We are all plastic people now, in ways we can’t see – and can no longer ignore

Our global plastics problem has been steadily growing for decades, polluting the planet in obvious ways. Less obvious are the microplastics that we eat and breathe, and the impacts they have on our health. I experimented on myself to find out more

A chemically treated and filtered stool sample from Rick Smith awaits inspection under a microscope at a lab in Rochester, N.Y., this past February. THE GLOBE AND MAIL

For most of us, the COVID-19 pandemic is a terrible disruption to our lives and livelihoods. For the plastics industry, it would seem, it’s an opportunity to be exploited.

With a brazenness that would make even Joe Exotic of Tiger King fame blush, the plastics industry has been using this time of heightened public concern for hygiene to argue that single-use plastics are the healthiest choice. Fashioning itself as a champion of consumer safety and worker rights, the industry has recently persuaded some U.S. cities and states to reverse bans on plastic bags, and has sought to position recyclable shopping bags as germ-ridden biohazards. Their argument isn’t in the slightest bit subtle and can be boiled down to the title of a recent column circulated on one of the industry’s many lobbying websites: “The War on Plastic Makes the Virus Worse.”

Coronavirus or no, the plastics industry is determined to gain ground. When Dustin Hoffman’s character was told in the 1967 classic movie The Graduate that there was “a great future in plastics,” global production of the stuff was a meagre 25 million tonnes a year. Today, that number has risen to about 400 million tonnes per year, and is projected to double again in the next two decades. Amazingly, half of all plastics ever made have been produced in the past 13 years.

If the magnitude of increased plastic production is eye-popping, the resulting mountain of waste is even more so. Nearly one-half of all the plastics produced every year are for single use. Often, as in the case of fast food take-out containers, this use lasts for only a few minutes. In addition, it’s estimated that up to a trillion plastic bags and about half a trillion disposable water bottles are used globally every year, and in the United States alone, an estimated 500 million plastic straws are used each day. Less than 10 per cent of plastics are recycled, meaning the vast majority winds up discarded in landfills or dumped in the environment.

Some people – such as U.S. President Donald Trump, for instance – care little about any of this. The President’s re-election website proudly sells packs of plastic “Trump”-monogrammed straws because “liberal paper straws don’t work.” But a great many other people, thankfully, are indeed concerned. The United Nations recently declared that plastics pollution is the “second-most ominous threat to the global environment, after climate change.”

In February, the Canadian government’s “Draft Science Assessment of Plastic Pollution” stated that there are “growing concerns that plastic pollution may adversely impact the health of the environment and humans.”

The visibility of plastic litter is impossible to ignore. The images are heart-wrenching: sea turtles with discarded plastic straws clogging their noses; whales found dead, their stomachs packed full of plastic grocery bags. Unless we change course, it is estimated the oceans could have more plastic than fish by 2050.

All of this is awful. And, just as much as the planet is, our bodies, too, are a host for countless plastic particles. But whereas the damage done to nature is obvious, it’s less clear what ingesting plastics is doing to us.

What if the biggest problem with plastic is not what we can see, but what we can’t see?

Plastic waste and other garbage piles up on shore in the Costa del Este neighbourhood in Panama City this past June 8, World Oceans Day. About 400 million metric tons of plastic waste is produced globally every year.  LUIS ACOSTA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Waste is reaching some of the most obscure parts of the planet. This 2019 photo shows a baby turtle on a plastic container on Henderson Island, an uninhabited part of the South Pacific’s Pitcairn archipelago. Ocean currents that carry waste from thousands of kilometres away have left it with one of the highest concentrations of plastic pollution on Earth. IAIN MCGREGOR/STUFF/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


The scale of Plast-Ex, one of the premier plastics industry trade fairs held each year at the cavernous Toronto Congress Centre, was something to behold. Perusing the hundreds of exhibitors of plastics processing equipment, packaging and consumer items, the crowd was large and upbeat: Plenty of deals were being done. Noticeably absent, however, was any significant reflection of the roiling debate on plastics pollution occurring outside the exhibit hall. In fact, one of the very few downcast people I spoke with was a salesperson for a company trying to market a new type of non-toxic, plant-based plastic. Apparently, he was having a difficult time getting any uptake.

It was at Plast-Ex that I first met Joe Hruska, the vice-president of sustainability for the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. With a lengthy career that dates back to the creation of the Blue Box, Mr. Hruska is now the industry’s lead for all things environmental. “Yes, we’re very high on plastics,” he said. “Plastics are essential to our health and well-being, not just in Canada but around the world.”

Mr. Hruska’s got a point, of course. It’s certainly true that plastics have made many parts of our lives easier. Plastics make cars and planes lighter. They make building construction more robust. They make IV bags in hospitals functional and they make the laptop computer that I’m writing on at the moment portable enough to bring to my local coffee shop.

As Sherri Mason – a Penn State University professor of chemistry and a leading researcher on plastic pollution – explained to me, one of plastic’s most useful attributes lies at the core of the current challenge. “Plastics are sturdy and extremely resistant to degradation,” she said. “Micro-organisms don’t have a way of breaking the molecular bonds of plastics, which is what you have to do to get any energy out of what you eat.”

So because microbes – the planet’s tiny engines of decomposition – find the stuff distasteful, it turns out that plastic never truly disintegrates. Through the action of sunlight and waves over a long period of time, it just keeps getting shredded into smaller and smaller bits. The result, as scientists are only just beginning to understand, is that much of the plastic in the environment is invisible: Over the past few decades, it’s been rendered into an enormous collection of tiny micro- and nano-sized fragments and fibres.

Although the research is only just beginning, Peter Ross, a widely published marine biologist based in Vancouver, told me bluntly: “It’s safe to say that microplastics are everywhere. They’ve been found at the North Pole, the South Pole, from the highest mountain peaks to the deep trenches of our oceans, from air to water to land, urban environments, agricultural environments, remote environments. And they’re in every species we’ve looked at.”

While many of these microplastics are certainly derived from discarded plastic waste, others come from less obvious sources. Garth Covernton, a researcher at the University of Victoria, used the term “stealth microplastics” to describe their sometimes mysterious and unanticipated origins. “They come from things that we don’t even think about,” he said. For example: “I was using a Sharpie marker to label some samples in the lab, and when I put them under the microscope, I realized that there were all these polyester particles on them that came from the marker itself.”

Another major culprit is the plastic fibres in our clothing: about 60 per cent (and rapidly growing) of current clothing material globally, according to Kelly Drennan, sustainability advocate and founder of Fashion Takes Action. “Like fast food, polyester fast fashion is cheap, disposable and not very good for us,” she explained. Plastic clothing produces an enormous amount of pollution to make. As we wear it, the fibres slough off and wind up in household dust. When we wash it, the fibres get flushed down the drain into nearby lakes, rivers and oceans. By some estimates, it is these fibres that make up most of the microplastic problem.

