly that happens, given an increasing sense of urgency over the speed with which global carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

In 2018 the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report describing what it would take to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, the most challenging benchmark of the 2015 Paris Agreement. To reach that goal, carbon emissions would need to start dropping “well before 2030,” and be on a path to fall by about 45 percent by that same year, now just a decade away.

Wood pellets used for heating. Credit: Unkel/ullstein bild via Getty Images

Two years ago, almost 800 scientists wrote to the European Parliament, arguing that “cutting down trees for bioenergy releases carbon that would otherwise stay locked up in forests, and diverting wood otherwise used for wood products will cause more cutting elsewhere to replace them.”

They added, “Even if forests are allowed to regrow, using wood deliberately harvested for burning will increase carbon in the atmosphere and warming for decades to centuries—as many studies have shown—even when wood replaces coal, oil or natural gas.”

Given enough time, forests may pull enough carbon dioxide out of the air to make up for the electricity generation, Sterman acknowledged. But that’s not guaranteed; the forests also could be lost to development. And by removing trees now, he said, the industry is “taking trees that would have grown and taken even more carbon out of the air.”

In the meantime, he said, “you have made climate change worse. The sea level will be higher. There will be more extreme weather and more ocean acidification.”

Other people argue that the scientists are not seeing the forests for the trees—literally.

At least in the highly productive Southern forests of the United States, there is no carbon debt to worry about, say industry representatives and a former top U.S.Department of Agriculture official in the Obama administration.

“If you do the analysis at the [timber] stand level, and that one little patch of trees, you are going to lose the carbon and have to wait,” said Jennifer Jenkins, vice president, and chief sustainability officer at Enviva, the world’s largest producer of wood pellets, with extensive operations in the South. “But forests are managed at the landscape scale.”

Only 2 percent of the forests in the South are harvested every year, leaving 98 percent in various stages of regrowth, more than enough to soak up what gets burned to produce electricity, she said.

Robert Bonnie, who was an assistant secretary of the USDA during the Obama administration and oversaw the U.S. Forest Service, makes a similar argument, though he said he prefers the term “carbon beneficial” to “carbon neutral.”

Decades of Forest Service data collection show that southern forests are growing so fast that they are sequestering a massive amount of carbon, even as they are being harvested for wood products, said Bonnie, who is now an executive in residence at Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.

A key point, he said, is that Southern forests are primarily privately  owned, and the best way to make sure they remain forests is for landowners to make money off them as forests.

“We have had timber markets in the South for a long time,” he said. “Has the forest gone up or down? It’s gone up dramatically. So the notion that somehow markets in and of themselves are going to drive down forests’ carbon is really belied by decades of experience in the South.”

House Democrats’ newly released plan to deal with the climate crisis acknowledges the scientists’ concerns and calls for more research to better understand the carbon implications of using biomass energy and for safeguards to make sure harvesting methods do “not contribute to the biodiversity crisis.” The plan also calls for research into capturing carbon emissions from biomass energy plants.

An Exploding Industry

Across the South, environmental advocates have been alarmed at the growth of wood pellet production and exports.

Pellet exports have more than tripled, from 1.9 million metric tons in 2012 to about 6.9 million metric tons in 2019, and the first five months of 2020 outpaced the first five months of last year, according to Forisk Consulting, which analyzes the industry. Virtually all,  99 percent, of those exports in at least the last four years have come from the South, the company said.

The Southern Environmental Law Center closely tracks the industry, as well, and counts 22 pellet mills operated by nine companies, from Franklin, Virginia, to Woodville, Texas; They include mills owned by Enviva and by the Drax Group, with its massive wood pellet-fueled plant in England; 10 proposed mills where companies have filed for various environmental permits; and five other potential mill sites.

Enviva says it uses only low-value trees for fuel, or uses just branches and limbs that might otherwise be considered waste.

But the law center and its partners, like the Dogwood Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council, have issued reports with photographs that they say show destructive logging practices and the conversion of whole trees to wood pellets. They include a 2018 report that concluded mature trees that had been locking up carbon for decades or more were being logged.

Poor, rural communities in North Carolina and other states are being put at risk from air pollution from pellet plants and flooding from logged landscapes, the law center and its partners argue. And much of the logging occurs within a coastal plain designated as a biodiversity hotspot by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, an international partnership that includes the World Bank.

