Campaigners say it is time climate crisis was treated as the crisis it is

What do I have in common with Coldplay, Leonardo DiCaprio, Malala, Emma Thompson, Annie Lennox, Brian Eno, Greta Thunberg and Bjork?

​Governments have given up on the possibility of handing over a decent future to coming generations.

Well along with thousands of scientists, activists and celebrities I have signed a letter to EU leaders and heads of state demanding we must stop pretending we can solve the climate and ecological crisis without treating it as a crisis.

Here are some of the key points. It states we must halt investments in fossil fuels and immediately end fossil fuel subsidies, make ecocide a crime at the International Criminal Court and include international aviation and shipping in total emissions in all figures and targets.

The changes necessary to safeguard humanity may seem unrealistic.

Extinction Rebellion hold a peaceful 6 hour vigil at Chesterfield Town Hall to mourn the lack of climate change action.
However, it is much more unrealistic to believe our society would be able to survive the global heating we’re heading for, as well as other disastrous ecological consequences of today’s business as usual​.

We have watched with horror how the Covid-19 pandemic has hit people all over the globe. ​


We have seen how many – not all – world leaders and people around the world stepped up and acted for the greater good of society.

The climate crisis has never been treated as a crisis, neither from the politicians, media, business, nor finance.


Climate change protesters young and old took to the streets of Sheffield again this Valentine’s Day, Friday, February 14, demanding urgent action to save our planet.

And the longer we keep pretending we are on a path to lower emissions and that the actions required to avoid a climate disaster are available within today’s system, the more precious time we will lose.

Climate and environmental justice cannot be achieved as long as we continue to ignore and look away from the social and racial injustices that have laid the foundations of our modern world. ​The fight for justice and equity is universal. Whether it is the fight for social, racial, climate or environmental justice, gender equality, democracy, human-, indigenous peoples’- LGBTQ- and animal rights, freedom of speech and press, or the fight for a balanced, wellbeing, functioning life-supporting system. ​We don’t have to choose and divide ourselves over which crisis or issue we should prioritise because it is all interconnected.


Net-zero emissions by 2050 means surrender. This target is based on a carbon budget that only gives a 50 per cent chance of limiting global heating below 1.5C. This doesn’t include some of the key factors, such as the global aspect of equity, most tipping points and feedback loops, as well as already built-in additional warming hidden by air pollution. So, in reality, it is much less than a 50 per cent chance.

The race to safeguard life on Earth must start today.

This needs a science-based pathway which gives us the best possible chance to limit the global average temperature rise to below 1.5C. ​We need to end the ongoing exploitation and destruction of our life-supporting systems and move towards a decarbonised economy that centres around the wellbeing of all people and the natural world.

If all countries were to meet the emission reductions they have set as goals, we would still be heading for a global temperature rise of at least 3-4C.


​Governments have given up on the possibility of handing over a decent future to coming generations.

The world’s planned fossil fuel production by the year 2030 accounts for 120 per cent more than what would be consistent with the 1.5C target.


Reading the latest reports it is clear the climate and ecological crisis cannot be solved within today’s system.

There is no place on earth where children face a future in a safe environment.

If we are to avoid climate catastrophe we have to tear up contracts and abandon existing agreements, on a scale we can’t begin to imagine. Those types of actions are not politically, economically or legally possible within today’s system.


The clock is ticking. Governments doing their ‘best’ is no longer good enough. They must now do the seemingly impossible. There is no place on earth where children face a future in a safe environment. Governments must face the climate emergency.

Sign the letter at

Ocean Justice: Where Social Equity and the Climate Fight Intersect

Marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson sees her work on ocean conservation as linked to issues of social justice and climate. In an e360 interview, she talks about the need to diversify climate science and activism and bring in the perspectives and energy of people of color and women.

A woman walks through a broken embankment caused by rising sea levels in Central Java, Indonesia in February 2018. EKO SISWONO TOYUDHO/ANADOLU AGENCY/GETTY IMAGES

Ocean justice, as Ayana Elizabeth Johnson describes it, is where ocean conservation and issues of social equity meet: Who suffers most from flooding and pollution, and who benefits from conservation measures? As sea levels rise and storms intensify, such questions will only grow more urgent, and fairness must be a central consideration as societies figure out how to answer them, Johnson says.

A marine biologist, Johnson is founder and CEO of the consulting group Ocean Collectiv and founder of Urban Ocean Lab, a think tank for coastal cities. Her concerns about social inclusion cover both race and gender. She has written about how racism slows climate action and has co-edited a forthcoming anthology of women’s writing on climate. The book, she says, is an effort to bring female voices to the center of a conversation that has too often been dominated by men.

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson. PHOTO CREDIT: MARCUS BRANCH

In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Johnson describes the links between climate change, racial justice, gender equality, and the oceans. “There is a gender aspect to who gets hit hardest by climate change,” she says. “At the same time, we look to who is continually being held up as the thought leaders on climate. In the U.S., it’s often a very small group of white men. They will never represent the full spectrum of perspectives on solutions.”