Microfibres are so prevalent that any research lab working in this area goes to extraordinary lengths to eliminate them lest they contaminate their samples. Chelsea Rochman, a biologist at the University of Toronto, told me that when her students come into the lab, “there’s a breezeway where they need to hang their fleeces, fuzzy scarves and hats, and there’s a rack of cotton lab coats they put on over their clothing.” In addition to this, there’s a HEPA filter inside the lab, and counters and floors are wiped down every day.

When I asked Mr. Hruska from the plastics industry what he thinks about the developing research on microplastics, his answer was clear: “You can’t hold the material accountable.”

“This is a people-behaviour thing,” he said, reflecting the industry’s long-held talking point that if we could all just get better at recycling, there would be no need to talk about more significant changes to current plastic use.

According to the scientists I spoke with for this column, however, it is indeed concerning that the world is marinating in microplastics and we are in desperate need of a better understanding of the situation. Among the many unanswered questions, one looms the largest: Are humans absorbing microplastics, and if so, what are the health implications?

Mr. Smith sips from a plastic water bottle. He’s experimented on himself to see how common pollutants, including microplastics, have ended up in his body. FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL


I’ve been interested in plastics and the chemicals they contain for a long time. Just over a decade ago, Bruce Lourie and I wrote a book called Slow Death by Rubber Duck, which told the story of common pollutants in everyday life. In order to make the story authentic and as engaging as possible, we decided to test our own blood and urine for some of these common toxins. Not satisfied with stopping there, we actually experimented on ourselves, to find out whether the use of certain household products would measurably affect the levels of chemicals – including plasticizing chemicals – in our bodies. For example, we analyzed the extent to which we could increase our levels of bisphenol A (BPA) by handling cash register receipts. (BPA is a common component of certain types of plastics and coatings, and cash register receipts are slathered with high levels of the compound.) Our experiment showed that BPA is easily absorbed through the skin and that our levels of the chemical rose substantially after touching receipts for just a few minutes.

Mr. Lourie and I conducted more than a dozen similar experiments that pointed to worrisome levels of toxins in our and, by extension, most people’s bodies. All of the chemicals we found are a serious health hazard and are being increasingly linked to common human ailments ranging from breast and prostate cancer, to developmental delays in children, to obesity and diabetes. One of the puzzling things that we noticed throughout all of our experimentation is that we could never get our levels of plasticizing chemicals to zero – even though we avoided using certain types of plastics around the house. Could this have been because we all carry measurable amounts of plastic bits in us all the time? If so, they may act as countless microscopic pollution point sources, slowly leaching their chemical ingredients into our bodies over the course of our lives.

I wanted to investigate this question in a direct and personal way. So about a year ago, I started to mull over the possibility of testing my own body for microplastics. To date, the only study showing microplastics in humans was released in September, 2019, and it examined a tiny group – only eight people – none of whom lived outside Europe or Asia. Microplastics were found in all of them.

I started looking for labs that might be interested in collaborating with me on this ground-breaking work, the first time such experimentation would be tried in North America. Through colleagues, I was put in touch with experts Christy Tyler and Nathan Eddingsaas, researchers at the Rochester Institute of Technology. We worked together to design an experiment that would not only test me for microplastics, but also see whether a change in behaviour might affect my personal microplastic load.

From the mesh bag of tea, to ketchup and mustard bottles to a bowl of instant soup, everything Mr. Smith ate on this January night was packaged in some form of plastic.

As he ate the packaged food for several nights, he’d use sterilized glass jars to collect stool samples. Here, Mr. Smith confers with associate professors Nathan Eddingsaas, left, and Christy Tyler, right, as they examine the results at New York state’s Rochester Institute of Technology. PHOTOS: FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL


I’m going to spare you the more graphic details, but let me briefly describe what I did. Over the course of six days in January, I collected a stool sample from myself each day, and each sample was deposited in a jar with a preservative. The first two samples were from days when I was living and eating as I normally do. On the days I took the next four samples, I did a variety of things to try to crank up my ingestion of plastic microparticles to see whether the effects could be measured.

I didn’t do anything outlandish – or even beyond the daily experience of most Canadians. Based on a few recent scientific studies, I engaged in activities that might result in microplastics entering my body. I ate food that had been shrink-wrapped in plastic and cooked it with bottled water (possibly one of the most important sources of microplastics in our daily lives). I heated my meals in plastic containers in the microwave. My coffee was prepared in a Keurig machine (which involves the boiling water being pushed through plastic) and my tea was brewed in microplastic-spewing nylon tea bags.

To add to my potential microplastic load, I chose foods that had recently been shown to contain microplastics such mussels and canned fish. I left my victuals out on my kitchen counter for up to four hours before consuming them. Over the three days of the experiment, I also made sure to wear the new fuzzy black fleece I’d received for Christmas and went out of my way to put on other clothing that was laced with plastic. The reason for all of this? Recent evidence has shown that more airborne microparticles and microfibres from household dust can fall on food than the microplastics contained in the food to begin with.
Dr. Eddingsaas prepares to analyze one of the stool samples. FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Once the Rochester lab received my samples, they set to work. Over the course of several weeks, the organic material in my samples was digested away, the remnants carefully filtered through a tiny sieve and picked through under a microscope. Visible particles were analyzed with a Fourier-transform infrared spectrometer (FTIR), a machine that measures the spectrum of a particle’s infrared absorption and allows researchers to determine what type of plastic it is made of.

When I left Toronto to drive down to Rochester for the big “reveal,” Dr. Tyler and Dr. Eddingsaas and their graduate students hadn’t finished their analysis yet. It was only when I arrived at the lab that they told me the results: The experiment had worked. “We found microplastics in you, and more fibres were observed in the later samples,” Dr. Eddingsaas said as he leaned over his microscope. “The FTIR analysis confirmed that some of them were PET (a common polyester used in clothing), polystyrene and acrylic derivatives.”

Mr. Smith looks through the microscope as chemistry student Olivia Martin observes. FRED LUM/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Looking through the microscope, I saw a considerable amount of material that turned out to be cellulose – the tough cell walls of the plants in my diet that the peroxide couldn’t break down. But mixed in with this whitish material were tiny fibres, a few still retaining their original colour. Based on their shape, these polyester and acrylic microplastics could only have originated from clothing. Did my new black polyester fibres fall from my fleece into the meal I was eating? Maybe. In terms of the polystyrene, this material is common in food packaging, meaning these fragments likely originated from my plastic-infused diet.

The results also demonstrated that over the course of the last four days of the experiment (when I kept increasing my exposure to plastic), the microparticle count in my body also increased, revealing that the amount of plastic used around the house had a direct impact on my body. Given that people’s bodies take in environmental pollutants in similar ways, it’s safe to say that anyone who was near increased levels of plastic would suffer the same effect.

