Anti-masking groups draw from anti-vaccination playbook to spread misinformation

Downplaying dangers of COVID-19, taking research out of context are common strategies, experts say

A woman holds a sign at an anti-mask rally in Toronto on July 25. Messages decrying both mandatory masks and vaccines are common at such protests. Canadian public health officials have never suggested that it would be mandatory to be immunized against COVID-19 if a vaccine was successfully developed. (Michael Cole/CBC)

As more regions across the country adopt mandatory masking policies in an effort to minimize the spread of COVID-19, some anti-masking groups are joining forces with anti-vaccination proponents and adopting their techniques to spread misinformation and amplify their message.

The similarities between organized anti-masking and anti-vaccine movements are striking, said Maya Goldenberg, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph specializing in vaccine hesitancy.

At least one anti-masking group, Hugs Over Masks, actively partners with Vaccine Choice Canada, one of the country’s most prominent anti-vaccination organizations.

Vladislav Sobolev, the anti-masking group’s founder, has repeatedly praised the anti-vaccination group on social media and during protests.

Sobolev also told CBC News that high-profile U.S. anti-vaccination advocate Sherri Tenpenny, an osteopath who wrote Saying No To Vaccines, is providing online leadership training to his group.

Tenpenny, along with other anti-vaccination advocates in the U.S. and Canada, have embraced the anti-masking cause and opposed COVID-19 lockdown measures.

As people have emerged from COVID-19 isolation in their homes, the city of Toronto has implemented mandatory masking policies for indoor spaces, including stores, where physical distancing is difficult. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

 

Many Canadians who don’t want to wear masks aren’t opposed to vaccines, but the fact that anti-vaccination groups are involved in the relatively new anti-masking movement of concern to many health experts.

Despite well-established evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, anti-vaccination groups have become savvy at spreading misinformation that leads people to distrust medical guidance — which can have dire consequences during a pandemic.

‘Harmful outcomes’ 

“It disturbs me when I see people acting on information that I’m quite sure is not only incorrect, but potentially misleading and potentially leading to harmful outcomes,” said Dr. Matthew Oughton, an infectious disease specialist at McGill University.

As a practising physician at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, Oughton has seen first-hand the toll COVID-19 takes. Close to 9,000 people — largely seniors and people with underlying medical conditions — have died in Canada from the virus.

Some organized anti-masking groups in Canada are borrowing tactics used by anti-vaccination organizations as they spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. 2:06

Although scientists are continuing to learn about the novel coronavirus, it appears that people with COVID-19 can be most infectious before they show any symptoms, Oughton said.

That’s different from many other viruses, including the first version of SARS. It’s a key reason why it’s important for people to wear masks — even if they feel perfectly healthy — when physical distancing isn’t possible to prevent transmission, medical experts say.

Mistrust of health authorities fuels misinformation 

Mistrust of government and scientific authorities are key characteristics among both anti-vaccination and anti-masking advocates, Goldenberg said.

“When you don’t trust the sort of basic infrastructure that’s supposed to support public well being, you’re going to come up with all kinds of tactics to try to resist it,” she told CBC News.

Those tactics include the “downplaying of how bad the infectious disease is,” Goldenberg said.

Mistrust of government and scientific authorities is a key characteristic among both anti-vaccination and anti-masking advocates, says Maya Goldenberg, a University of Guelph expert in vaccine hesitancy. (Submitted by University of Guelph)

 

Before COVID-19, anti-vaccination groups were making false claims that measles  — a serious, vaccine-preventable disease  — wasn’t a major threat.  A consequence of that misinformation was an increase in vaccine hesitancy, leading to a resurgence of measles cases in Canada, where it had been declared eliminated in the late 1990s.

Similarly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, anti-vaccination and anti-masking groups have claimed that coronavirus isn’t any more dangerous than other diseases, such as the flu. This is part of an effort to falsely convince people that public health measures to stop the spread of infection —  from the development of a vaccine to physical distancing and wearing a mask — are unnecessary.

Many social media posts from both anti-masking and anti-vaccination groups call the pandemic a conspiracy, citing beliefs that it’s been manufactured to give governments the ability to monitor people through contact tracing and to promote a vaccine agenda. Both groups often target Bill Gates, whose foundation has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to support immunizations globally.

When asked if Hugs Over Masks opposes vaccination, Sobolev did not answer directly.

“The right for an individual to have the choice on any medical intervention set forth by the public health departments is especially important when there are undeniable and inherent risks associated with the intervention in question,” he said in an emailed response. “Health Freedom is not something that should be even in question.”

The group actively defies public health guidance during rallies, where people are encouraged to bring their children, reject physical distancing and not wear masks, saying that they refuse to adopt the “new normal” of life during the pandemic.  Anti-masking rallies in Toronto appear to attract anywhere from a couple of dozen to around 150 people.

Sobolev said his group consider COVID-19 a “scamdemic,” arguing Canada’s hospitals would have been filled to capacity with COVID-19 patients if it were real.

As the CBC’s Lorenda Reddekopp explains, anti-mask groups in Toronto are now making their own cards to avoid wearing face coverings in public places. 1:51

When CBC News suggested that the success of the public health measures his group was protesting were a reason more people didn’t become critically ill, Sobolev said he didn’t trust the numbers. He said people should look at South Dakota, which didn’t have a state-imposed lockdown.

The claim that South Dakota had the lowest coronavirus infection rate in the U.S. is not accurate, according to a recent Reuters fact-check, but misinformation about the state’s infection rates continues to circulate on social media. 

Lawsuit alleges vaccine conspiracy

Vaccine Choice Canada, along with several individual plaintiffs, filed a statement of claim at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice this month against public health and political leaders in several municipalities, as well the province of Ontario and the federal government, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam and the Queen.

The lawsuit claims COVID-19 public health measures, including lockdowns, physical distancing  and mandatory masking are violations of constitutional rights. It also claims that the pandemic was unnecessarily declared to further “non-medical agendas,” including to establish a “New (Economic) World Order” and a “massive and concentrated push for mandatory vaccines of every human on the planet earth with concurrent electronic surveillance.”

In the same week that COVID-19 cases increased on average by more than 65,000 per day across the United States, President Donald Trump made some key reversals in White House pandemic policy, including guidance on wearing masks. 1:56

Canadian public health officials have never suggested that a coronavirus vaccine, when developed, would be mandatory.