Johnson points to polling data that shows Black and Latino people are more concerned about climate change than whites. The climate movement’s failure to engage them in climate action, she says, “is a losing strategy, because you’re not reaching out to the people who already care.”

Yale Environment 360: A lot of your work focuses on ocean justice. What does that mean?

Ayana Elizabeth Johnson: Ocean justice is where ocean conservation and social justice intersect. If we think about where is the water the most polluted, who gets impacted by storms, who is most dependent on the ocean and suffers when there’s overfishing, it often is poor communities and communities of color along the coastline. When we think about ocean conservation, it can’t just be for the spots in front of fancy resorts or the homes of wealthy individuals. We should also be thinking about not just who bears the brunt of the impacts on the ocean, but who gets the benefit when we do take care of it.

e360: What does that mean in terms of action?

Johnson: It depends who you are. If you’re a conservation group, that starts with looking at your portfolio projects and assessing who they benefit, who you’re including in the development of your strategies, who you’re prioritizing, where resources are going.

Then there’s the policy level. For example, there’s a lot of NIMBY-ism when it comes to renewable offshore energy. All these wealthy communities on Cape Cod or Martha’s Vineyard or in the Hamptons don’t want wind turbines offshore, even though they’re now so far offshore that you can’t really see them. The power lines that come on shore are six inches in diameter and buried 20 feet below the surface. They’re still saying, “We don’t want that here,” even though they’re communities that often support environmentalism more broadly. That just really needs to shift.

“Low-income housing is often built in flood zones. There’s certainly a justice issue with how we deal with sea level rise.”

e360: What about social justice when it comes to impacts?

Johnson: Sea level rise is a challenge that is so big that most people aren’t dealing with it. But it’s not going away. We need to be really creative and face this head on. The sea level is not going to rise inches. It’s going to rise feet, or potentially multiple meters by the end of this century. On top of that, you’re going to have storm surges and high tides. That’s going to completely change what’s possible and where along the coastline. Of course, poor communities — and many communities of color are poor, because of the history of racism in development — they’re the ones who have the fewest resources to move. They’re the ones who are most often in harm’s way. Low-income housing is often built in flood zones. There’s certainly a justice issue with how we deal with sea level rise.

There’s also a justice element when we think about which communities get protected with sea walls, which communities have the resources to simply fortify their coast with barriers that shift the impacts downstream or down current.

And we need to think about how to move people out of harm’s way. There’s going to have to be some very hard conversations about what it looks like to relocate entire communities, entire towns. You have generations of deep cultural ties to a place and to that bit of coastline. But it’s simply not going to be safe and viable to continue living there.

e360: You’ve said oceans are too often left out of the climate conversation. Why and how should we include them?

Johnson: I don’t think people are aware of how large a role the ocean plays in the climate system. That ocean currents and temperatures actually affect the climate. That a warmer ocean makes for stronger hurricanes. That warm waters shift ocean currents, which can change the climate in whole continents. That the ocean has actually already absorbed 90 percent of the heat we’ve trapped by burning fossil fuels, and absorbed about a third of the CO2 we’ve emitted. When we don’t think about that, we’re just not thinking about the whole problem.

We’re also not thinking about all the solutions. We need a flip of the script from seeing the ocean as this victim of overfishing, pollution, and warming to seeing it also as the hero when it comes to climate solutions.

e360: What are some of those solutions?

Johnson: Solar and wind energy can be deployed offshore. Government analysis shows installing wind energy from Maine to Maryland could basically power the Northeast as well as providing 36,000 jobs. That is important especially in areas that are really densely populated, where there just aren’t swathes of empty land for putting in solar panels and wind turbines.

“It’s very hard to focus on the climate crisis when you’re… fighting for your basic rights to live and breathe.”

Another area is coastal ecosystems. Wetlands store five times more carbon in their soils than a forest on land does. They’re very powerful for carbon sequestration, and for protecting us from stronger storms. Coastal ecosystems can actually be more effective than seawalls as well as less expensive. Not just protecting them, but also restoring them, is a key part of the menu of ocean solutions.

Then there’s regenerative ocean farming, which is just starting to burgeon. That’s very similar to the philosophy of regenerative farming on land. The ocean is actually even more environmentally friendly because it doesn’t require any fresh water or fertilizer or pesticides. Regenerative farming is not fish. It’s the seaweeds and oysters and mussels and clams. All these things that don’t need to be fed, they just live off of sunlight and the nutrients that are already in the water. And in some cases, they’re absorbing excess nutrients that are running off of land because of the use of fertilizers in agriculture, and which might otherwise contribute to dead zones.

e360: One broader issue you’ve written about is how racism hampers the fight against climate change. Can you describe some of those effects?

Johnson: There’s the personal level on which it’s very hard to focus on the climate crisis when you’re dealing with the crisis of state-sanctioned violence and mass incarceration, and your friends and family being at risk for being murdered by the police for no reason, and fighting for your basic rights to live and breathe. That is the priority, unfortunately, for many communities, which means there are people who are not able to focus on being a part of climate solutions even though they care. Addressing the climate crisis will take the biggest team possible. Anything that hinders people from bringing their full intellect and creativity and force to solutions is a problem.

e360: Do you see racism and climate change as springing from common roots?