The law center is worried that a new EPA rule will bake in the concept that burning wood for energy is carbon neutral. That could open up southern forests to even more clearcutting and result in the release of even more carbon emissions, said Scott Smallwood, a spokesman for the center.

With an increasing number of businesses and states looking to meet the Paris goals, the new EPA rule could make it so that “any facility that will burn biomass can count those CO2 emissions as zero,” said Heather Hillaker, an attorney with the law center.

Keep it Simple

Former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt set EPA on its track to adopt a new biomass rule in 2018, at an event with forestry industry leaders in Georgia. A proposed rule went to the Office of Management and Budget for review earlier this year.

But Mary Booth, the director of the Partnership for Policy Integrity, a research organization and a principal critic of the biomass industry, said that whatever the EPA does, it won’t be all the agency’s doing.

The biomass industry has friends in Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, she said. And in announcing his intention for the EPA to develop a biomass rule, Booth said, it was significant that Pruitt cited the direction Congress gave the EPA in a 2018 appropriations bill. According to that guidance, federal agencies including the EPA were to establish policies that “reflect the carbon-neutrality of forest bioenergy and recognize biomass as a renewable energy source, provided the use of forest biomass for energy production does not cause conversion of forests to non-forest use.”

Political leaders in Minnesota, including former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and in northeast states like Maine and New Hampshire, where the wood biomass industry has struggled, have rallied behind the biomass industry.

An EPA spokeswoman would not say when the proposed rule would be made public. But the agency has been wrestling with how to regulate biomass energy for years.

“There were groups that were adamant that biomass should be treated as carbon neutral for regulatory purposes, yet that sort of defied the science,” said Janet McCabe, a former top EPA air quality official in the Obama administration who now teaches law at Indiana University. “There were other groups that were equally adamant that was only not only incorrect as a matter of science but would lead to a really dangerous climate policy.”

EPA convened a panel “to create scientific clarity,” but the panel did not conclude its work before the administration left, she said.

McCabe and others said they don’t know what EPA might propose.

But it will probably have to address how companies track carbon from forest to atmosphere and back to the forest, and also forest sustainability.

Noe, the American Forest and Paper Association vice president, said the EPA should avoid anything complicated. “You do not have to create an elaborate carbon accounting scheme based on these models that are trying to predict the future,” he said. “They are extremely opaque and will put a chill on the U.S. bioenergy economy.”

Instead, he said, the rules could call for tracking forest carbon over time.

Bonnie, the former USDA official, said that as inclined as he is to support burning wood from commercial forests as part of a climate solution, he has little faith that the Trump administration, based on its track record, will create a rule with climate or the environment top of mind.

“We should have good (carbon) accounting, and people should have faith in that accounting,” Bonnie said. “People lose faith when we can account for this stuff properly, and I worry about people losing confidence.”

SOURCE

Alberta’s Bill 30 is a gateway to privatization and cronyism

The Alberta legislature on March 22, 2020. IAN KUCERAK / Postmedia, file

On July 6, the Alberta government introduced Bill 30, which opens up the health care system to increased privatization and deepens the rift between doctors and the province.Other amendments risk eliminating expertise and independence from key health-care institutions, particularly given the government’s propensity for cronyism and control.

When the government refused to participate in binding arbitration to resolve this compensation dispute, the AMA filed a lawsuit alleging a violation of the constitutional right to freedom of association. The Supreme Court of Canada has interpreted this right to require a meaningful dispute resolution mechanism such as arbitration.According to the government, Bill 30 will make it “easier for physicians to enter into alternative relationship plans,” which deviate from the traditional way of paying doctors a fee for each service that they provide. Alternative relationship plans, which can be effective in some contexts, may not improve either quality of care or efficiency in other care settings. Although many support their availability, given the government’s current approach to physician pay, the terms contained in these agreements may be so unfavourable as to make them unappealing to doctors and to hinder physician recruitment.

Bill 30 also allows the government to contract with physicians directly, thereby bypassing the AMA. Given the vocal support that many Alberta doctors have shown for the AMA and the distrust that they have expressed for a government that is willing to unilaterally terminate an agreement, this legislation will cement the contentious relationship between doctors and the government. Because the bill allows for the proliferation of private operators, the government may be transferring responsibility for physician compensation to private corporations.Since the election, the Alberta government has pursued an agenda of privatizing and corporatizing health care, including the privatization of laboratories, the conscription of fast-food restaurant employees into mask distribution, and facilitating Telus’ health-sector growth through the adopting its virtual care platform Babylon.