Microscope images of a processed stool sample, as seen under white and black light. The bright objects visible under the black light are plastic particles. Because plastic will fluoresce under black light, this is one technique to detect even the tiniest plastic fibres and fragments. NATHAN EDDINGSAAS


So now we know: I have microplastics in me.

What does that mean for my health? As Dr. Tyler told me: “Although this was a small experiment and focused only on plastics in the ‘micro’ range, the results clearly show that plastic particles from the environment are in the food that we eat and travel through our bodies.

“In many ways,” she said, “this raises many more questions than it answers and more research is needed as soon as possible.”

What scientists already know about the potential health effects of having imbedded plastic particles throughout our bodies is cause for serious concern. A September, 2019, editorial in the American College of Physicians’ Annals of Internal Medicine made clear that particles of a certain size can pass through the gut lining and into our bloodstreams and may deposit themselves in organs that clean and filter our circulatory system – such as the liver, spleen and lymph nodes. Scientists have already shown that ingestion of microplastics by a range of species under lab conditions leads to reduced appetite, energy and reproduction. And plastics contain toxic chemicals such as flame retardants, phthalates and BPA, as well as absorbing toxins – such as pesticides – on their surface. With current calculations of the average human’s yearly ingestion of microplastics being in the hundreds of thousands of particles, and one recent estimate showing that countless tonnes of microplastic particles shower down on us every day in precipitation and dust, that could easily mean a lot of damaging chemical exposure.

As public debates go, the one surrounding plastics has considerable momentum. Unlike climate change, where attitudes are wildly different between conservative and progressive voters, recent polling has shown that support for progress on plastics is high right across the political spectrum. Tim Gray – executive director of Environmental Defence Canada, one of the leading environmental organizations engaged in solving the plastic problem – says he thinks this is because the “issue seems to most people … [to be] eminently solvable.” “It’s dumb as a bag of hammers to be taking virtually all of this high-value material and throwing it in landfills and the environment,” he told me. In addition, he said, people feel like they’ve been sold a bill of goods. “The one thing they’ve been doing that they’ve been told helps the planet – the Blue Box – turns out largely to be useless.”

My guess is that the existing public support for action on plastics is only going to get more turbo-charged by the new microplastics science. As Mr. Lourie, a long-standing Canadian leader in environmental policy and my co-author on Slow Death by Rubber Duck, has observed: “At the end of the day, many people don’t really care about the environment outside of their own lives. What people are really concerned about is what affects them, their families, their kids, their own bodies.” Mr. Lourie says he thinks the plastics debate is now where the discussion around shutting down coal plants in Ontario was in the early 2000s: Everything is about to change. “Once it becomes broadly known that plastics are a threat to human health, that we’re inhaling and swallowing them every day, that they may be wreaking havoc in our bodies, that’s going to be the turning point on the plastics issue globally.”

And if the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates anything, it is how quickly and decisively our society will react when it becomes clear that human health is at risk.


The driver of a jeepney, a style of bus ubiquitous in the Philippines, installs plastic sheets to keep riders apart in Quezon City earlier this month. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased demand for plastic sanitary items like screens, masks and gloves.  ELOISA LOPEZ/REUTERS

A man shreds plastic bags to be made into road pavers at a factory in Thailand’s Chiang Mai province. Thailand introduced a ban on single-use plastic bags at major retailers earlier this year, but plastic use has been even higher than usual due to the pandemic-related surge in home deliveries. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES


The notion of microplastics is so new that it’s currently a favourite storyline in science fiction. During the writing of this column, I happened to be watching the most recent season of the long-running British show Doctor Who with my younger son. In this particular episode, a malevolent strain of alien bacteria invades the Earth and starts consuming birds, people and other creatures with explosive effect. The reason? The bacteria thrive on eating plastic and, like a giant intergalactic dinner bell, the elevated level of microplastics in Earth’s environment and its inhabitants attracts the germs from the other side of the universe.

I asked some of the scientists I spoke with what keeps them up at night about this issue. Their answers were only slightly less dramatic than the Doctor Who episode. Dr. Ross, the marine biologist, wondered whether microplastics may now be a permanent part of our ecosystem. With more familiar types of pollution, he told me, the chemicals eventually settle out into sediments in fresh water and oceans and don’t bother us much again. But microplastics seem to behave differently. “Because they’re buoyant, I’m concerned we may see microplastic fibres float around like a cloud and remain in suspension in the food web and the water column for centuries,” he said.

Phoebe Stapleton, an assistant professor at New Jersey’s Rutgers University, has recently shown that rat mothers are able to pass on to their fetuses microplastic particles that they’ve inhaled. Many of these tiny plastic particles are small enough that, once they’re in an animal’s body, they could pass from the gut or lungs into the bloodstream. From there, we simply don’t know what effect they might have. One horrifying possibility, Dr. Stapleton told me, is they could “get sealed into the brain area.” She explained that there is a window in early fetal development before the brain becomes protected through the creation of the “blood-brain barrier” (a network of cells that shields the brain from any pathogens that may be circulating in our bodies). So if a fetus gets filled up with microparticles from the mother and the blood-brain barrier forms after that, humans and other creatures may be stuck with tiny plastic particles in their heads and bodies that lack the enzymes to break the particles down. Dr. Stapleton and Penn State’s Dr. Mason wonder whether there could be a link here with Alzheimer’s. “Plastics are a great insulating material,” Dr. Mason told me. “Our brains transmit messages through electric impulses that move between one neuron and another. What if there’s a piece of plastic in the way that prevents that transmission from occurring?”

“We’ve been exposed to these particles since before we were born,” she said. “What is the impact of these tiny toxic time capsules?”

At a time in history when the warnings of scientists – about climate change, pandemics and plastics – often go unheeded until it’s too late, we need to make sure that microplastics are the exception to this rule and take the warnings seriously. The plastics industry, of course, is going to fight any changes tooth and nail. In response to the Canadian government’s recent announcement that it was proceeding to declare plastics “toxic” (the first step in regulatory action under our country’s pollution laws), an industry spokesperson fretted that this might “be used as a reason by some campaigners to encourage people to stop using plastics.” This, of course, is exactly what needs to happen. Contrary to the industry’s cynical use of the pandemic to argue that plastics are good for human health, the rapidly developing science points to the opposite conclusion. We’re drowning in the stuff. And it’s time to drain the plastic swamp.

When rock star Pete Townshend sang the lyric “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth,” I’m pretty sure it was meant to be a commentary about class as opposed to environmental destruction. But it was prescient nonetheless. These days, rich and poor, urban and rural, young and old are all surrounded by plastic every day. And the implications are only now becoming clear.

Though I’m one of the first people in the world to find plastic in me, I’m afraid I won’t be the last.


Rick Smith is the executive director of the Broadbent Institute and co-author of Slow Death by Rubber Duck, an examination of toxic chemicals in people.