Johnson: For sure. The mindset of domination over nature — manifest destiny and trophy hunting and all of these kinds of things — is quite a white construct. It has created this scenario where we feel detached from nature as opposed to understanding that we are fundamentally dependent on it. That’s how capitalism created and dominated by white people has gotten us into this mess. There are the executives at fossil fuel companies who knew in the 1970s from their own scientists that burning fossil fuels could cause climate change and decided to prioritize their profits instead. Those were all white men. Another manifestation of this is the fascination with geo-engineering, which is certainly something that follows that same supremacy over nature approach. That assumes that more climate change is the answer. We need a mindset of more Indigenous ways of living in harmony with nature, as opposed to attempting to dominate and manipulate it.

Activists at a protest for community-led climate justice in Sunset Park, Brooklyn in September 2019. ERIK MCGREGOR/LIGHTROCKET VIA GETTY IMAGES

We know from social science research that white men have a much higher tolerance for risk because things tend to work out for them. That is actually putting all of us at risk because these dangerous decisions are being made. We can’t just all hunker down into bunkers and be okay. Climate change is a global problem and it’s coming for people of color and poor people first. But in the end, it’s coming for all of us. No matter how wealthy you are, you still need to eat — we’re shifting the climate in ways that disrupt and endanger our food security. No matter how privileged you are, the storms are still coming, the heat waves are still coming.

e360: You’ve talked about people of color being more supportive of climate action than white people. Why has the climate movement failed to recognize that, and what’s lost by not including people of color in the conversation about climate?

Johnson: There’s been this very effective mythology around the white, rugged, outdoorsy environmentalist being the average environmentalist when in fact communities of color have always been close to nature and caring for it and concerned about it. I wish more people knew that. Even I had no idea that there was such a gap in terms of percentage points until I read the polling by Yale and George Mason that showed 49 percent of white people are concerned about climate change, compared to 57 percent of Black people and 70 percent of Latinx people. Failing to prioritize engaging people of color is a losing strategy, because you’re not reaching out to the people who already care.

The fascinating thing is the reason the Latinx community is far and away the most concerned about climate, it’s associated with having more egalitarian world views and a stronger sense that your community, your friends, your family expect you to do something. Not just to know about it, but to be a part of the solution. It’s really interesting when we think about the societal and cultural shifts that are going to be needed to address this problem. Solving the climate crisis is not just an engineering problem. It’s a social norm problem as well. We have to shift what we expect and how we see the world.

“Women being left out [as leaders in climate science] means we’re losing half the brain power of the planet.”

e360: You co-edited [with Katharine Wilkinson] a forthcoming anthology of women’s climate writing [All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis], and you argue that the climate crisis is not gender-neutral. How so?

Johnson: In a lot of places in the world, women are primarily responsible for getting water, for maintaining gardens. Those are all things that become harder and more difficult because of our changing climate. After natural disasters — or increasingly unnatural disasters — it’s often women who are most at risk. There’s a lot of sexual violence associated with these scenarios. Also women turning to sex work which they wouldn’t otherwise have gotten into because of food scarcity. Girls getting married off younger because their families are so financially constrained because of the ways climate is impacting them. There is a gender aspect to who gets hit hardest by climate change.

At the same time, we look to who is continually being held up as the thought leaders on climate and what the solutions are. In the U.S., it’s often a very small group of white men. They will never represent the full spectrum of perspectives on solutions. Different perspectives determine what scientific questions are even being researched. So understanding the problem and its impact, and understanding what solutions are going to be most effective, really requires that we diversify the field. Women being left out means we’re losing half of the brain power of the planet.

e360: You write about climate leadership that is both feminine and feminist.

Johnson: Despite all the barriers that sexism has created, there are so many incredible women doing critical work. When we think about the youth climate movement and the climate strikes, the leaders of that are teenage girls. It’s not driven by ego. They are repeating what’s working from country to country. They’re learning from each other. There’s been an amazing community and network that’s been created. It’s so beautiful to imagine what could happen if we thought more in terms of relationships and community as opposed to technological solutions and single leaders. And if we thought about the roles we can each best play in solving a problem that could not be more fully an “all hands on deck” situation.

The way society suppresses men’s expression of emotion is really hard, because we’re dealing with a very scary existential threat. When I read scientific reports and read the news about climate, I’m often brought to tears by these terrifying projections of the future. We need to be able to have an emotionally intelligent response, as opposed to shutting down the fear and grief and rage.


CSIS again caught flouting the rule of law

The spy service’s unofficial motto: Lie, deny, then act surprised

Photo: Chris Yang

Late last week, the director of Canada’s spy agency made me laugh, long and hard.

David Vigneault said something that every other Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) director (save one) has said after it’s been revealed — inside or outside a courtroom — the spies who ultimately report to the country’s chief spy have a corrosive habit of treating the rule of law like a disposable dishrag.

Vigneault was obliged to dish out the service’s standard PR gruel after Federal Court Justice Patrick Gleeson found that CSIS has “a cavalier institutional approach” to the rule of law.