The lawsuit also names the CBC, accusing it of “Stalinist censorship” by “knowingly refusing to cover/or publish the valid and sound criticism of the COVID measures.”

It’s not clear when — or whether — the lawsuit will proceed through the courts.

‘Cherry-picking’ data

Another commonly used tactic by both anti-masking and anti-vaccination organizations is “cherry-picking” research studies that appear to support their viewpoint, but are often outdated or taken out of context, said McGill University’s Dr. Oughton.

For example, anti-masking groups often incorrectly claim that wearing a mask is harmful because it reduces the supply of oxygen and causes people to breathe toxins back into their own body.

That’s misinformation with no basis in fact, Oughton said.

“Surgeons wear these kinds of procedural masks in the operating theatre for, sometimes, hours and hours at a time. The surgeons are not dropping [from lack of oxygen]. They simply aren’t,” he said.

Another piece of false information that anti-maskers have been circulating is the idea that wearing a mask can harm a child’s immune system — a claim Sobolev made to CBC News during a telephone interview.

Those kinds of “alarmist stories” playing into people’s fears about their children’s health are another way anti-vaccine and anti-masking groups try to further their agendas, said Goldenberg, the vaccine hesitancy expert.

Unlike combating vaccine misinformation, where the science has been clear for years, public health experts trying to correct mask misinformation are dealing with some confusion: their recommendations changed over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anti-masking groups have seized upon that inconsistency and frequently cite public health officials from before the mask guidance changed.

Emerging research, changing guidance 

Public health experts say they understand the confusion and how it could foster doubt in the current advice. They emphasize that it’s an example of how quickly they’ve been learning about a new virus.

Back in March when the pandemic was first declared, there wasn’t much scientific evidence to demonstrate mask effectiveness in preventing COVID-19, public health experts say.

Physical distancing was also a new concept. Public health officials worried people would think using masks meant they didn’t have to pay as much attention to staying two metres apart from others.

Since then, more studies have been done, said Dr. Lawrence Loh, medical officer of health for Peel Region, near Toronto.

“The science in respect to COVID-19 has evolved and so has the recommendation around masks,” Loh said. Once scientists learned the virus could be spread by people with no symptoms through respiratory droplets, they began advising the general public to wear non-medical masks when physical distancing isn’t possible, he said.

Many stores now have clear signage indicating that customers must wear masks before entering. Toronto Public Health says people do not have to provide proof of medical exemptions. If people don’t want to wear masks in stores, the health agency says there are alternatives, such as curbside pickup. (Submitted by David Howitt)

 

There are legitimate medical issues — including some mental health or developmental conditions — that preclude some people from wearing masks, said Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s associate medical officer of health.

City bylaws do not require people to provide proof of a medical exemption, Dubey said, but she hopes people will only claim an exemption if it’s legitimate.

People who simply don’t want to wear masks should pursue alternatives to going into stores, she said, such as curbside pickup.

As an emergency physician who regularly wears a mask at work, Dubey recognizes that masks take some getting used to and can feel uncomfortable at first, but she recommends people try different types if that’s the case.

The data is still not clear on how much masks prevent infection for the wearer, public health experts said.

But that’s why it’s important for as many people as possible who can wear masks to do so when physical distancing isn’t possible, Dubey said. The idea is that people protect others — especially those who are vulnerable to critical illness if they become infected — from their own germs given the possibility of asymptomatic transmission.

“I protect you with my mask; and you protect me with your mask.”

Like with hard-core anti-vaccination groups, people who are adamantly against masking “are a loud but typically smaller proportion of the population,” Dubey said.

The key is to combat the misinformation they spread to members of the public who might be “mask-hesitant” — similar to people who are vaccine-hesitant — by providing clear, honest answers to their questions, experts said.

Some people have medical, mental health or communication issues that are legitimate reasons to be exempt from wearing a mask, says Dr. Vinita Dubey, associate medical officer of health for Toronto Public Health. She hopes people will only seek medical exemptions over masks if they truly need them. (Submitted by Keisha Mair/Toronto Public Health)

 

“It’s those who are sitting on the fence who are actually rightly looking for information. We need to reach them and give them the information that they need at the right time,” said Dubey.

“That’s the group that we need to spend most of our energy on,” she said, urging the public to ask health-care providers or public health authorities for information if they have questions.

It’s important for medical professionals to be respectful when people ask those questions — including when they raise concerns based on misinformation, Goldenberg said.

“If there’s one way to get people defensive, it is to disparage them and not to take them seriously.”

SOURCE

Nicole Ireland is a CBC News journalist with a special interest in health and social justice stories. Based in Toronto, she has lived and worked in Thunder Bay, Ont.; Iqaluit, Nunavut; and Beirut, Lebanon.

Earth faces plastic pollution disaster unless we take drastic action

Plastic pollution in Naples, Italy. Salvatore Laporta/KONTROLAB/LightRocket via Getty Images

Plastic pollution is ubiquitous and growing, but knowing the best way to stop it has largely been a guessing game so far. Now, a study has found that if the world undertook every feasible action to cut plastic pollution, we would still only manage to get rid of 78 per cent of it by 2040, compared with a business-as-usual scenario.

This momentous effort would still leave us with an extra 710 million metric tonnes of pollution. Does that make the whole thing hopeless?

No, says Richard Bailey at the University of Oxford, who worked on the study. While a complete ban on plastics is unrealistic, there is still much we can do, he says. “The idea we would sit by and do nothing as this problem doubles on an annual basis – just imagine how much that means cumulatively in the ocean. It’s unimaginable we wouldn’t try to do something.”

Pollution aside, a war on plastic makes financial sense. The team found that its ambitious scenario would be about a fifth cheaper than business-as-usual, as the cost of more waste and recycling facilities would be offset by lower plastic production and selling recycled material.

Yet no single silver bullet, such as mass recycling, is enough. “Before our study, we still had uncertainty about maybe we can recycle our way out of this. What we found was there isn’t a single thing that we can say we can, ‘let’s just do loads of X’. We’ve got to do it all,” says Bailey.

Though it varies by region, the biggest savings at a global level come from curbing plastic use and substituting it for other materials, rather than from better recycling and disposal or from improving mismanagement of waste, though they are essential too. All the approaches and technologies covered by the study exist. “We are not asking for something new to be created,” says Winnie Lau at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington DC, who was part of the research team.