Black, Indigenous people report misconduct by B.C.’s municipal police forces twice as often as others

Black, Indigenous and Middle Eastern people filed 20 per cent of all complaints with the OPCC

Black, Indigenous and Middle Eastern people are far more likely to report misconduct by municipal police forces than other British Columbians, data released to Black Press Media show.

The Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner (PCC), which oversees 14 police forces including 12 municipal departments, has been collecting information on the race of complainants on a voluntary basis. That information hasn’t previously been released in the body’s annual report, but the OPCC is planning to include it in its next report.

The figures for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which were provided to Black Press Media upon request, show some visible minorities report police misconduct at a much higher rate than would be expected given the make-up of British Columbia and communities policed by forces that report to the OPCC. The forces overseen by the OPCC include police in Central Saanich, Oak Bay, Saanich, Victoria, Abbotsford, Delta, Nelson, New Westminster, Port Moody, Vancouver and West Vancouver, along with Metro Vancouver’s Transit Police, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU), and the Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police Service.

People of Indigenous, Black and Middle Eastern descent all reported police misconduct at significantly higher rate than whites and other minorities. Together those groups account for about 20 per cent of all complaints, but make up less than eight per cent of the population of B.C. and of those communities policed by municipal forces.

Twelve per cent of all complainants to the OPCC identified themselves as Indigenous. In the 2016 census, First Nations comprised less than six per cent of the province’s total population and just over three per cent of the population in places with municipal police forces. That figure includes 6,260 mostly-Indigenous people policed by the Stl’atl’imx Tribal Police Service.

Black people, who comprise just one per cent of the population in B.C. and in communities with municipal police forces, filed four per cent of all complaints in which the race of the complainant was identified.

And those of Middle Eastern background filed a similar number of complaints, despite the 2016 census reporting those of “Arab” background to make up just 0.5 per cent of British Columbia’s population.

Race and ethnicity was volunteered in about 75 per cent of all complaints, but even if all non-respondents were white, Black, Indigenous and Middle Eastern people would still be significantly over-represented among those reporting misconduct.

White people submitted about 55 per cent of complaints in which race was registered. They comprise about 70 per cent of the population in B.C. and about 58 per cent of the population in communities with municipal police forces. (Metro Vancouver’s Transit Police and the CFSEU police areas beyond the borders of municipal forces.)

Black Press Media has requested police-force-level complaint information from the OPCC, but the organization’s media liaison is not available until next week.

Black Press Media has also sought comment from First Nations and civil liberty advocates.


By tolsen@abbynews.com



TNRD wants meeting with premier to talk about Tiny House Warriors

TNRD director Stephen Quinn said members of the Indigenous protest group are creating trouble in Blue River. “This group is in town harassing businesses, they’re harassing people, they’re using foul and racist language, which nobody should have to put up with. There appears to be no negotiation with them,” Quinn said.

Tiny House Warrior group leader Kanahus Manuel, who also goes by the name Amanda Soper. Photograph By FACEBOOK

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District is requesting a meeting with the premier to discuss a two-year protest by the Tiny House Warriors in Blue River.

TNRD Area B (Thompson Headwaters) director Stephen Quinn said the group has occupied the area since the summer of 2018, at which time it moved from park land in Clearwater and onto Crown land near Blue River.

Quinn said members of the group are creating trouble in the small, rural community 2.5 hours north of Kamloops on Highway 5.

“This group is in town harassing businesses, they’re harassing people, they’re using foul and racist language, which nobody should have to put up with,” Quinn told KTW. “There appears to be no negotiation with them.”

The group is asserting what it said is “Secwépemc territorial authority and jurisdiction,” protesting the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project, which includes a planned camp of 500 workers stationed in Blue River during construction.

Camps have been constructed in Clearwater and Valemount, but the Blue River camp has apparently been delayed until 2021, Quinn said. The group has been involved in numerous conflicts and members were responsible for throwing paint on a building and plaza at Thompson Rivers University in December 2018 during a protest at a pipeline project pre-consultation roundtable at the Campus Activity Centre between former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Frank Iacobucci and local Indigenous groups.

KTW reached out to the Tiny House warriors for comment, but has not yet heard back.

On Thursday, Quinn requested the regional district send a “strong” letter to Premier John Horgan and arrange for a small delegation to travel to Victoria to meet Horgan.

Quinn told the TNRD board he thought the premier threw the community under the bus with advice that Blue River residents should call police if issues should arise with the protestors. Last year, Quinn asked the board to meet with provincial Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth, after which Quinn said he noted increased police presence.

Issues, however, persist. Quinn said Mounties, located about an hour’s drive away in Clearwater, have been called multiple times, but protestors remain due to complexity involved in their occupation of Crown land.

“They’ve [Clearwater RCMP] told us they’ve forwarded charges to Crown counsel,” Quinn said. “Nothing happens. We don’t know what happens.”

KTW has calls in to the Clearwater RCMP.

At the end of June, Blue River residents met with the RCMP and area First Nations to discuss the matter and two Kamloops area- First Nations chiefs since called for the Tiny House Warriors to leave its camp and stop activity on Secwépemc land, saying the actions violate Secwépemc laws and customs.

Tk’emlups te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir called for the Tiny House Warriors to stand down, only to be targeted herself on the group’s social media page.

A letter-writing campaign by residents opposed to the protesters has also begun.

In a letter to the TNRD, released in Thursday’s board meeting agenda, Blue River resident Charmaine Schenstead wrote that “aggressive verbal and non-verbal tactics broadcast on social and print media platforms, the ongoing physical intimidation and vocal harassment of residents, local businesses, regional and international visitors has largely been ignored.”

A rally by residents opposed to the Tiny House Warriors is planned for July 25, dubbed a “rally to reclaim the North Thompson Valley.” A press release sent to KTW about the event states the group of protesters is “no longer welcome.”

“The people who rightfully call the valley home — all people — have had enough of the illegitimate protest and their vulgar and divisive methods. It’s time for them to leave,” the release stated.

Quinn told KTW he fears the situation is escalating and may lead to violence.

In April, Clearwater RCMP launched an investigation after a members of the Tiny House Warriors allege they were subjected to a “violent” attack at their encampment.

Tiny House Warrior group leader Kanahus Manuel, who also goes by the name Amanda Soper, said in a statement issued by the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs that she “feared for her life” when four white men allegedly breached a barricade, making their way through the encampment and desecrating a memorial display for murdered and missing Indigenous women.

Manuel, who describes herself as a “land defender,” alleged there was an assault committed and a truck stolen from the encampment was rammed into one of the tiny homes, nearly knocking it off its trailer.

The tiny houses are being constructed by protesters, with the end goal being to place them in the path of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route.

Clearwater RCMP Sgt. Grant Simpson said police are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Quinn pointed to Extinction Rebellion protests in Victoria that resulted in arrests and charges and questioned to the board why Interior British Columbia has been left to fend for itself.