“Having approved operations that were on their face illegal, the service then collected information which in turn was put before this court in support of warrant applications, without notifying the court of the likely illegality,” Justice Glesson wrote.

Translation: CSIS broke the law and didn’t tell outsiders, including a federal court judge it’s required, by law, to tell when it’s apparently breaking the law.

A succession of CSIS directors and most CSIS officers know they are untouchable… They are above the law and they know it.

Vigneault’s pat reply: He takes Justice Gleeson’s blunt, scathing indictment of CSIS’s illegal modus operandi “very seriously” and, cross his heart, he’s going to give all naughty CSIS officers a stern lecture so that everyone belatedly and “fully understands our obligations to the court.”

That’s when I chortled.

I wrote a 368-page exposé in 2002 that detailed how top CSIS officials not only permitted their spies to treat the rule of law like a disposable dishrag for a long time, but condoned it and protected all those anonymous, rule-of-law-skirting spies for a long time, too.

Alarmed CSIS officers helped me tell the truth about CSIS.

I interviewed several CSIS officers and a veteran, deeply embedded “off-the-book” agent who witnessed and participated in, respectively, the lawbreaking first-hand.

A number of spies I met were so appalled by what their colleagues were up to in the name of national security that they quit in disgust, knowing if they divulged what they saw or, in some cases, were asked by superiors to do, they would be tarred as troublemakers and ejected from the service. So they jumped before they were dumped.

Another former officer I spoke to on the record was, himself, the victim of CSIS’s lawbreaking. CSIS, he discovered, had illegally obtained his medical and psychological records. He complained to then federal privacy commissioner, Bruce Phillips, who investigated and found, in a five-page ruling in 2000, that CSIS had indeed broken the law.

Phillips, a tough, savvy ex-journalist, told the ex-communicated officer that he could take some solace in knowing that the ruling “may” prevent CSIS from breaking the law in the future. He wrote: “Unfortunately, my findings do not change the fact that another individual was made aware of your personal information. You may, however, find some satisfaction in knowing that as a result of your complaint, others may be spared from having their privacy invaded.”

Phillips was wrong. Clearly, his “findings” didn’t prevent CSIS from continuing to break the law. No one in power has or will — Liberals or Conservatives.

A succession of CSIS directors and most CSIS officers know they are untouchable, that they will never be held to account by the minister they ostensibly report to, at any time. They are above the law and they know it.

Instead, they appear to subscribe to the spy service’s unofficial motto: Lie, deny, then act surprised.

Vigneault is just the latest CSIS director to act surprised.

I had another long laugh when Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he was going to ensure that CSIS finally does its secret work “in a manner that is compliant with the law.” Sure, it will.

Still, Vigneault and his boss, Blair, would do well to remember the fate of CSIS’s first director, Ted Finn.

Finn abruptly resigned as a matter of principle shortly after taking the post when it was disclosed that CSIS had used false information to obtain a warrant to wiretap a suspected Sikh terrorist following the 1985 Air India bombing. (Sound familiar?)

Anyone at CSIS who was aware of, or involved in, the systemic lawbreaking Justice Glesson describes should follow Finn’s honourable footsteps, or shown the exit door, if not promptly be charged.

Who am I kidding? That’s not going to happen to Canada’s untouchable spies.



‘Catastrophic’ increase in Arctic wave heights predicted due to melting sea ice

More open water means bigger waves — which spells trouble for communities like Tuktoyaktuk, already faced with an eroding coastline due to permafrost thaw and the battering Beaufort Sea, new research shows

Noella Cockney is hit by a wave as she tries to document the state of the shoreline just below her house during a storm in August 2019. In March of this year, all waterfront homes on The Point in Tuktoyaktuk were moved away from the eroding coast. Photo: Weronika Murray

Waves that are projected to get much larger by the end of the century in the Arctic could be “catastrophic” to the hamlet of Tuktoyaktuk, according to the community’s mayor.

The Inuvialuit community of about 900 people in the Northwest Territories has been losing ground to the battering Beaufort Sea for decades. The hamlet has been forced to relocate houses on The Point, a peninsula jutting off the coast, as the shore crept closer and closer to residents’ doors.

Tuktoyaktuk has installed boulder walls, material coverings called “rip-rap” and cement slabs along the coast to try to prevent erosion, but another factor is working against them: permafrost thaw. Between the thawing frozen ground and crashing waves, the coastline in the area is eroding by an average of up to two metres per year — and much more in some areas.

And it could get worse.

New research published this month in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans shows that maximum wave heights across the Arctic Ocean, which encompasses the Beaufort Sea, could be upward of six metres higher on average within this century, leading to even more erosion and flooding.

Along the Beaufort coast, wave heights could increase by two to three times, putting them in the range of one to four metres high by the end of the century, said Mercè Casas-Prat, the lead author of the study and researcher with Environment and Climate Change Canada’s research division.

“This is a pressing issue as it affects many Arctic coastal communities, as well as existing and emerging Arctic infrastructure and activities, with some of them having already suffered severe wave-induced damage in the past years,” the report said.