Bill 30 adds momentum to this shift towards privatization by enabling the “government to contract with a range of organizations to operate medical clinics” and streamlining the approval process for private surgical facilities. The government’s stated goal is to have 30 per cent of surgeries delivered in private facilities, which it claims will reduce wait times in the public system. In reality, without an influx of health professionals, these private facilities will likely skim off the least complex cases, thereby leaving those who are sicker to wait longer for care in the public system.
Because these less complex cases are cheaper to treat, private clinics may also drive up costs. In a past experiment with privatizing the delivery of orthopedic procedures in Alberta, it cost more to treat cases in the private system than in public facilities, despite the latter taking the more complex cases. Privatization initiatives have sometimes involved an infusion of public funds into the operational costs of private facilities that may have been more effectively spent in the public system.There are also concerns that quality of care may suffer when medical care is delivered in corporate-owned facilities due to incentives to cut corners to maximize shareholder profits. We have already seen this tragically play out in the context of for-profit nursing homes.

Although private delivery of surgical services is concerning, Bill 30 could be a mere stepping stone toward two-tier health care in Alberta. The recent Fair Deal report criticized the Canada Health Act, which helps prevent patients from paying to jump the queue, for stymying “innovation” in health-care delivery. Before it is too late, Albertans need to ask themselves whether they want a health-care system in which the wealthy, who tend to be healthier, can buy faster access to care, or whether health-care services should be allocated on the basis of need rather than the ability to pay.

SOURCE

Lorian Hardcastle is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law and Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary; Ubaka Ogbogu is an associate professor in the Faculty of Law and Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Alberta, and a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Fellow. 

Is Jason Kenney Ready to Bet Albertan Pensions on Failing Fossil Fuel Firms?

The UCP government is moving to take control of citizens’ savings — and they should be very worried.

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney may be eying up the retirement funds of public sector workers as a financial lifeline for companies in the oil patch. Photo via the Government of Alberta.

Cautious. Reliable. Boring. Those are words that are appropriately associated with pension fund management. However, pensions have recently become a hot button political issue in Alberta, for some ominous reasons.

As international investment dries up for the fossil fuel sector, evidence mounts that Premier Jason Kenney may be eying up the retirement funds of public sector workers as a financial lifeline for companies in the oil patch.

The United Conservative Party didn’t mention sweeping pension reform in its election platform, but it has been a curious legislative priority since they were swept to power last year.

Bill 22 forced the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund to hand over its $18-billion pension fund to Alberta Investment Management Corp. — a Crown corporation that just lost $1.9 billion of the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund’s assets. This bill also prevents the numerous public pensions under AIMCo control from ever taking their investment business elsewhere, regardless of poor investment results.

Kenney has also proposed pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan after a vote under his new referendum-on-anything bill. AIMCo could then be in charge of over $260 billion entrusted for the financial futures of millions of Albertans.

Legal firewalls are often in place to prevent political meddling in public pension management. If a politician even attempts to contact a Canada Pension Plan board member, it is a reportable offence.

AIMCo, in contrast, is legally bound to act on directives from cabinet. Its board members are appointed by the government. The sole shareholder is the Alberta finance minister.

The previous NDP government opened this Pandora’s box by issuing the Alberta Growth Mandate in 2015, which required AIMCo to invest three per cent of the Alberta Heritage Trust Fund in Alberta-based businesses. Two-thirds of this $400 million was invested in 14 local oil and gas companies. Their share prices had fallen even before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenney has clearly signalled his willingness to increase public financing for private oil and gas companies on a vastly larger scale. Last April he committed $7.5 billion in provincial funds to completing the Keystone XL pipeline because TC Energy could not access private equity for the contentious project, a move he boasted was “a solid bet.” International finance experts disagreed, calling the investment an “idiotic waste.”

Has this “solid bet” just gone bust? The U.S. Supreme Court just upheld a lower court ruling halting TC Energy’s construction of the project until stream crossing permits are issued by local authorities — if that ever happens. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden holds a solid lead in the race and has vowed to kill the pipeline if he is elected.