“Is there two kinds of law in Canada?” Quinn asked. “One for rural areas and one for urban areas? This really goes to the heart of rule and law and democracy.”

The board supported Quinn’s request to send a letter and delegation to Horgan in Victoria. Interim CAO Randy Diehl told KTW the next steps involve the TNRD submitting a request to meet with the premier.


— with a file from the Clearwater Times

COVID-19 exposing Canada’s dependency on temporary foreign workers in the agri-food sector

A temporary agricultural worker tends to vegetables at a farm. Photo from Unsplash.

Edible mushrooms are a cash crop for Canada’s agricultural capitalists, and the multimillion-dollar industry is tied to high foreign demand. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the domestic mushroom industry has faced a 30 to 50 percent loss in production that has forced the closure of many farms, and placed the health and status of the majority of the industry’s foreign workers at risk.

Nearly 200,000 tons of mushrooms are produced in Canada annually, according to Statistics Canada. The province of Ontario accounts for half of national mushroom production and growing mushrooms is labour intensive. Given the short amount of time it takes to grow mushrooms, the industry is always harvesting. Fresh mushrooms are harvested daily by around 4,000 farmhands, nearly a quarter of whom are temporary foreign workers with year-round jobs.

On the farm, mushrooms are kept in the dark because they grow that way. The same can be said for migrant workers, who are subject to subpar working and living conditions as harvesting labourers, without knowledge of their rights or the health risks that are supposed to be provided by their employers. Working together in close quarters, picking and packing the product, harvesters are at high risk of infection by COVID-19.

This is what happened to the mushroom workers at the Ravine Mushroom Farm in Vaughan, Ontario, just north of Toronto. In early July, at least 30 mushroom harvesters tested positive for COVID-19, despite the roll out of relaxed measures for the general public, according to York Region Public Health.

The local health agency said, in an online public notice, that it is investigating a “workplace cluster” of cases of the coronavirus at the farm. The workers who tested positive were housed in employee accommodations where physical distancing is being enforced. While 24 of the 30 workers are declared residents of York Region, the agency did not disclose where the other six are from.

Migrants rights advocate Jesson Reyes says this omission is “not a coincidence” as they are being hidden for a reason. In April last year, four Filipino mushroom farm workers in Ontario bravely came out to the public as undocumented workers to tell their fateful stories of being trafficked. Tired of being scared and keeping their situation a secret, the workers filed a civil lawsuit against Ravine Mushroom Farm and a third party recruitment agency (Link4Staff Inc.) for violating the Employment Protection for Foreign Nationals Act. The Justice for Mushroom 4 Campaign was started by workers and activists to demand better protection for migrant workers in the province.

“J4M4 workers testified to working extremely long hours, picking mushrooms while standing on 6-foot platforms (trolleys). The recruitment agency Link4Staff stole thousands of dollars through their wages and also slapped on exorbitant recruitment fees,” said Reyes of Migrants Resource Centre Canada (MRCC). “We must ensure going back to ‘normal’ means meaningful reforms to provincial labour standards and immigration policies centred on workers’ rights and dignity.”

Advocacy groups, like MRCC, have been urging the federal government to implement additional protections for migrant workers, who were particularly vulnerable even before the pandemic. But so far, the federal approach has been mostly reactive.

Annually, Canadian farmers rely on more than 50,000 migrant workers who arrive through the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Program (SAWP) signed as bilateral agreements with Mexico and 11 Caribbean countries decades ago. These “temporary” farm workers comprise about 60 percent of all of Canada’s migrant workers.

SAWP is the “lower skilled” component within the Temporary Foreign Workers Program (TFWP) that requires employers to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment, streaming migrant workers to limited employment options. Migrant farm workers in Ontario are covered by provincial health insurance for as long as they are employed, but the conditions of their employment make access to benefits difficult. They are tied to a specific sector on Canada’s national commodities list for the duration of a specific contract, and they are not permitted to work elsewhere or for another employer. This is characteristic of Canada’s immigration regime.

On the other side of the regime is the International Mobility Program (IMP). Migrant workers who are considered “high skilled” can be hired without the need for a Labour Market Impact Assessment. They are given broader economic, cultural, or other advantages, and reciprocal benefits enjoyed by Canadian citizens and permanent residents. The differential treatment of these migrant workers then feeds a vicious circle that normalizes and entrenches a two-tier labour market.

Amid the pandemic, the federal program’s continued admittance of migrant farm workers to Canada, granting exemptions from the emergency travel ban, demonstrates our capitalist system’s drive for commodity food production instead of “steaming off”—an industry euphemism for destroying mushrooms.

Workers from Mexico account for the largest SAWP participants employed in Canadian farms. Many do not speak English and fewer than half of them have primary school education, according to the Mexican Ministry of Labour. Rounding the top five source countries for the agricultural workers stream are Jamaica, India, Guatemala, and the Philippines.

Meanwhile, migrant workers and their organizations have also spoken out on the need for greater protections and permanent immigration status for all if we are to move towards a more equitable post-COVID economy.

In Ontario, more than 1,100 migrant workers have tested positive for the novel coronavirus, many of them farm workers. Already, three of those infected have died. This negligence, stemming from conditions before the pandemic, has sparked calls for governing bodies to improve workers’ conditions. Employment and Social Development Canada has received 32 complaints regarding the SAWP since March, yet not a single farm has so far been deemed in violation of any key pandemic-related rules.

COVID-19 will continue to disrupt migration and food production for the foreseeable future. Before the end of 2020, an additional 14,000 migrant workers are expected to arrive in Canada—roughly half are destined for Ontario, many of whom come from Mexico.

A Mexican worker on a farm in Leamington, Ontario said that he has faced more pressure to work this season due to the labour shortages caused by migration difficulties and COVID-19 infections among workers. If migrant workers become ill, they are obliged to self-isolate and do not get paid. As agri-business continues to operate on the backs of migrant workers in the southwestern Ontario region, workers themselves are left on their own dealing with an exploitative migration system on top of a global pandemic.

The agriculture industry’s anxious calls to re-open borders demonstrate the value of migrant labour, and what workers are really owed. Moreover, this shows the complicity of Canadian governments in propping up questionable capitalist schemes based upon the exploitation of the migrant underclass.


Ysh Cabana is a writer and community organizer living in Toronto. He is also a member of BAYAN-Canada, alliance of progressive Filipino groups.

Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace Campaign for a Breakup Between Big Tech and Big Oil

Employing disparate tactics, the activist organizations want Amazon, Google and Microsoft to stop helping the fossil fuel industry extract more oil and gas.

An Extinction Rebellion environmental activist mother group protest outside Google UK HQ demanding they stop climate deniers profiting on their platforms on October 16, 2019 in London, England. Credit: Ollie Millington/Getty Images

When Sam Kern started working at Google four years ago, she believed she could drive change as an insider. If she could just “get the ear” of the right executives, Kern thought, she could convince them to move the company in a new direction on climate and sustainability.