“Potentially hazardous extreme wave events are projected to become significantly more frequent and more intense.”



Youth parliament raises voice for children’s rights

Roman Wolfli has been working with Children First Canada for several years already, and attended a summit in Ottawa in 2017 that led to the creation of a Canadian Children’s Charter. Photo: Supplied

Roman Wolfli wants to raise the voices of those too young to vote so they can still be heard by politicians, and the 13-year-old from Calgary is working hard to make that happen.

He was one of three young MCs for last month’s inaugural session of the Young Canadians’ Parliament, where around 75 young people from across the country got together in small groups to discuss mental health and how to handle the pandemic before presenting their ideas to federal MPs, including Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen.

Wolfli drips charm when asked if he is considering a career in politics.

“Right now, my goal is just to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up,” he said. “What I do later, we’ll see. I’m not sure.”

The parliament is a government-backed effort to help children learn about their specific rights (as defined by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and to advocate on their own behalf about decisions that affect them.

Eleven-year-old Camila King of Toronto shared her group’s thoughts on the COVID-19 crisis with Families, Children and Social Development Minister Ahmed Hussen. Photo supplied

Camila King from Toronto also attended the virtual event and was selected to share her breakout group’s ideas with the minister.


“I was worried at first. It was kind of scary because I kept thinking, ‘What if I mess up?’ But I pushed that away and said, ‘It’s important for kids to be heard and I should do this,’” the 11-year old said.

King said her own ideas about how to make life more bearable for kids during the pandemic included installing hand sanitizing stations in playgrounds and providing kid-sized gloves, and teaching younger kids how to make space bubbles to maintain social distance.

There’s no minimum age for involvement in the youth parliament — the first session had an eight-year-old participant — but no one 18 or older is invited.

“Younger children who have strong opinions and want to be engaged were being excluded from important decisions that affect them,” said Sara Austin, the executive director of Children First Canada, whose youth ambassadors and advisory council helped design and develop the concept and lead its execution.

A youth parliament run by @children1stca is giving civically engaged children who are too young to vote a way to speak directly to the politicians whose decisions affect their lives.


Wolfli has been working with Children First Canada for several years already, invited to attend a summit in Ottawa in late 2017 that led to the creation of a Canadian Children’s Charter a year later.

Mental health a focus

He’s particularly concerned about the mental health struggles of youth and said he hoped hearing directly from children would give politicians the impetus to take action that would lower youth suicide rates.

“When a child tells you what they’ve seen in their community or what they know to be true, that is such a powerful and important tool in achieving change in these fields,” Wolfli told National Observer this week.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for children and youth, Children First Canada says, and Canada is ranked in the top five countries for the highest child suicide rates globally.

Wolfli said youth mental health challenges stem from a broad variety of other societal issues that can be tackled.

“It speaks to a sense, and, of course, I can’t speak to what actually mental illness is like, but from my perspective, it speaks to a sense of hopelessness,” he said. “There are so many issues; so much food insecurity and poverty and abuse, and bullying. Bullying is a big one.”

“It’s a testament to how serious the other problems are and how serious they are in combination,” he said.

An hour after our video interview, Wolfli was due to jump on a training call to learn how to facilitate the parliament’s second session, which is taking place Thursday and will focus on the environment — in both the larger biosphere sense and the more personal version.

The group plans to hold a national virtual forum every month in the lead-up to National Child Day on Nov. 20, with topics to include the need for a national children’s commissioner, inequity, the top 10 threats to childhood in Canada, and anti-Black racism.

Austin from Children First Canada said the plan for the parliament had been in the works well before the pandemic, but that funding from Canadian Heritage was expedited to develop the online version.

The parliament delivered a long list of recommendations to the politicians who attended the first session, which also included health minister Patty Hajdu’s parliamentary secretary and MPs from the NDP and Conservatives.

Hussen’s office said his focus during the first session was on the importance of youth leadership and how to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The important feedback from the group ensures how our government can provide and ensure children have the best mental and physical support they need,” spokesperson Jessica Eritou said.


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


Trans Mountain losing insurer as Zurich to drop coverage: Report

Construction on the Burnaby Terminal continues as Trans Mountain prepares to install 14 new storage tanks. Photo: Trans Mountain

Zurich Insurance Group has decided not to renew coverage of the Trans Mountain pipeline, according to a media report.

The news comes roughly a year after the large Swiss insurance company declared it would reject companies that operate “purpose-built” transportation infrastructure for oilsands products, including pipelines.

The Trans Mountain pipeline, owned and operated by a federal Canadian Crown corporation and its subsidiaries, transports a heavy tar-like substance called bitumen and other petroleum products from Alberta’s oilpatch to a terminal in Metro Vancouver.

In late June 2019, Zurich said it would not underwrite or invest in firms that “generate at least 30 per cent of their revenue directly from the extraction of oil from oilsands,” and pledged to align itself with the Paris climate agreement.

Reuters reported Wednesday that Zurich will not renew coverage of Trans Mountain, citing a spokesperson for the project.