AIMCo has also bet big on contentious pipelines. Last December the fund bought a 65-per-cent stake in the TC Energy Coastal GasLink pipeline just before a nationwide rail blockade in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to its construction. The pipeline is being built to deliver fracked gas to an LNG plant in Kitimat, B.C., but large questions remain about LNG demand and Indigenous consent. TC Energy stock has dropped 16 per cent since Alberta pensioners became majority owners in what could be a money-losing climate killer.

News enthusiasts might recall AIMCo lost $2.1 billion in pension investments on risky market bets that went the wrong way last year. Its record on investment returns is far inferior to the managers of the Alberta Teachers’ Retirement Fund recently put out of a job by Kenney’s Bill 22. If AIMCo eventually assumes management of $260 billion, are there credible reasons to believe that hometown politics won’t play into what should be dispassionate investment decisions?

Quebec already has what Kenney apparently hopes to achieve, a stand-alone provincial pension fund, and unsurprisingly there are some red flags snapping in a stiff breeze. The Caisse de Dépôt et Placement du Québec is roughly equivalent to AIMCo and owns about 20 per cent of local favourite SNC-Lavalin.

In 2019 the pension fund CEO pledged to be “a rock” for the notoriously corrupt Quebec company even after the federal government laid criminal corruption charges. Six months later the fund reported it had lost $700 million after SNC’s share price plunged on poor performance. Since 2018, SNC has lost 64 per cent of its market value, yet the Quebec pension fund stubbornly remains the largest shareholder. Does Alberta really want to emulate the path taken by la belle province?

There are good examples of how to properly manage pension funds and resource windfalls, but Alberta has shown little interest in them. The Alberta Heritage Fund, in fact, was the inspiration for the Norwegian Pension Fund, which is now the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, holding the equivalent of $1.4 trillion Canadian and controlling 1.5 per cent of global equity markets. The fund is specifically prohibited from investing in Norway to avoid inflating its currency or corrupting their economy. Robust legal and policy firewalls have prevented political meddling or government cash grabs.

Over the course of decades, the abandonment of those laudable objectives has become emblematic of the fall of the province from economic powerhouse to a point where observers fear public retirement funds may be raided to prop up the private petroleum sector.

According to figures from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, between 1971 and 2018 the oil patch produced almost $1.9 trillion in wealth. Yet not a penny of petroleum revenues has been added to the heritage fund since 1987, which now has one per cent of the value of the similar fund Norway started 14 years later.

In the ensuing decades Albertans have instead opted for exceptionalist cultural crumbs like paying no sales tax or receiving $400 cheques in Ralph Bucks during the Klein government. The province is now $74 billion in debt and privatizing public spaces on a scale that would make Margaret Thatcher blush.

If Kenney succeeds in grabbing control of $260 billion in retirement funds, you can bet the fiscal farce that is the Alberta resource economy is far from over.  [Tyee]

SOURCE

By Mitchell Anderson  is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to The Tyee.

 

Thirty Years after Oka, Wet’suwet’en Battle Shows How Little Has Changed

Five big issues that point to a lack of progress made in the decades since Canada’s most prominent Indigenous land dispute.

Freda Huson is arrested in February at the end of a long standoff between RCMP and Wet’suwet’en land defenders in northern BC. There are many parallels between the Wet’suwet’en battle and the now 30-year-old Oka crisis. Photo by Amanda Follett Hosgood.

was a 16-year-old living in a sprawling suburb north of Toronto when Mohawk land defenders faced off against military and police forces at Kanehsatake in the summer of 1990.

I was only vaguely aware of the deadly standoff unfolding just a five-hour drive away. A private golf course, supported by the town of Oka in Quebec, wanted to expand onto land claimed by the Mohawk Nation in neighbouring Kanehsatake. The fairways and greens would push through a pine forest sacred to the Mohawks, where their ancestors were buried.

If I had an opinion on the Oka crisis then, it wasn’t strong enough to last 30 years. I do recall a vague sense of injustice and discomfort with the white, middle-class opinions that surrounded me.

Thirty years later and more than 4,000 kilometres away, I was a journalist covering the Wet’suwet’en conflict as it unfolded 100 kilometres south of my home in Smithers, British Columbia this winter. Land defenders supporting hereditary chiefs had blocked portions of the Morice West Forest Service Road, denying access to pipeline builder Coastal GasLink. The RCMP had responded by filling hotels in local communities with armed officers ready to remove the barricades.