But over time, Kern said she realized, powerful moneyed interests made that impossible.

Kern, a user experience engineer, described company leaders as “putting up a wall between the business interests and human interests,” even as they seemed to recognize the severity of the climate crisis, which made conversations with them feel emotionally disconnected.

So Kern turned to more direct activism. After becoming involved with the employee group Googlers for Climate Action, Kern joined thousands of tech workers who walked out of their offices during last September’s global climate strike to demand bold climate commitments from their employers. And she didn’t stop there.

Kern left Google in May and joined the radical climate activist group Extinction Rebellion, which earlier this month launched a digital campaign, bigtechlovesbigoil.com, targeting tech majors Google, Microsoft and Amazon for providing oil and gas companies with cloud computing services, custom artificial intelligence and machine learning tools.

By then, Greenpeace had also launched an effort to stop Amazon, Google and Microsoft from working with Big Oil in ways that help oil and gas companies extract fossil fuels and cause further global warming.

In May, Greenpeace published “Oil in the Cloud,” a report that said the three tech giants had spent years pursuing lucrative deals to supply Chevron, Shell, BP and ExxonMobil with technology to enhance fossil fuel extraction and production. As the paper highlighted, all three tech majors have bold public-facing sustainability commitments, centered around reducing their companies’ carbon footprint and investing in renewable energy.

Elizabeth Jardim, a senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA and the report’s co-author, said she worries that the tech companies could offer the oil and gas industry a lifeline at a time when oil prices have fallen amid the coronavirus pandemic and a growing divestment movement.

“I don’t think these solutions will totally save the oil and gas industry, but they’re certainly helping an industry that should be on the way out to hold on,” said Jardim, who sees the Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion campaigns as complimentary.

Taking different approaches to achieving the shared vision of a Big Tech-Big Oil breakup, Greenpeace is engaging the tech companies in dialogue while Extinction Rebellion attacks them on social media.

Both see a prime opportunity for the cause during a national reckoning on race, climate and Covid-19. With a combination of internal pressure from tech employees and external pressure from public supporters, they hope, a moment for real change might be at hand.

Amazon, Google and Microsoft referred InsideClimate News to past statements and sustainability commitments when asked about their contracts with oil and gas companies.

Google and Amazon declined to comment on the Extinction Rebellion campaign, while Amazon did not respond to requests for comment.

Targeting Enduring Ties Between Tech and Oil

As a global environmental NGO, Greenpeace has a long history of engaging with, and pressuring, tech companies to be more sustainable. Jardim and her colleagues approached tech companies about their contracts with Big Oil, a move that she said led to “an ongoing conversation.”

While writing the report, Jardim said, the majority of contracts she reviewed were for increasing oil and gas production, a discovery she said she found deeply problematic. “Any production enhancements that the cloud companies are offering to oil and gas companies to the end of improving production efficiency is a loss for the climate,” Jardim said. She hopes that tech majors will instead harness their technology “to help scale up renewables.”

She said Greenpeace will continue encouraging tech majors to internally assess their contracts with oil and gas companies, as well as “create continued public pressure” to drop these contracts by activating Greenpeace supporters and garnering media attention.

Jardim also emphasized that low oil demand and prices make the moment more opportune for Big Tech to embrace Greenpeace’s demands. “Why would you invest time, organizational capital, and resources into a sector that’s on its way out?” she asked of tech companies.

Kern, the former Google engineer at Extinction Rebellion, welcomes the sustainability announcements she said the tech companies have made since the September climate strike. But in today’s climate emergency, she said, they’re still “holding back way too much and not moving fast enough.” She praised Greenpeace for highlighting tech’s enduring ties to fossil fuels and said the revelations in its paper had the power to “move minds.”

Kern doesn’t think tech companies will make the connection between their contracts with oil and gas companies, and racial injustice, “unless we start the conversation first.” By building off of momentum around Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion’s digital campaign calls Big Tech and Big Oil’s “destructive love affair” a “bid for reinforcing white supremacy.”

Jardim said that racial justice activists’ recent progress around facial recognition software suggests the possibility that similar pressure can lead tech companies to cut ties with Big Oil.

Amazon and Microsoft announced last month that they would no longer provide facial recognition software to police following calls from Black Lives Matter organizers, who feared the technology could be weaponized against people of color. The companies showed that they are “very vulnerable to what their employees are concerned about,” said Jardim, attributing the policy change in part to employee advocacy in support of Black Lives Matter. Already, several tech employee groups have circulated Extinction Rebellion’s campaign on social media.

In an email to company employees sent shortly before the policy change, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella acknowledged the company’s “responsibility to use our platform and resources intentionally to address systemic inequities in our communities and in society broadly.” More recently, the company unveiled seven new steps on its path to be carbon negative by 2030, including “investing in climate equity and environmental justice.”

Now, climate activists and employees are making the case that such responsibility extends to how Microsoft and its peers relate to businesses driving the unequal effects of climate change.

Google’s ‘Good First Step’ 

Among the three tech majors, only Google has taken action in response to calls for change in the Greenpeace report. A Google spokesperson told OneZero in a statement last month that the company would no longer build custom technology “to facilitate upstream extraction in the oil and gas industry.” A Google spokesperson said that the company is “continuing to see great traction with renewable energy providers, many of whom inherently understand the benefits of the cloud in advancing their goals.”

While Greenpeace has welcomed this commitment “as a good first step,” Jardim said that it was insufficient, noting that Google planned to honor its existing contracts with oil and gas companies. In addition to placing an immediate moratorium on all new machine learning and high-performance computing contracts for oil and gas companies, Greenpeace has called for such existing contracts to end.

Jardim said that she has seen “a movement in the wrong direction” from Amazon, with the company’s web services continuing to support TC Energy, the Canada-based energy company building the Keystone XL Pipeline, which has drawn the ire of environmental activists.

“The energy industry should have access to the same technologies as other industries,” and Amazon will continue providing the industry with cloud services “to make their legacy businesses less carbon intensive,” according to an Amazon position statement.

Striking a similar tone in a written statement following Greenpeace’s report, Microsoft said that it was “encouraged by the growing number of energy sector commitments to transitioning to cleaner energy and lowering carbon emissions, but they can’t do it alone.” The company also said that “technology can accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon future.”

Jardim remains highly skeptical of the idea that Big Tech could push oil and gas companies to transition to more sustainable business models. “Their solutions are not being used to get a company to switch from natural gas production to solar panels,” Jardim said. “That’s a false representation of what’s happening.”

Jason Switzer, executive director of the Alberta Clean Technology Industry Alliance, was more optimistic about the potential for Big Tech to help energy companies evolve. He said he considers the oil and gas sector’s participation integral to achieving a net-zero future.

Since oil and gas will remain a major industry for the foreseeable future under almost any scenario, Switzer said, “The question is really, how are we going to use those commodities?”