Julian Kirby at Friends of the Earth in London points to existing examples of plastic reduction, such as UK football club Arsenal saving 500,000 cups by switching from single-use cups to reusable ones. He believes approaches that depend on consumer demand, like refillable products, could now scale-up due to changing public attitudes to plastic pollution.

“There is a sense of momentum we’ve got with plastics now that means the Loop system has a chance of working,” says Kirby, referring to the US firm that delivers and takes away reusable containers and has just partnered with Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket.

When it comes to recycling, plastics split roughly into three groups. Bottles are mostly recycled in the UK because it is easy to do and there is an end market for the material. By comparison, pots, tubs and trays are tricky because they are made from so many polymers. Meanwhile, plastic films get contaminated, clog machines and have little end market.

Jacob Hayler at the Environmental Services Association in London says chemical conversion to break polymers down to individual compounds could help with pots, tubs and trays in future, but is too expensive for now. The study’s ambitious scenario assumes that 6 per cent of plastic waste reduction would come from this process, so investment would be required to meet that goal. Hayler says that if policies including the UK’s plastic tax in 2022 are implemented well, that would drive £10 billion’ worth of new recycling facilities in the UK by 2030.

Despite innovations and policy changes, some problems will remain. For instance, Lau says there isn’t yet an obvious fix for microplastics from car tyres, about a third of which were recently found to be ending up in oceans.

The coronavirus pandemic could also prove either a curse or a blessing. Plastic face masks are already turning up in oceans and coffee shops have halted use of reusable cups. “It feels like it’s going to make the problem worst in the short run because of more plastic use and potential for waste,” says Bailey. “The silver lining is it’s an enormous opportunity to change the system, to rebuild things in a different way.”

SOURCE

By Adam Vaughan

Journal reference: Science, DOI: 10.1126/science.aba947

 

 

Fossil fuel giant faces uphill push to build green mega-project: Don Pittis

Pipeline company turns its skills to pumped hydro to create new value from existing power plants

TC Power, the company building Keystone XL, wants to pump water up to a new reservoir on this height of land overlooking Ontario’s Georgian Bay as a way of storing electricity until it is needed. (Don Pittis/CBC)

On the face of it, the scheme sounds like a winner.

Like a kind of arbitrage, it takes inexpensive electricity and turns it into expensive electricity. And it saves billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent building new generating capacity.

Unlike other projects to store cheap electricity and release it during periods of high demand, the current proposal by TC Energy, a company better known to Canadians by its former name TransCanada Corporation, the Keystone pipeline builder, is more than just a green experiment.

Using proven technology, the energy giant wants to leverage its engineering skills to build an enormous reservoir on a hilltop plateau not far from Ontario’s Blue Mountain ski resort and then use cheap overnight electricity to pump water up and out of Lake Huron.

“Regardless of what technology you use, the principle of energy storage is the same,” said Sarah Petrevan, policy director with Clean Energy Canada, a research group at Simon Fraser University that has no association with the TC Energy project.

“You take surplus electricity and you store it because you have extra and you don’t need it, and you can draw on it when you do need it.”

Low carbon storage

In the case of the TC Energy plan, the storage will be in the form of “pumped hydro,” creating the potential energy similar to that of water behind a dam, that can be released to drive turbines, turning the energy back into electricity.

In the process of gradually replacing carbon-producing fuels with renewable energy such as wind turbines and solar panels, energy storage has always been seen as a key element, giving access to power even when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun’s not shining.

As John Mikkelsen, a TC engineer helping to lead the project explained, Ontario’s main problem is too much electricity at the wrong time of day, something pumped hydro can help solve.

“It provides a substantial solution to the surplus baseload generation problem which is when we have excess electricity that the province generates and typically gets exported at our expense or wasted,” said Mikkelsen at a three hour public update last week on progress so far.

The TC Energy project has faced a backlash from some residents near the pumped storage site, forcing the company to modify its plans. (Don Pittis/CBC)

 

Nuclear power is not cheap compared to modern wind and solar, but it is carbon free and dominant, producing nearly 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity today. But unlike natural gas generating plants, there is no practical way to throttle nuclear stations down during periods of lower demand.

While pumped hydro does not actually create new electricity, by storing off-peak energy this project will save the cost of building new power stations equivalent to supplying a million homes, said Mikkelsen, cutting carbon emissions and saving ratepayers $12 billion over the lifespan of the project.

But the concept, simple in principle, faces many obstacles in the real world as Mikkelsen and his team revealed last week. The plan has been substantially modified to satisfy howls of outrage mostly from opponents in the area near Meaford, Ont., where the company hopes to construct the reservoir on Department of National Defence land assembled during the Second World War.

Many of the criticisms and questions at the virtual town hall were of the type that implied the complainers would not have objected if the project were in somebody else’s backyard.

Fears hard to dismiss

“Hi Graeme, nice looking cottage,” said one online question directed at the session’s moderator, Graeme Burt, whose Zoom background showed a soaring wooden ceiling. “Is it located immediately below a huge reservoir?”

The smattering of “Say No” lawn signs increase as you get closer to the proposed site.

Inevitably, costs for the project, previously pegged at $3.3 billion will rise as TC promises to mollify critics. Under the revised plan, underground and lake bottom power cables will replace overhead transmission towers. Water inflows and outflows have been changed to avoid stirring up silt and to protect fish. The company now plans to make the turbines and other key components invisible deep underground.

As with opponents of wind turbines, many adversaries use green objections to justify their opposition. Fear of accidents no matter how unlikely are hard to dismiss and some critics will remain unsatisfied if the project goes ahead.

“A plan to build a pumped water storage facility near Meaford needs our attention and opposition as it will impact local ecology and fisheries!” tweeted one opponent last December.

The TC plan locates the reservoir on this sprawling Canadian military base located on a plateau on 80 square kilometres purchased from landowners during the Second World War as a tank training centre. (Don Pittis/CBC)

 

Even if the plan gets the environmental green light from various levels of government, the economics of a project that won’t be completed until 2028 and won’t pay off for decades after that remain uncertain. British Columbia’s Site C and Newfoundland and Labrador’s Muskrat Falls power plants show the difficulty of long-term power planning.