The news report quoted Trans Mountain as stating that it had the insurance it needs for both its existing operation and for the expansion project it is building to nearly triple its capacity up to 890,000 barrels per day.

“There remains adequate capacity in the market to meet Trans Mountain’s insurance needs and our renewal,” the spokesperson told Reuters.

Construction on the Trans Mountain expansion project is continuing throughout the summer, and began along the British Columbia portion last month.

The Reuters report marks the second time in less than a month that the pipeline has been the subject of a news report suggesting it has lost an investor.

On June 30, environmental group said it had confirmation that German insurer Talanx would no longer back the project. said Talanx had added oilsands to its list of “exclusion criteria for both investments and underwriting.”

Zurich Insurance Group has decided not to renew coverage of the Trans Mountain pipeline, according to a media report.

The financial sector is under scrutiny over its efforts to address the climate crisis and its implications for the economy.

Last year, the federal regulator, the Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions (OSFI), asked all insurers to develop an approach for “making the transition to fewer carbon-linked assets.”

Legal analysis has shown that directors of Canadian corporations are currently obligated to act on the risks posed by climate change, even if they don’t personally believe in the science.

Research has also shown that pricing in the implications of the Paris Agreement on the market could see a shift in oil and gas asset valuations that, if sufficiently large, could trigger a cascading effect that would impact financial institutions, including insurance companies.

Trans Mountain has survived a long series of legal challenges in Canada brought by environmental, Indigenous, youth and other groups concerned over the pipeline’s impact on drinking water or wildlife, the risk of an oil spill, and the implications of building fossil fuel infrastructure during a climate emergency.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has approved the pipeline twice, the first time in November 2016 — a decision that was quashed by the Federal Court of Appeal in August 2018 after the court found the government failed in its legal duty to consult First Nations.

The government then approved it again in June 2019 after renewed consultations. A Federal Court of Appeal ruling found the government’s second attempt at consulting was “genuine.” This month, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal from First Nations over that ruling.

The Supreme Court also dismissed a separate appeal in January that would have allowed the B.C. government to regulate heavy oil flowing through its territory, and said in March it wouldn’t hear another challenge from Youth Stop TMX, a group concerned about the “right to a healthy future.”

On June 13, a spill at the Sumas Pump Station in Abbotsford released up to 190,000 litres of crude oil, according to an initial estimate. The chief of Sumas First Nation called for an independent investigation because the spill was near a significant burial ground.

In a statement issued July 20, Trans Mountain said it was continuing with its clean-up and restoration efforts at the site of the oil spill and that “crews continue to work around the clock” excavating the oil from the area.

It said it was undertaking “its own investigation into the incident,” as well as co-operating with the Transportation Safety Board, and that its water-monitoring data showed “there is no harm to area drinking water.”


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

Ford disagrees after auditor general finds Bill 197 was ‘not compliant’ with law

Ontario Premier Doug Ford, pictured in 2018, said he disagrees with auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, who says two portions of Bill 197 were not compliant with environmental law. File photo by Alex Tétreault

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he doesn’t agree with the province’s auditor general that his government was “not compliant” with the law by passing major environmental changes without public consultation.

The government passed Bill 197 on Tuesday, an act that would alter 20 existing laws and make pivotal changes to environmental law. Under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights, the government must consult the public about environment-related legislation before passing it.

Auditor general Bonnie Lysyk flagged concerns to the government Friday, saying two portions of Bill 197 were not compliant with the Environmental Bill of Rights, Canada’s National Observer previously reported.

“I’m going to have to respectfully disagree,” Ford said Wednesday, when asked about Lysyk’s finding at his daily COVID-19 briefing.

Ontario NDP environment critic Ian Arthur fired back on Twitter: “You can respectfully disagree with a law all you want. But it’s still a law,” he said.

The auditor general is an independent watchdog role, mainly tasked with keeping an eye on provincial finances. Last year, however, the Ford government dissolved the office of the environmental commissioner and moved that role under the auditor general’s purview.

Ford has said Bill 197 is aimed at speeding up key infrastructure projects to help Ontario recover from the economic hit it has taken due to COVID-19.

The legislation means the government will now decide which projects get environmental assessments, rather than reviewing most public sector projects by default. It also streamlines assessments for projects that do need them, and removes a mechanism that allows the public to ask for a full review of a project.

The government is working on more regulations to decide on a list of which projects should get assessments, and to define what the streamlined assessments will look like — the government has said it will still review projects with a moderate or high impact on the environment.

“We will make sure that the legislation respects the fact that we have to keep the environment safe while moving forward with important economic activity,” government house leader Paul Calandra said at Wednesday’s briefing.

Bill 197 also expands the government’s power to override the normal land planning process and potential opposition to projects through ministerial zoning orders (or MZOs).

Ontario’s auditor general has said the government was not compliant with the law when it passed Bill 197 without consulting the public on environmental changes. “I’m going to have to respectfully disagree,” Premier Doug Ford said in response. #onpoli

The bill was opposed during debate by the NDP, Ontario Liberals and Green Party of Ontario.