He said he sees “opportunities in which the oil and gas sector can play a very positive and indeed, even transformative role in supporting a low carbon transition.”

Switzer said adopting more sophisticated digital technologies could help put the oil and gas sector on a path to reducing its carbon footprint, including by allowing for a kind of “predictive maintenance” in its operations.

Monitoring oil and gas flow through pipelines in real time, and optimizing operational efficiency, he said, can help prevent major incidents like the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 and the Aliso Canyon gas leak of 2015.

Switzer also imagined that Covid-19 could expedite this process, driving “a kind of double down on digitalization and autonomous technologies.”

Geoffrey Cann, an author, speaker and trainer for digital transformation in oil and gas, argued that achieving a less carbon-intensive system required a focus on reducing fossil fuel demand, rather than attacking production. Cann said that making the oil and gas industry more efficient wasn’t “necessarily a bad thing.”

Cann said he would much rather fossil fuel companies devote themselves to “optimizing their existing business model to buy time for the energy transition,” than “simply stop” their operations at a moment lacking clean energy alternatives to meet the scale of the world’s energy demand.

“Let’s set out a long-term roadmap that lets us work our way off of [fossil fuel] products and onto cleaner, more sustainable products,” said Cann, “without putting at risk the societies that we’ve built for the past 100 years.” And if people can “apply the smarts that we’ve got today in Big Tech” to support that process, he said, “that has to be the agenda.”


B.C. rarely inspects hazardous waste handlers despite companies frequently breaking rules

Provincial investigators found companies weren’t fully compliant with regulations 70 per cent of the time in the five years since a digital database of shipments was replaced with paper files shoved in cardboard boxes

B.C. rarely inspects hazardous waste handlers even though the province knows companies routinely break the rules, an investigation by The Narwhal reveals.

The Narwhal has also learned that even when provincial environmental compliance and enforcement staff do check companies, it’s virtually impossible for them to effectively investigate because the government stopped producing a digital database of shipments at the end of 2014 and now stuffs paper documents into cardboard boxes without a filing system.

Provincial investigators  — as well as journalists and members of the public — can no longer easily access information on where companies are picking up and moving hazardous waste such as batteries laden with corrosive acids, dangerous flammable liquids, spent and carcinogenic dry cleaning fluids, biomedical waste from hospitals, lung-destroying asbestos fibres and industrial sludges contaminated with heavy metals and pesticides.

And if anyone outside of the government wants access to that information, they’ll have to pay an exorbitant amount. When The Narwhal requested a complete paper record of the most recent year of hazardous waste shipments, it was told it would have to pay  $125,910 to obtain the documents.

Andrew Gage, a lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law, said the change to a paper-only system is “hugely problematic” from a law enforcement perspective given the “high levels of non-compliance” by companies in an industry that has associations with organized crime.

Toxic waste handlers break the rules 70 per cent of the time

Since the electronic database was scrapped at the end of 2014, the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy has conducted more than 530 inspections of hazardous waste handlers, according to senior public relations officer David Karn. The inspections include companies generating and receiving hazardous waste as well as those transporting the waste.

Without the database, it is hard to put the number of inspections in perspective, but nearly 70,000 shipments were reported in 2014, suggesting only a small fraction are checked.

The companies inspected weren’t in full compliance with provincial hazardous waste regulations 70 per cent of the time.

In 48 per cent of cases, Karn said the infractions were minor in nature and presented a “low risk” to the public. Typical violations included “insufficient” labelling or storage of waste. In such cases, the companies were issued “advisories” to correct business practices.

In the remaining 22 per cent of cases, companies were issued warnings for violating provincial regulations in more serious ways or were subject to more exhaustive investigations.

The Narwhal asked the ministry if it could review documents related to those cases but was told it would have to file freedom of information requests to obtain them, a time-consuming process that can take months and often results in the return of heavily redacted pages.

The ministry did furnish a list, however, of some of the companies that were the subject of more thorough investigations, including Canoe Forest Products, United Concrete & Gravel, Sumas Environmental Services, Bio-Tox Medical Systems and El Cheapo’s Auto Wrecking & Towing.

The list also included Load ’Em Up Contracting, which in 2015 was fined $575 for “knowingly” providing “false information” on the hazardous waste it was shipping.

By using data from the last digitized hazardous waste record, The Narwhal was able to glean some understanding of what Load ’Em Up’s business dealings were in the year prior to receiving its fine.

The record shows that in 2014, the company picked up and trucked nearly 5.5 million litres — plus an additional 500,000 kilograms — of hazardous materials including waste oils and other lubricants, solvents, petroleum distillates, flammable liquids, contaminated soils and various other unidentified “environmentally hazardous substances.” Its clients included forest companies, gas wholesalers, pipeline companies and mining companies. The waste would overflow two Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Gage said handing a fine to a company that knowingly breaks the rules is a ridiculous tool to use in an industry that makes huge amounts of money for handling substances, which, by their very definition, are harmful to human health and the environment.

He said the ministry should levy much stiffer penalties or charge offending companies and take them to court.

Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman declined an interview request.

Loss of digital database makes it difficult for investigators to do their jobs

Under provincial law, companies handling hazardous waste have long been required to fill out paper manifests detailing the type of waste they are handling, where the waste is going and who is shipping and moving it. Copies of those manifests are then sent to the Ministry of Environment. Truck drivers transporting waste are also required to have those manifests with them in the event they are inspected or involved in an accident and there is a spill.

Until the end of 2014, two data entry clerks inputted details from the manifests into the government’s now-defunct database. If provincial investigators later decided to investigate a company, they could turn to the database to see what companies reported handling and crosscheck that against what the companies were actually transporting through spot inspections.

B.C.’s vanishing hazardous waste database

Gage said with the database now a thing of the past, the government has effectively stymied timely and effective enforcement efforts.

“Anyone in law enforcement” knows that readily available data is “absolutely critical” to doing the job, he told The Narwhal.

“If [compliance and enforcement staff] are not able to review it easily, the entire value of all the work that they’re putting these companies through [by requiring them to fill out the manifests] and the entire benefit to the public is entirely undermined. So it’s hugely important.”

Access to information? Please pay $125,910

Late last year, The Narwhal filed a freedom of information request with the Ministry of Environment asking for a complete paper record of the most recent year of hazardous waste shipments. A month after filing the request, the  ministry responded, saying if The Narwhal wanted the record, it would have to pay $125,910. The government previously charged $100 for copies of the electronic dataset.

A letter from the Ministry of Citizens Services accompanied the response to the freedom of information request and explained that the massive bill was due to the volume of manifests. The Narwhal subsequently learned from the Environment Ministry that approximately 300,000 pages of waste manifests are generated each year and are stuffed into roughly 50 boxes with each box filled in the order that the manifests are received.