Projections, even over a decade, can go very wrong, said Richard Carlson, an energy policy expert with Pollution Probe, a Toronto-based environmental group, who has no relationship with the TC project.

“Everyone expected electricity demand to increase rapidly and it didn’t,” said Carlson in a phone interview. “It shrunk.”

Now, he said, government energy planners are reexamining their crystal balls, terrified that they won’t be prepared for what comes next. And energy projects take time.

As climate change pushes us to use less natural gas for home and industrial heating, electricity remains the obvious replacement. More electric vehicles should increase demand. By charging overnight, they might eventually perform a similar function to pumped hydro at a lower cost.

Other competing attempts to store electricity as hydrogen, or use compressed air or battery farms remain pricey, experimental or relatively small. With all its experience in previous megaprojects, TC appears to have the engineering skills to pull this one off now.

The electricity market in most of Canada and especially in Ontario is not really a market at all, said Carlson. It’s more of a giant energy authority charged with keeping the lights on so as to keep the economy humming.

Creating new power capacity, especially close to populated regions where it is most needed, is almost always contentious. Power planners and their political masters will have to weigh the TC Energy project not only on its own merits, but against the alternatives.

SOURCE

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Follow Don on Twitter @don_pittis

Revealed: oil giants help fund powerful police groups in top US cities

Investigation portrays fossil fuel industry as common enemy in struggle for racial and environmental justice in America

A Salt Lake City police officer at a protest earlier in July. Police foundations – which provide funds to local police departments – in cities such as Salt Lake are partially funded by corporate names. Photograph: Rick Bowmer/AP

Big corporations accused of driving environmental and health inequalities in black and brown communities through toxic and climate-changing pollution are also funding powerful police groups in major US cities, according to a new investigation.

The investigation by the Public Accountability Initiative, a nonprofit corporate and government accountability research institute, and its research database project LittleSis, details how police foundations in cities such as Seattle, Chicago, Washington, New Orleans and Salt Lake City are partially funded by household names such as Chevron, Shell and Wells Fargo.

Police foundations are industry groups that provide substantial funds to local departments, yet, as nonprofits, avoid much public scrutiny.

The investigation details how firms linked to fossil fuels also sponsor events and galas that celebrate the police, while some have senior staff serving as directors of police foundations.

The report portrays the fossil fuel industry as a common enemy in the struggle for racial and environmental justice. “Many powerful companies that drive environmental injustice are also backers of the same police departments that tyrannize the very communities these corporate actors pollute,” it states.

The report included such companies as:

      • Chevron, a multinational oil and gas company, that is among the world’s top 25 polluters. In the US, it owns two of the worst six benzene-emitting refineries, according to the EPA. Chevron is a corporate sponsor of the New Orleans police and justice foundation, as well as a board member of the Houston police foundation and sponsor of the Houston mounted patrol. It also donates and serves on the board of Salt Lake City police foundation.
      • Shell is one of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the world, and is currently building a huge ethane cracker plant near Pittsburgh, which advocates warn could turn Appalachia into the next so-called Cancer Alley – a corridor of Louisiana refineries, where Shell is also a major polluter. Shell is a “featured partner” of the New Orleans police foundation and a sponsor of the Houston police’s mounted patrol.
      • The nation’s largest oil refining company Marathon Petroleum has long been accused of generating pollution that disproportionately affects the health of black and brown communities. Its refinery in Detroit has received 15 violations from the state environmental regulator since 2013. Marathon’s security coordinator is on the board of the Detroit police foundation, and sponsors numerous events.

Carroll Muffett, the president of the Center for International Environmental Law, said: “This report sheds a harsh light on the ways police violence and systemic racism intersect with the climate crisis.”

A spokeswoman for Chevron said the firm is a “good neighbor” wherever it operates. “Across the world, Chevron invests millions of dollars and thousands of volunteer hours on numerous programs and partnerships, helping communities improve their lives, achieve their aspirations and meet their full potential.”

Marathon Petroleum said: “It is our privilege to satisfy the [Detroit] community’s direct requests for more local neighborhood patrols by first responders, through our own contributions and support for fundraising efforts.”

Shell did not respond to request for comment.

The revelations come as the coronavirus pandemic continues to expose gaping disparities in air pollution, access to clean running water, and rates of chronic medical conditions which have contributed to a disproportionate number of deaths among people of color and Native Americans.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is deploying militarized security forces to cities such as Seattle and Chicago to quell anti-racism protests amid growing public demands to relocate some police funds into environmental, health and social services, to create safer, healthier and racially just communities.

“Black Lives Matter is about environmental justice, economic justice, racial justice, and about stamping out racism in the criminal justice system,” said Robert Bullard, co-chair of the National Black Environmental Justice Network.

“Racism was stamped into America’s DNA. America is segregated, and so is pollution.”

Police foundations play an increasingly important role in local policing. Law-and-order advocates say they have stepped in to fill budget shortfalls and ensure police departments are equipped with state-of-the-art technology and weaponry needed to combat crime in the 21st century.

But critics argue police departments are already overfunded. Nationwide about $100bn is spent on policing each year, and cities hand over 20% to 45% of their general budgets to police departments, according to advocacy group the Center for Popular Democracy Action.

Police foundation money is additional, and this money is much harder to trace since they are not subject to the same transparency rules as public entities such as law enforcement agencies.

Aside from fossil fuel firms, utility companies were also highlighted in the report as playing a dual role as polluters and backers of police foundations.

America’s 100 largest utilities accounted for 80% of measurable air emissions, according to a 2019 report. Low-income African American communities disproportionately suffer health problems such as respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and face a higher risk of death from the fine particulate emissions that come from power plants, according to researchers at the University of Washington and Stanford.

Exelon, a publicly traded energy company headquartered in Chicago, is the nation’s largest utility, and in 2019 agreed to pay $200m over 50 years to settle a lawsuit over pollution in Chesapeake Bay.

According to the report, Exelon is a prolific donor to police foundations where it and its subsidiaries operate, giving to foundations in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Washington.

A spokeswoman for the company said Exelon is the country’s largest producer of carbon-free energy which financially supports programs and organizations targeting diverse communities. “A fraction of our total giving went to police departments through small, safety focused grants for things such as crash investigations, emergency scene safety improvements, K-9 search and rescue operations, and other programs.”

Financial institutions – public-facing banks, insurance companies and asset managers – are also some of the biggest sponsors of police foundations.