The government laid out the changes to environmental assessments in a discussion paper last year and held consultations about its plans. But it did not consult the public on the final version of the rewrite — the government included a measure to exempt that part of the bill from public consultation requirements under the Environmental Bill of Rights — or on the changes to MZOs.

Lysyk previously told National Observer that the government exempting itself from a law retroactively would be “precedent-setting.”

Ford and Calandra didn’t directly address Lysyk’s concerns Wednesday, but Calandra said the bill allows the government to do “continued consultation.”

“This is an important piece of legislation which will modernize the Environmental Assessment Act after some 50 years,” he added.


Canada court rules ‘Safe Third Country’ pact with U.S. invalid, cites detention risk

Neglected by the federal government and facing an influx of claimants, the refugee system is leaving thousands in a brutally long holding pattern that’s only growing longer  Photograph by Roger Lemoyne

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) – A Canadian court on Wednesday ruled invalid a bilateral pact that compels asylum seekers trying to enter Canada via the American border to first seek sanctuary in the United States, saying U.S. immigration detention violates their human rights.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA), asylum seekers who arrive at a formal Canada-U.S. border crossing going in either direction are turned back and told to apply for asylum in the first country they arrived in.

Lawyers for refugees who had been turned away at the Canadian border challenged the pact, saying the United States does not qualify as a “safe” country under President Donald Trump.

Federal Court Judge Ann Marie McDonald ruled that the agreement was in violation of a section of Canada’s Charter of Rights that says laws or state actions that interfere with life, liberty and security must conform to the principles of fundamental justice.

McDonald suspended her decision for six months to give Parliament a chance to respond. The agreement remains in place during that time.

Experts have said suspending the agreement would have huge implications for the Canada-U.S. relationship.

“We are aware of the Federal Court’s decision and are currently reviewing it,” said Mary-Liz Power, a spokeswoman for Public Safety Minister Bill Blair, who oversees Canada’s border agency. “The Safe Third Country Agreement remains in effect.”

The ruling can be appealed to the Federal Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court if necessary. The U.S. Departments of Homeland Security and State did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Nedira Jemal Mustefa, among the refugees turned back and on whose behalf a challenge was launched, described her time in solitary confinement in the United States as “a terrifying, isolating and psychologically traumatic experience,” according to the court ruling.

“Canada cannot turn a blind eye to the consequences that befell Ms. Mustefa in its efforts to adhere to the STCA. The evidence clearly demonstrates that those returned to the U.S. by Canadian officials are detained as a penalty,” the judge wrote in her decision.

Mustefa, an Ethiopian now in New York City, told Reuters she was relieved. “At the end of the day, we are all humans,” she said. “No one deserves to be mistreated in such a way.”

Amnesty International Canada, one of the groups that launched the legal challenge against the STCA, hailed the “landmark decision.”


More than 50,000 people have illegally crossed the Canada-U.S. border to file refugee claims over the past four years, walking over ditches and on empty roads along the world’s longest undefended border.

Canada has sought to stem the tide of asylum seekers who flowed into the country starting in 2016, after Trump promised to crack down on illegal immigration.

Canada has closed its border with the United States to non-essential travel because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In March, it said it would no longer accept irregular migrants trying to cross the border and would instead return them to U.S. authorities, who have said they will swiftly deport them back to their home countries.

The Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers said Canada should revisit that decision, given Wednesday’s ruling, and also revoke a 2019 rule that makes individuals ineligible for Canadian asylum if they had already filed for asylum in the United States.


(Reporting by David Ljunggren and Steve Scherer in Ottawa and Moira Warburton in Toronto; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney)

Canada high court dismisses Indigenous appeal of pipeline

The court dismissed the appeal from the Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the Ts’elxweyeqw Tribes and Coldwater Indian Band, effectively ending the yearslong legal battle over the project

TORONTO: The Supreme Court of Canada on Thursday dismissed an appeal from British Columbia First Nations against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion that would nearly triple the flow of oil from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific Coast

The court dismissed the appeal from the Squamish Nation, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, the Ts’elxweyeqw Tribes and Coldwater Indian Band, effectively ending the yearslong legal battle over the project.

The pipeline would end at a terminal outside Vancouver, resulting in a sevenfold increase in the number of tankers in the shared waters between Canada and Washington state.

Some First Nations successfully halted federal approval of the project in 2018 when the Federal Court of Appeal said Ottawa had failed to properly consult affected First Nations, which argued that the project would damage their lands and waters.

But in February the same court dismissed another challenge by the same groups against the government’s June 2019 decision to approve the project a second time after another round of Indigenous consultation.

As usuall, the Supreme Court gave no reasons for Thursday’s ruling.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government approved Trans Mountain in 2016 and was so determined to see it built that it bought the pipeline.

It still faces stiff environmental opposition from British Columbia’s provincial government but construction is underway. Natural Resource Minister Seamus O’Regan said consultations will continue as construction continues.

“To those who are disappointed with today’s SCC decision – we see and hear you,” O’Regan said in a statement. “The Government of Canada is committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous people and understands that consultations on major projects have a critical role in building that renewed relationship.”