I made many reporting trips to the Morice, travelling a snowy highway and rugged forestry road in temperatures that sometimes dipped below -40 C. On my final journey before the RCMP moved in to clear the blockades in early February, I travelled 22 hours by car, foot and snowmobile to spend six days reporting for The Tyee from the Unist’ot’en Healing Centre. I was there when heavily armed police, supported by helicopters and search dogs, made the last arrests.

I decompressed one evening several weeks later by curling up in front of Alanis Obomsawin’s 1993 NFB documentary Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance.

I was struck by how little had changed.

The standoff at Oka reached a crisis point 30 years ago this week. The Sûreté du Québec, the province’s police force, moved in on July 11 to clear the blockade. A 15-minute firefight left Cpl. Marcel Lemay dead. The standoff lasted another 77 days.

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Canadian soldier Patrick Cloutier and Brad Laroque come face to face in a tense standoff at Kahnesatake in Oka, Quebec in 1990. Photo by Shaney Komulainen, the Canadian Press.

Three decades later in northern B.C., law enforcement and politicians handling the Wet’suwet’en conflict took a page from the Oka playbook.

In addition to the painful irony that — in both cases — Indigenous residents were barricaded inside traditional healing centres designed to alleviate the trauma of colonization, there was a sense of déjà vu as, once again, the hum of surveillance helicopters and wafting woodsmoke from ceremonial fires were the background for a tense, dangerous time.

Both events involved the use of court injunctions to arrest and remove protesters, only to drop charges later. (All but three Kanehsatake land defenders were acquitted; all charges were dropped in the Wet’suwet’en standoff.)

Thirty years later, the racism and violence still exist. Chanting crowds opposing the roadblocks burned effigies of Mohawk warriors during the Oka crisis; now the hate has moved to social media. And while no one died in the Wet’suwet’en protest, the potential was always present as the RCMP treated the exercise as a military operation, including lethal overwatch.

Thirty years after Oka, here are five big issues that remain unresolved and raise the risks of more dangerous standoffs.

1. Who controls police?

When nearly 1,000 Sûreté du Québec police officers descended on Kanehsatake, a community of 1,500 people, Oka mayor Jean Ouellette denied responsibility. “We didn’t order the police operation or carry it out,” he told reporters. In fact, the municipality had requested both the injunction and police involvement.

Similarly, as RCMP forces increased and conflict appeared imminent on Wet’suwet’en territory this winter, it was unclear who was in charge. B.C. Premier John Horgan said he didn’t control police. RCMP claimed simply to be carrying out an enforcement order handed down in the BC Supreme Court as part of an injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink on Dec. 31.

But in early March, after police had cleared the road of barricades and dozens of Wet’suwet’en supporters were arrested, it was revealed the province and RCMP had discussed moving ahead with the action. In late January, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth had written to RCMP Deputy Commissioner Jennifer Strachan. He authorized additional police resources “to the extent necessary to maintain law and order” and asked the deputy commissioner to inform his ministry of planned actions, adding that “operational decisions are solely within the internal management and control of the RCMP.”

851px version of Reconciliation

2. Rule of law

“The law still has to be respected!”

The Oka documentary includes scenes of an Oka resident yelling about the rule of law during a heated verbal dispute as Sûreté du Québec officers carried out the injunction.

“Rule of law” would become a much-repeated mantra during the Wet’suwet’en standoff, a call-and-response initiated by the B.C. premier and chorused by those inconvenienced by blockades that sprung up across the nation in support of the Wet’suwet’en. But as legal experts were quick to point out, the law is not black and white — case law is, by its nature, evolving and open to interpretation.

The 1997 Delgamuukw versus the Queen court ruling affirmed that Wet’suwet’en land title had never been extinguished. Yet in her decision granting Coastal GasLink a permanent injunction to access its pipeline route, Justice Marguerite Church dismissed the Delgamuukw decision, saying “the Aboriginal title claims of the Wet’suwet’en remain outstanding and have not been resolved either by litigation or negotiation.”

More recently, B.C. legislated the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which includes Article 4, the right to self-determination and self-government, and Article 10, that Indigenous peoples not be forcibly removed from their lands. It too needs to be part of the discussion of the rule of law.