Wells Fargo is the second biggest global bank behind fossil fuels, and provided almost $198bn of financing for oil and gas between 2016 and 2019. The bank’s ties to police foundations include two board seats and a sponsorship deal with Charlotte-Mecklenburg. It is also a partner and donor to the Seattle police foundation, a director and sponsor of the Atlanta police foundation, and donates to Salt Lake City’s.

Wells Fargo did not respond to request for comment.

“From policing to financial violence – the road to solving the climate crisis includes addressing connected predatory systems. We support the demand to defund and divest from the police and fossil fuels, and to reinvest in the resilience of people and planet for a just recovery,” said Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, 350.org’s North America director.

SOURCE

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If We Don’t Want Armed Feds Occupying Our Cities, We Must Hit the Streets

Protesters carry painted riot shields during a march on July 25, 2020, in Oakland, California. Demonstrators in Oakland gathered to protest in solidarity with Portland protests. NATASHA MOUSTACHE / GETTY IMAGES

On July 25, Day 58 of the continuous Portland, Oregon, Black Lives Matter protests, thousands of protesters swarmed the Justice Center located in the city’s downtown area. This was a crushing number of people, and they were joined by solidarity marches in other cities. Protesters pushed up against a fence that was raised around the federal buildings and anchored in cement blocks in an attempt to stop demonstrators from getting into the building as they had during previous nights. The vast majority of the crowd were wearing helmets, goggles and gas masks or respirators in anticipation of the violence these federal officers have become famous for using. Some were holding up umbrellas or shields to block the MK-9 pepper spray that the officers had been using against the demonstrators.

The police began firing off teargas canisters into the crowd as protesters shot back fireworks and blew the gas back toward the building with industrial kitchen fans and leaf blowers. Eventually, at 1:15 am, federal officers, in conjunction with the Portland Police, rushed the crowds as protesters breached the fence, blanketing the area with teargas and firing impact munitions that sent hundreds of protesters scrambling through the street of downtown Portland. The violence against protesters only continued to escalate, but they were largely unmoved, regrouping after the attacks only to continue the protests that have drawn international attention.

Nearly two months have come and gone as the Portland protests continue night after night. Starting at the end of May in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the demonstrations have completely altered the city and have set in a permanent protest culture, and demonstrations regularly pop up at different places throughout the city. They eventually all descend on the federal Justice Center in downtown Portland, which is now boarded up like a fortress after nearly 60 days of sustained confrontations.

The Police Have Not Yet Been Defunded

Defunding the police has become the dominant demand from the broad confederations of organizations involved in the protests, and this has become explicit from groups like Rose City Justice, which emerged as a Black-led organization from these initial demonstrations. They are asking for Portland to defund the police department by $50 million each year and divert that to programs that can help the communities that need it.

“I think that Portland is unique in its openness to progressive ideas and I think once it was given the opportunity to open its eyes that people have maybe had the privilege to not face … I don’t think the government has given us any reason to stop getting out there,” says Devin Boss, a founding member of Rose City Justice. Instead of policing as a solution, organizers want to beef up resources for kids in crisis, for people with mental health issues, and to treat the problems that often result in a police call as issues that need social support to be addressed rather than a baton and a gun.

Instead of hearing the demand of $50 million, the city is offering much smaller cuts, closer to $15 million (which would eliminate 84 positions with the Portland Police Bureau) and the elimination of particularly unpopular units such as the Gun Violence Reduction Team (formerly the Gang Enforcement Team) and the Transit Division. These two proposals are still worlds apart for a community set on abolitionism as an ideological principle.

“I think that Portland is a beast of its own, a different type of beast — we have always been a type of peoples who have it in our heart and soul to sustain a movement like this. Also, I think that the cause is so worthy and just that there are so many organizations and individuals who have sprung up as a result just within the last 50 days,” says Nusheen Bakhtiar, another member of Rose City Justice. “They’re all strategizing and organizing and talking and trying to get as creative and powerful that we can, to spread the message and spread the voice. I also think it’s really hard to go away when you have innocent people shot in the face with rubber bullets and tear gas. It makes you want to keep getting out there, doesn’t it?”

The Police Are Openly Brutalizing People

The first few weeks of protest were handled with incredible violence by the Portland Police Bureau, which leveled crowd control munitions and tear gas at protests and journalists alike. This led to lawsuits and injunctions that changed the approach that the police were able to take, but when Donald Trump ordered federal agents into the city, the dynamic became even more hostile.

“It is simple: people are witnessing police brutality firsthand. With the government’s inaction against the coronavirus pandemic, people are [becoming] more aware of the failing system,” says Jeremy Smith, a member of the activist media collective DefendPDX. “I believe the people are starting to realize the joke we call our representative government and learning that it only benefits a select few. Our representatives are silent, and their inactions echo with each ‘non-lethal’ munition fired into a crowd. The people have had enough.”

The purpose of the officers is confusing to many; they move in and out of the space and offer little communication to protesters or press. Instead, they use crowd-control dispersal tools that are known to cause incredible injury. One protester, Donavan LaBella, was hit in the head by munition and ended up in critical condition with a skull fracture, his life permanently altered. Street medics, who are civilians trained to give emergency triage care at protests, are poised around the demonstrations, often having to drag injured people from what feels like a war zone.

“I believe that protesters participating in direct action downtown understand that their role is essential to the movement, even if the specific demands remain unclear. If demonstrations were ineffective in threatening state power, law enforcement wouldn’t respond with tear gas and rubber bullets,” says Gabby Albano, also of the DefendPDX collective. “People continue to fight because of police retaliation. It certainly speaks to the resiliency of the protesters and the gravity of this cause.”

Trump’s War on the Left

A standoff has now begun in Portland as Trump keeps what amounts to federal troops on the streets of the city against the wishes of local officials, maintaining a “law and order” message as he ramps up his campaign. For a party that is built on trumping up the message of “states’ rights,” the Trump administration has decided to forgo the authority of the state and impose something akin to military street authorities.