Barrels of toxic waste at the dump

Hazardous waste handlers in B.C. move a range of toxic materials from lung-destroying asbestos fibres to biomedical waste from hospitals. Photo: Anna Vaczi / Shutterstock

In other words, no member of the public, nor the ministry for that matter, can readily retrieve one, let alone several, specific paper manifests because they are not filed alphabetically by company, waste type, waste generator, waste receiver or waste transporter.

Gage said it’s extremely troubling that information on hazardous waste handlers is so difficult and costly to obtain given the government knows there have been serious violations of hazardous waste laws in the province.

One of the more spectacular of those violations occurred in 2007 in Abbotsford, where a company had stockpiled thousands of rusting barrels of toxic waste, including explosive materials, at a leased warehouse, compelling then-environment minister Barry Penner to declare a state of emergency.

15 years and counting for digital filing option

In a global economy in which companies like Amazon and Shopify keep tabs on the shipment of vast quantities of consumer goods using electronic tracking technology, Gage said it’s baffling that B.C. has gone back to a paper-only system.

Courier companies have used hand-held devices for years to track goods, he points out, and using them to track hazardous waste would be cost effective and would greatly assist provincial compliance and enforcement staff.

“In this electronic age,” Gage said, document filing “should be automated.”

He imagines a system that allows provincial investigators to monitor the movements of hazardous waste in real time. “If there’s an issue with the manifest, then that’s picked up. Like they get an email saying, ‘There appears to be this quantity of hazardous waste that was delivered by this producer two weeks ago and we haven’t confirmation of where it went.’ ”

The ministry has thought about moving to an electronic filing system since at least 2005, but the idea still remains “in the scoping phase” and there are “no set timelines” for when such a system would be in place, the ministry said in response to questions from The Narwhal.

Cowichan Valley MLA Sonia Furstenau, who is running in the leadership race for the provincial Green Party and fought against the dumping of contaminated soils at Shawnigan Lake, called the slow progress toward a robust, timely hazardous waste reporting system inexcusable.

“There should absolutely be transparency when it comes to the movement of hazardous waste in the province and the expectation that there’s compliance with the regulations that exist and that there are consequences for non-compliance,” Furstenau told The Narwhal.

Furstenau called the current system “very worrying,” adding that “the potential impacts of hazardous and contaminated material on groundwater, surface water and air are significant.”

Meanwhile, Ontario has committed to fully moving to an electronic system, which it expects will be up and running by 2022.

Ontario first introduced an electronic filing option in 2002, according to Lindsay Davidson, a public affairs spokesperson at Ontario’s Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. But the option was “ahead of its time,” he said. “Most facilities did not have ready access to electronic tools that would support electronic reporting from locations where waste was picked up.”

Ninety-nine per cent of hazardous waste manifests in Ontario are still filed by paper. But unlike B.C., Ontario continues to pay public servants to input key details from the paper manifests into a provincial database, Davidson said.

Paper system drives up costs, illegal dumping 

Usman Valiante, a senior policy analyst with the consultancy Cardwell Grove, has extensive experience in hazardous waste and waste recycling issues. He told The Narwhal that paper filing is not only archaic but is also dangerous because it creates an environment where companies are more likely to break the rules because of the time and expense involved in paper filing.

Valiante said Ontario’s move toward electronic filing is actually being driven by one of the province’s biggest hazardous waste producers.

“Basically, the chemical industry and the hazardous waste management industry said, ‘This system is so inefficient, it’s driving up costs and in some cases it’s driving illegal dumping,’ ” Valiante said. “It’s all out of self-interest.”

Electronic filing is also more useful to the industry, regulator and general public alike, Valiante said.

“An electronic system allows you to track stuff in real time, whereas a paper system doesn’t allow you any of that. Which is why, you know, Amazon doesn’t use a paper system.”

Ben Parfitt is a Victoria-based journalist and has written on water, energy, forestry and climate issues for many years.

Indigenous leaders call for systemic review of RCMP practices

OTTAWA — Canada’s national police force has a shattered relationship with Indigenous Peoples and must re-examine how it treats individuals, especially those who are homeless or dealing with addiction issues, the head of a national Inuit organization said Thursday.

“I think what we’re seeing is policing through stereotypes,” Natan Obed, the president of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, told MPs on the public safety committee.

“Without a relationship between the RCMP and the community, Inuit aren’t seen as people but we’re seen through all the negative lenses that perhaps the general Canadian society thinks of when they think of Inuit and what it’s like to police Inuit.”

This leads to over-policing and under-policing: excessive use of force in some cases, while Indigenous women are murdered or going missing with little to no police follow-up, he added.

The committee is probing the issue of systemic racism in policing in Canada, following a number of serious and violent incidents between the RCMP and Indigenous Peoples this year, including several in Nunavut.

“What we know paints a distressing picture of the systemic nature of police violence and discrimination against our communities,” Obed said.

“What is clear is that systemic racism and racism itself kills,” he said, calling for action.

Virtually all of the witnesses, including First Nations and Inuit leaders, as well as a number of social policy experts, urged Ottawa to launch an independent, civilian review of RCMP practices as a first step in addressing the problem.

Regional Chief Terry Teegee of the British Columbia Assembly of First Nations said there is an urgent need for less punitive and more restorative options for policing.

He called zero-tolerance policies on use of force, greater use of body cameras and for the federal government to create a national strategic plan for First Nations justice.

“Really what we’re looking for is more restorative justice and more looking towards rehabilitation and alternatives to jails,” Teegee said.

Given the generations of history of distrust between many Indigenous Peoples and the Mounties, the onus is on the force to try to rebuild this relationship, said Aluki Kotierk, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated.

This should include a more trauma-informed and culturally sensitive approach and an attempt to communicate in their traditional languages, Kotierk added.

A number of calls also emerged for more First Nations and Inuit RCMP officers and for longer deployments, particularly in northern communities.

But these ideas could be more challenging to implement, according to some of the experts, as many First Nations and Inuit might wish to travel elsewhere, rather than don the RCMP uniform in their own communities.

“To ask an Indigenous person to train in a colonial form of policing to police their own communities is really to ask them to adopt an internal identity struggle before they even have their first day on the job,” said Robert S. Wright, a social worker and sociologist who also spoke about disproportionate police violence against Black Canadians.

Terry McCaffrey of the Indigenous Police Chiefs of Ontario said culturally responsive policing practised by First Nations police forces has been working well, despite chronic underfunding.

He urged Ottawa to follow through on its promise to designate First Nations policing as an essential service.

“The IPCO services have made the effort to ensure that our policing services align with the values of our community, instead of trying to force our communities to align with conventional policing values,” McCaffrey said.

“Communities want accountability from the police. Indigenous police forces are accountable to our communities and not just when there’s a tragedy.”

As the government moves forward to address public outcry over systemic racism in policing, any reforms or reviews must involve First Nations, Inuit and Metis at the outset to help guide and inform outcomes, the witnesses told the committee.


By Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press