3. Police checkpoints and exclusion zones

And when it comes to the rule of law, legal experts have questioned whether RCMP were following their own laws when they implemented a checkpoint and exclusion zone at kilometre 27 on the Morice forestry road on Jan. 13, at times blocking access to media, legal observers and volunteers delivering supplies to camps. Anyone who did gain access was required to show identification, which was recorded by the RCMP.

Legal experts have noted that the exclusion zone, which was arbitrarily implemented and expanded to include a support camp that sprung up outside the checkpoint, went beyond the court-issued injunction and may have constituted police overreach.

Similarly, truckloads of food were delayed or denied access at Kanehsatake, some arriving pierced by bayonets and all but emptied of their contents. As the standoff dragged toward fall, deliveries of warm clothing were turned away.

In January, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the BC Civil Liberties Association and the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, supported by West Coast Environmental Law and Pivot Legal Society, filed a complaint with the RCMP Civilian Review and Complaints Commission urging it to investigate what it called the “improper and unlawful” actions of the RCMP in implementing and enforcing a checkpoint and exclusion zone on the Morice forest road.

“The RCMP checkpoint, which is at the 27-kilometre mark, lies completely outside the scope of the enforcement power granted to the RCMP by the injunction,” BCCLA executive director Harsha Walia said.

The investigation request was later denied by the RCMP watchdog because a similar complaint related to policing of Indigenous-led anti-shale gas protests in New Brunswick had already sat with the force for a year.

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4. Restricted media access

In one Kanehsatake scene, a military officer is seen directing journalists to leave the area. Many remained, though they are cordoned off behind barbed wire.

“We’re your eyes, and they’re trying to blind us by getting the press out of here. I’m not going to leave. I’m not going to be blinded,” said Reuters photographer Robert Galbraith, one of two journalists who braved the barbed wire to report from behind military lines. Journalists who chose to leave the confined area — including Globe and Mail reporter Geoffrey York — were taken into custody and questioned.

“I think the thing that’s the most unbelievable is that in a country like Canada we’re allowing the army to tell us what can be published in our newspapers and what can be put on our nightly news,” York said.

The Tyee was among several reporters turned away when RCMP implemented the exclusion zone. The following day, police began requiring identification and proof of affiliation from reporters crossing the checkpoint. Only a handful were within the exclusion zone when arrests began at kilometre 39 on Feb. 6.

In a video posted to social media, police can be heard threatening journalists with arrest as the early morning raid began. The journalists are told they have 10 minutes to leave the area. In the end, Vice reporter Jesse Winter and an independent journalist were driven by RCMP past their vehicles and dropped 30 kilometres away in Houston.

The following day, Ricochet reporter Jerome Turner was held for eight hours by RCMP following arrests at kilometre 44.

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5. It’s not over

The standoff at Kanehsatake ended when residents walked out on Sept. 26, 1990. The golf course expansion was cancelled but, 30 years later, the bigger land claim issue remains unresolved. While the federal government purchased the land under an agreement with the Mohawks, it has never been formally transferred to the nation.

In northern B.C., negotiations between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the federal and provincial governments are ongoing. It’s a battle that has continued for more than 30 years, since the Delgamuukw court case began in Smithers in 1987. This spring, the parties picked up where they left off more than 20 years ago, when the Supreme Court of Canada decision affirmed Wet’suwet’en land title.

In the hopeful and prophetic — if premature — words of a masked Mohawk warrior 30 years ago: “Maybe this is the decade that roadblocks are going to be throughout Canada. Fish are dying, the air’s dying, the plants are dying. We’re not too far behind them, as the Mohawk Nation.”

It would take three decades for roadblocks to appear across Canada. When they did, it’s not hard to understand why the Mohawk Nation was among the first to show solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en.

Maybe this is the decade when governments and law enforcement start approaching Indigenous land claims differently.  [Tyee]

Democracy Watch starts legal fight with Doug Ford over appointments to tribunals

An empty tribunal seen on the website of Tribunal Ontario’s social justice division

The Ford government should scrap changes it made late last year to the province’s tribunal appointment process, a new legal filing from Democracy Watch says, as advocates complain of delay and dysfunction.

The lawsuit from Democracy Watch filed July 8 alleges Premier Doug Ford and his attorney general, Doug Downey, broke rules ensuring the independence of the quasi-judicial bodies, which deal with everything from landlord and tenant disputes to human rights and police complaints, land use and environmental matters, and parole and youth custody review.