The officers, and right-wing journalists and politicians have argued that this is an ongoing violent riot, but the reality is that these protests have been largely peaceful. On the evening of July 17, there was no provocation that was visible, and on many nights, the excuse federal agents give for attacking the crowds are that people are throwing empty water bottles or insults at the police. On July 22, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler, who has been heavily denounced by protesters for his apparent unwillingness to stop the police, was hit by teargas and told reporters he saw no provocation and called the federal officers’ behavior “urban warfare.” On July 25, while protesters had increased their militancy and commitment to pushing back on barriers like the fence, these actions amounted to little more than loud protest tactics, yet were met by crushing force. The issue of “protester violence” is largely one of a right-wing construct, taking things like vandalism and defensive strategies and reframing them as aggression. The violence of the federal officers, ranging from sending protesters to the hospital to running “snatch and grab” operations on them without charge, feels like a false equivalency.

While “freedom of speech” is tossed around regularly as a rhetorical tactic, these protests should be a hallmark of the concept, and would be welcome if this was even close to being a functioning democracy. The federal officers stationed in Portland seem determined to treat them as an enemy army, a combination of fear and threat, but it is the federal authorities who are the outside occupying force. The approach is a “shock and awe” combination of military-style attacks whose only function appears to be to frighten the protesters into staying at home. This violates the most basic precepts of how law enforcement is supposed to deal with political demonstrations: their ostensible function is not to intimidate the demonstrators into ending their protected protest activity.

“Maybe there are people who won’t go out because of this intimidation tactic or are looking over their shoulder. The police’s ability to sow paranoia in activist circles is pretty well known. COINTELPRO doesn’t need to actually exist for them to use the specter to scare people,” says Juan Chavez, Northwest regional vice president of the National Lawyers Guild. “The same can be said of federal troopers; they only have to do it a few times to get the point across. That said, people aren’t going to back down, either.”

When a political mercenary like Trump is at the helm, the conventional rules of engagement are being torched. Black Lives Matter protests are vastly unpopular in Trump’s base, and right-wing social media is filled with reactionary demands to tamp down the protests with force. Trump’s decision to use a narrow executive order to keep militarized federal officers in Portland appears as a cynical campaign move, a show to his supporters that he can keep civil unrest under control. This weakens the autonomy of the state, the freedom of protesters to voice opposition without retaliation and the ability of the press to cover the biggest story of the year.

Now Trump is sending officers to Chicago and is promising more to be sent to other liberal cities, owning up to his promise to intervene on Democratic strongholds he has expressed displeasure in. This escalation has been seen by many as connected to the issue of police brutality and the far right usurpation of human rights that is in progress. This is likely the greatest reason why the demonstrations are growing again, because this has become a dire situation where the expansion of state power has to be confronted.

If this siege is allowed to continue in Portland, it will come at the cost of every political freedom that the residents depend on, and will be evidence that the president can use the Department of Homeland Security as a private “secret police” to make political attacks in advance of an election. Without any threat to “homeland security” from protests that rarely surpass a few hundred, this neglects the basic precepts that would justify the use of federal authorities. If Trump is going to treat federal law enforcement as a work-around for establishing veritable martial law in liberal cities he dislikes, then the civil liberties of dissenting voices in the U.S. have been torched.

The opposition filed in courts will likely come to a head in the coming days, but the problem is that these lawsuits still rely on the idea that the courts and the government are neutral. If Trump is using federal mandates to suppress speech and go around procedure, there is no guarantee a favorable ruling will have any profound effect for those being tear gassed on the ground. The only solution is for a movement around the country to stand in solidarity with those in Portland, and to use the same “people power” that Trump finds so threatening. He has armed troops patrolling a U.S. city and if we do not want this to become the standard, we are going to have to hit the streets ourselves. The solidarity actions are starting to pick up steam, and in the adjoining demonstration in Seattle on July 25, police declared a riot and dozens of arrests were made, matching the intensity that has marked Portland’s responses. A reflexive dynamic is emerging, as cities surge in militant street confrontations and Trump sends in federal officers to show that he can take control. This is a self-reinforcing cycle that will guarantee the protests continue to escalate. If anything pushes these protests to a radical direction, it will be the repeated assaults from officers dressed in military fatigues with their weapons of urban warfare. The only option for protesters is to put as much pressure as possible to end these occupations, and with the tensions raised they have the possibility of pushing political concerns with the deployment of federal agents and into the very idea of policing itself. This cauldron may be what is required for an abolitionist politic to take hold and make gains.

The only thing that will determine the course of this situation is whether the protests can continue and bring the situation to a head. The reality is that radical change is determined primarily by social movements, and the people have decided that they are going to stay in the streets rather than accept a new normal of Trump’s military occupation.

Suncor Energy facing seven environmental charges

A Suncor logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 2, 2019. File photo by The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh

Suncor Energy Inc. is facing seven environmental charges for an incident alleged to have occurred two years ago at its refinery in Stratchona county, Alberta.

The Alberta government says in a news release the company faces five charges for contravening a term or condition of an approval relating to the July 2018 incident.

It says the company is also charged with releasing a substance into the environment that may cause an adverse effect and failing to report the release in a timely manner.

The government did not provide detailed allegations about which substance was released or which conditions the company contravened.

Suncor Energy could not immediately be reached for comment.

The company is scheduled to appear in court July 29.

SOURCE

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 26, 2020.

It’s been 10 years since clean water was declared a human right — and there’s still work to be done

Maude Barlow (second from the left) in Nairobi, Kenya, during the April 2007 World Social Social Forum where the right to water was featured. Photo by Anil Naidoo

Ten years ago today, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution affirming that water and sanitation are fundamental human rights “essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life.” Two months later, the UN Human Rights Council clarified that governments have the primary responsibility to deliver these new rights, but called upon member states and international organizations to assist countries of the global South that might have difficulty in fulfilling the new obligations.

This was an historic development in the long search for water justice.

Water was not included in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights because it seemed to be a limitless resource available to all. But the “perfect storm” of global water depletion and destruction, growing poverty and inequality between and within nations, and rising water rates — often the result of the privatization of water services — led to a full-blown human rights crisis by the turn of the 21st century. With billions living without access to clean water and sanitation, the call for water justice was born.

The fight to recognize the human right to water was surprisingly fierce and bitter. It was opposed by the private water utilities and the bottled water industry, the World Bank that was promoting water privatization in developing countries, the World Water Council, and many wealthy countries of the North, including the United States, Great Britain and Canada.

Their opposition reflected a mighty contest about whether water is a commodity or a commons. In adopting this resolution, the nations of the world affirmed that it is not OK to watch your child die of water-borne disease because you cannot pay for clean water. They clarified that water is not just a “need,” but a human right, and that affected communities are demanding justice, not charity. In doing so, the human family took an evolutionary step forward.