The pipeline would allow Canada to diversify oil markets and vastly increase exports to Asia, where it could command a higher price. About 99 percent of Canada’s exports now go to refiners in the U.S., where limits on pipeline and refinery capacity mean Canadian oil sells at a discount.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney called the dismissal another “legal vindication” for the pipeline, which was first proposed eight years ago but has been delayed by numerous legal challenges. He said 120 of 129 First Nations affected by the pipeline either approve or do not object to it.

The First Nations behind the appeal, however, said they were disappointed but not surprised by the outcome, and vowed to fight on.

“What I can tell you today is that this is not the end of our story,” said Tsleil-Waututh Nation Chief Leah George-Wilson, at an online news conference.


Sex Workers Treated as Criminals, and Left Without Support, During COVID-19

The Trudeau government hasn’t yet acted on promised changes to protect their labour rights.


The red umbrella is a symbol used by sex worker activists to draw attention to the work conditions and human rights of people in the sexual service industry. Photo via Shutterstock.

Paid sexual labour is a form of employment that most people generally don’t think about. From street workers to escorts to exotic masseuses, jobs in the sexual services industry have been disrupted during the coronavirus pandemic — that is, if they wish to keep themselves safe.

These workers have little in the way of job security. Most are unable to receive federal income relief and many have to continue working despite the risks. During the current pandemic, what happens to people whose job requires physical intimacy?

Most sex workers do not qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit because they cannot prove they have earned at least $5,000 in the past year. Due to federal criminal laws around prostitution, even those who can provide such proof are afraid to apply and draw the attention of the authorities via their CERB application and/or the 2020 tax filing requirement.

Since sex workers typically are either self-employed or work as independent contractors, they are also not able to benefit from the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. There is no “employee” classification legally available for workers because the employee-employer relationships for this industry violates the “Material Benefit Offence” (Section 286) of the Criminal Code. As a result, workers do not qualify for the rights and protections typically afforded to workers categorized as employees.

The exclusions for COVID-19 assistance are an echo of the charter rights violations that the Supreme Court found in Canada vs. Bedford (2013). Before Dec. 6, 2014, the exchange of sexual services for money or other forms of compensation between two consenting adults was legal. The Criminal Code of Canada, however, made it very difficult for workers to conduct business without running into conflict with the law. In 2013, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that three sections of the Criminal Code pertaining to prostitution violated the charter rights of workers.

To address the Supreme Court ruling, in 2014 the Harper government introduced Bill C-36. The new legislation targeted customers, making it illegal to purchase sexual services for money. Although selling sexual services remains legal, workers cannot advertise their services, nor can they communicate with customers regarding their services in a public place.

Instead of enhancing workers’ rights and safety, Bill C-36 effectively criminalizes prostitution, frames all sex work as exploitative and all workers as victims of trafficking. In my research team’s earlier work, we found that this framing enhances the stigma tied to the industry, making it harder for adult workers to have the legitimacy of their labour recognized. In addition, it increases the dangers workers may experience and makes it harder for them to protect themselves while on the job.

Criminal laws tied to the sex industry also affect the financial security of workers. Under most circumstances, there can be a legitimating effect resulting from government recognition of forms of labour, via filing taxes and holding municipal licenses, to name a few options. However, to avoid coming to the attention of authorities and the associated risks (for example, surveillance, arrest, fines, jail time, lawyer bills), sex workers are less likely to file taxes, which means they cannot benefit from employment insurance, the Canada or Quebec Pension Plan, and now federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Even before COVID-19, research showed the harmful impact of sex work policies like Bill C-36 that criminalizes customers. As I noted elsewhere, “The way to judge the justness of a state and its policies is by looking at how the most marginalized members of society are treated.” Despite a campaign pledge to reform Bill C-36, the Trudeau government has yet to act.

As the economy begins reopening, the federal government is putting an emphasis on plans that protect workers, customers and the greater community from the spread of the virus. But how this applies to sex industry workers is unclear.

Unlike the B.C. government, which provided COVID-19 work guidelines for sex workers in May 2020, there are no federal government work or return-to-work guidelines for this industry. Instead sex workers are left to fend for themselves or turn to local organizations and advocacy groups for assistance. Once again, people working in the sex industry are at the end of the list of government priorities.

In a country whose populace values science-based policy, we need to engage in policy development that can better protect sex workers, combating marginalization and stigmatization and improving the overall occupational health and safety of those working in the industry. Similar to New Zealand, orienting sex work policy around harm reduction and labour rights will enable us as a country to better address the needs and rights of workers.

The short-sightenedness of Bill C-36 and a failure to enact promised change by the Trudeau government is more apparent now than ever. By fulfilling their campaign promise to this labour sector, the federal Liberals could deliver protection for people working in the sex industry, broadening the forms of labour protected by federal law. In doing so, people working in the sex industry will have their labour rights protected and will be less likely to fall through the cracks, especially when government assistance is so urgently needed.


Jacqueline Lewis Yesterday  is an associate professor of sociology at the University of Windsor.

The Conversation