More than half of young people aged between 25 and 34 are renters, who are involved in hearings where they risk losing their homes in one of the biggest of those tribunals, the Landlord and Tenant Board.

Young people could also be expected to fall into rent arrears in large numbers given they were most drastically hit by job losses and reduced work hours due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prompted Ford to order a temporary pause on eviction hearings.

Tenant rights advocates complain that board is being deliberately starved of adjudicators to justify the streamlining efforts contained in Bill 184, which went to third reading on Wednesday and will soon become law.

The bill makes it easier for a landlord to evict a tenant who misses an arrears payment without a hearing, and will be retroactive to the start of the pandemic.

Democracy Watch said the system for appointing members to Ontario’s tribunals had previously involved a competitive application process controlled by the tribunals, but it is now largely controlled by cabinet.

The group said previously fixed-term appointments were being made for shorter and more uncertain time periods and that recommendations of tribunal chairs are being routinely rejected.

“This means tribunal members have little job security and are essentially serving at the pleasure of the cabinet, undermining their independence and politicizing and weakening the enforcement of many key laws across the province,” the advocacy group said in a statement.

The application asks the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to judge whether the appointments, which are largely done behind closed doors, run afoul of the Adjudicative Tribunals Accountability, Governance and Appointments Act of 2009 (ATAGA, or the Tribunals Act).

It wants the court to cancel appointments made under the Ford government’s new system on the grounds they are “illegal and unconstitutional.”

The Ford government stands accused of meddling with the independence of Ontario’s tribunals in a legal challenge from advocacy group @DemocracyWatchr

A spokesperson for the attorney general said the province was served on July 14 and was reviewing the notice of application for judicial review.

“As this matter is subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” Jenessa Crognali said in an email.

The Ford government has been slow to fill vacancies on a string of its Tribunals Ontario’s 19 tribunals (five of which were recently carved off into their own cluster), which combined issue more than 130,000 quasi-judicial rulings a year. Last month it named Sean Weir , a former head of top law firm Borden Ladner Gervais and federal Conservative candidate in 2018, as executive chair for Tribunals Ontario.

The bottleneck in the hiring process has led critics with long involvement in the tribunal system to question the government’s motives.

“It seems to me you can only conclude that one of the motives of the government was to make room for their own appointments,” said Ron Ellis, the former chair of the Ontario’s Workers’ Compensation Appeals Tribunal.

He is a part of Tribunal Watch Ontario, which warned in May of a growing crisis due to the Ford government’s actions.

It said those who appear before tribunals must have confidence that the adjudicator makes decisions based on the law and the evidence and free from fear of losing their job by displeasing the government.

“This becomes especially obvious for tribunals where the government is a party,” the group wrote.

Shortages and cuts a ‘recipe for disaster’

Tribunal Watch Ontario counted 113 members of social justice tribunals at the end of April compared to 199 in 2018, just before the election victory of Ford’s Progressive Conservatives.

The Landlord and Tenant Board, one of the busiest of the tribunals with close to 80,000 decisions made a year, went from 53 members to 40, all full-time jobs lost. The Human Rights Tribunal went from 57 to 22, and the Social Benefits Tribunal from 38 to 21.

The Environmental Review Tribunal had only four members in April, the group found, with the highest-ranking member being a part-time vice-chair, compared to 12 members in March 2018.

“A shortage of adjudicators is restricting people’s access to justice and a fair and timely hearing. Then on top of that, there is funding cut to those that are supporting and helping low-income folk navigating a very complex legal system,” said Bahar Shadpour, a spokesperson for the Advocacy Centre for Tenants Ontario.

“It is a recipe for a disastrous way for people to access justice,” she said, noting the Ford government had cut funding for legal aid by nearly 30 per cent.

Shadpour said she expects a spike in demand for those legal services, especially related to housing, as the LTB faces an “avalanche” of eviction hearings once a pandemic-related moratorium is lifted.

The provincial ombudsman in January launched an investigation of the Landlord and Tenant Board focused on whether the government was doing enough to fix delays and backlogged cases, following a surge of complaints.

About 80 of the more than 200 complaints the ombudsman, Paul Dubé, received about the LTB in fiscal 2018-2019 were specifically about delays. He has already received more than 110 delay complaints in the first nine months of this fiscal year, including 43 in December alone.

SOURCE

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

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