Children help to carry an important message. Photo by Ivars Kupsis, the World Council of Churches

There have been real and tangible results. More than four dozen countries have either amended their constitutions or introduced new laws to guarantee the human right to water.

Communities in the global South have used the UN recognition to fight foreign mining or oil companies destroying their water sources. Citing the UN resolution, the city of Delhi now provides 20,000 litres of free water to every household each month. To fulfill its UN obligation, the government of Rwanda has undertaken an ambitious program to provide water and sanitation to its people.

The right to water has been used to challenge water shut-offs from Mumbai, India, to the courts of France and Flint, Mich. The Kalahari Bushmen of Botswana successfully used the UN resolution in court to regain access to their desert water sources that the government had destroyed in an attempt to drive them from their homeland.

To fight water privatization, many towns and cities have become “Blue Communities,” a Canadian initiative that is spreading around the world. Almost 25 million people now live in official Blue Communities that have pledged to protect water as a human right, a public trust and public service and to phase out bottled water on municipal premises and at municipal events. These cities include Montreal, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Paris, Berlin and Brussels.

However, we are in a race against time as humans divert, pollute, over-extract and mismanage the world’s dwindling water supplies. Massive drought is threatening lives and livelihoods around the world. At least 21 major cities in India are due to run out of water in the foreseeable future.

“Last year, almost two million children died from dirty water and poor sanitation. This is a travesty.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a huge spotlight on the water crisis as half the world’s population does not have a place to wash their hands with soap and warm water. As a result, some of the aid money coming from northern countries and the UN is targeted to providing clean water and sanitation to those most in peril. Perhaps this will lead to real change.

Last year, almost two million children died from dirty water and poor sanitation.

This is a travesty. Let us vow to fulfill the pledge taken by the nations of the world 10 years ago. Water is a human right.

SOURCE

RELATED:

Suspending water quality monitoring during pandemic a ‘serious oversight,’ says expert

Environmental law group seeks to stop inquiry into who funds oil critics

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Minister of Energy Sonya Savage respond to the federal approval of the Trans Mountain Pipeline in Edmonton, on Tuesday, June 18, 2019. File photo by The Canadian Press/Amber Bracken

An environmental law group wants a court to suspend the Alberta government’s inquiry into oil and gas industry critics until there’s a decision on whether it’s legal.

The United Conservative government contends foreign interests are bankrolling environmental opposition to Canadian fossil-fuel projects.

In June 2019, It appointed forensic accountant Steve Allan to head a public inquiry.

Ecojustice filed a lawsuit last November that alleged the inquiry is politically motivated, biased and outside provincial jurisdiction.

A hearing that had been scheduled for April was delayed indefinitely because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, the group is seeking an injunction in Court of Queen’s Bench that would force Allan to halt his work until there is a ruling in the lawsuit.

Allan’s report was due July 2, but the government recently extended his deadline by four months and added $1 million to the inquiry’s $2.5-million budget.

“They’re running this process in secret. They’ve added another million dollars. We believe it’s for a predetermined outcome,” Ecojustice executive director Devon Page said in an interview Monday.

“We really were left with no choice, particularly given the court delays as a result of COVID, but to bring an injunction application.”

He said the inquiry has already done harm to environmental charities by distracting them from their missions and forcing them to direct resources toward defending themselves.

“What they want to do is kind of tar and feather the environmental charities,” Page said of the United Conservative government.

An environmental law group wants a court to suspend the Alberta government’s inquiry into oil and gas industry critics until there’s a decision on whether it’s legal.

“Environmental charities in Canada make their revenue from donations, the vast majority of which come from Canadians. So if Kenney could blacken their reputations, he could harm their ability to do what they do.”

Kavi Bal, a spokesman for Energy Minister Sonya Savage, said: “Ecojustice has made it clear that they oppose an inquiry into well-funded foreign campaigns that seek to discredit Alberta and its energy sector.”

The Alberta government is “committed to protecting Canada’s largest economic subsector from attack by foreign opposition, and we will see this inquiry through to it’s completion,” he added.

Page said despite pandemic-related delays in the courts, he’s hopeful the injunction request will be considered “in a matter of weeks.”

SOURCE

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 27, 2020

Fort Albany First Nation calls for repeal of Ford’s omnibus economic recovery bill

Ontario Premier Doug Ford introduced a COVID-19 economic recovery bill earlier this month, and his government passed it last week. A Northern Ontario First Nation is now calling for the bill to be repealed. File photo by Alex Tétreault

The Fort Albany First Nation is calling for the Ontario government to repeal its omnibus economic recovery bill, saying it’s “deeply troubled” by the province’s failure to consult the public.

Fort Albany First Nation is a Mushkegowuk Cree community in northern Ontario, along the western shore of James Bay. It’s located near the Ring of Fire region, which the Progressive Conservative government has said it intends to develop into a mining hub despite opposition from Fort Albany and other Indigenous communities.

Bill 197 included changes to 20 laws, including rewrites that green advocates said would weaken environmental protections.

“We will fight it. How, we do not know yet,” said Fort Albany First Nation Chief Leo Metatawabin in an interview Monday.

“I understand economics is very important. I understand that. People depend on economics to survive. But we need the land to survive as well.”

Premier Doug Ford has said Bill 197 is aimed at helping the province speed up key infrastructure projects, which he says will help Ontario recover economically from the shutdowns caused by COVID-19.

It was passed last week over concerns from Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk, who said the legislation was “not compliant” with public consultation requirements in Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights.

Passing the bill while Fort Albany First Nation is dealing with the impacts of COVID-19 is “taking advantage of the situation,” Metatawabin said. “It’s unjust.”

Lindsay Davidson, a spokesperson for Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, said in a statement that the government has held six webinars in the past two weeks to help Indigenous communities get up to speed about the changes in Bill 197. (She did not provide an answer when asked how many of them took place before the government passed the legislation.)

“Our government is committed to consulting with Indigenous communities prior to making a decision or taking action that could impact existing Aboriginal or treaty rights,” she said.

Fort Albany First Nation is located on the western shore of James Bay, in Northern Ontario. Photo from The Tragically Hip/Flickr

What is Bill 197?

Bill 197 included several significant rewrites of environmental rules.

The Fort Albany First Nation in Northern Ontario is calling for the Ford government to repeal omnibus Bill 197. The nation says it is “deeply troubled” by the province’s failure to consult the public. #onpoli

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

It also allows the province to decide which projects will undergo a full environmental assessment, which helps the government see what the impacts of a proposal could be. The government hasn’t yet outlined what types of projects will fall on that list, but has said it will focus its efforts on proposals that would have a higher impact on the environment.

Bill 197 removed a mechanism that allowed the public to request a full assessment of a project — now, it can only be used for issues involving existing Aboriginal and treaty rights.

The bill also included streamlined assessments for many types of projects. The changes didn’t define what the new streamlined reviews, called class environmental assessments, will look like, but posted several proposals for public feedback online.

The fact that the government left so many details out of the bill is concerning, Fort Albany First Nation said its statement. It’s also difficult for the nation to respond to the multiple proposals that are now open for consultation, the statement said.

“The government is unilaterally introducing major changes with the knowledge that our community is under pressure and constraints due to COVID-19, and that we do not have the resources or capacity to meaningfully engage,” the nation said.

“This is not honourable, and it disrespects our relationship with our territory and our role as a Treaty No. 9 partner.”

Metatawabin said the nation must understand and respond to proposals, often written in very technical language, with very minimal resources. They also need to translate documentation so elders can read and understand them. The nation is also about to undergo an election next month.

The nation also said the Ford government has a pattern of weakening environmental legislation, and that the government sees protections for endangered species and vulnerable ecosystems as “red tape.”

“We have watched this with alarm, as our muskeg homeland in northern Ontario is one of the main targets of this government’s economic agenda, particularly through the Ring of Fire,” the statement said.

“The muskeg is the foundation of our identity and culture. It is also one of the most important and delicate peatland ecosystems in the world, with a critical role in storing carbon that would otherwise accelerate climate change.”

Davidson did not address concerns about how the changes could impact development in the Ring of Fire, but said the bill enables public consultation. The streamlined environmental assessment processes will include consultation measures, she said, and the overall changes would reduce delays for agreements involving Indigenous communities.

“We advised communities that there will be additional opportunities for consultation in the future and have asked for their thoughts on how we can work together so their interests and perspectives can help inform the modernized environmental assessment program,” Davidson said.

“Now that the legislation is passed, the ministry will continue to consult with Indigenous communities as part of our efforts to modernize the environmental assessment program.”

Fort Albany First Nation said the government should repeal Bill 197 and redo its changes to environmental assessments — this time in consultation with Indigenous communities.

“It will alter the well-being of the environment and the land,” Metatawabin said of the bill.

“If you overlook (those things) and if you accelerate climate change, then it’s going to hinder our way of life. Not only us, but also all of the people down south… It’s going to cost lots.”

Why Indigenous communities are taking COVID-19 measures into their own hands

Local responses to pandemic are a necessity to protect people at higher risk of infectious diseases—and a strong assertion of sovereignty, says U of A expert.

Jessica Kolopenuk, a researcher in the U of A’s Faculty of Native Studies, says the public health measures Indigenous communities are taking against the COVID-19 pandemic offer opportunities to strengthen their governance capacities. (Photo: Jordan Cook)

On the Government of Canada’s Indigenous Services web page, the first piece of information about COVID-19 is advice on how to wash your hands if you are under a drinking water advisory.

This highlights the multiple factors that influence Indigenous health outcomes in times of disease, said Jessica Kolopenuk, a researcher in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Native Studies.

“The reality is that the ways pandemics are experienced at local and regional levels are shaped by national and even global forces of power: colonialism and imperialism,” she said.

To understand the impact COVID-19 can have on Indigenous populations, the social, environmental and economic factors that exist simultaneously with disease—and worsen it—need to be taken into account.

Colonial policies have historically contributed to Indigenous peoples being disproportionately affected by outbreaks of disease, said Kolopenuk, who cited policies of starvation in the late 1800s and of assimilation and institutionalization into the 20th century, including residential schools, day schools, prisons, jails, hospitals and sanitoria.

“These different kinds of institutional spaces always combined racial assimilation with cultural assimilation. So, curing the ills of the body required also curing the ills of so-called Indian culture, to use the terminology of the time,” she said.

She said these sites and policies have contributed to shaping the kinds of narratives—that Indigenous peoples are inherently more susceptible to particular diseases and therefore are more constitutionally fragile—that circulate about Indigenous peoples and disease, Kolopenuk said.

“The risk factors of infectious disease are intensified as a result of colonial policies. However, often Indigenous peoples are framed as being the problems themselves, as being more susceptible,” she said.

Underlying health issues such as heart and lung disease and diabetes today, must be understood within the context of colonialism, Kolopenuk said.

“Those historical instances have shaped the health of our communities and populations right now, and they make people more susceptible to the more serious symptoms of this new iteration of a pandemic.”

There are also some immediate issues, said Kolopenuk, such as access to affordable food, clean drinking water and health care, that amplify the impact of COVID-19 on Indigenous populations.

“There are these very basic structural issues that are required for healthy living that are just not there for many Indigenous communities, and that make the situation of the pandemic potentially worse.”

Governance

In response, communities have been making strong assertions of sovereignty to protect themselves, said Kolopenuk.

“Communities in Nunavut are blocking access to gold mine workers. The Haida nation has asked people not to visit their tourist sites. I’ve even seen individuals on reserves posting signs at the end of their driveway that unfortunately their house is not open to visiting. These are different levels of self-determination.”

Kolopenuk also pointed to the development of pandemic responses by individual communities that are both culturally relevant and politically self-determined. For example, she said, the Maori have developed a website that delivers education, information and resources to Maori people in a way that’s relevant for, and designed by, Maori people.

In their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kolopenuk said, Indigenous communities have an opportunity to strengthen their governance capacities.

“Each First Nation, each Métis settlement, each Indigenous community needs to determine their public health plan, and they need to practise it. So if someone in the community tests positive, what are they going to do, who are they going to report to and engage with, how will your community secure testing kits, what lab will do the analysis, how will you work with provincial counterparts,” she said.

“If we’re able to develop those capacities within our own communities, then this will be an opportunity to write a different story about how this is going to impact us as Indigenous peoples.”

SOURCE

By JORDAN MAE COOK