Expect every year to be ‘awful’: Experts weigh how to protect B.C. public from wildfire smoke

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If the last few years are any indication, wildfire smoke is becoming a fact of life in B.C. — and with that comes the inevitable questions about how it’s affecting our health.

As it turns out, the experts still have nearly as many questions as average British Columbians.

On Wednesday, scientists from across North America gathered in Vancouver at a workshop organized by the B.C. Lung Association to share what they’ve learned so far and what they still need to figure out.

One message came out loud and clear — the changing climate means we can expect longer and more severe fire seasons in the future, and we need to do what we can to protect public health.

« We need to go into every wildfire season expecting it to be awful, because if we do that then we’ll be ready for whatever comes at us, » Sarah Henderson, senior scientist at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, told the conference.

Henderson laid out some of the research findings. Living in smoky conditions during the wildfire season might cause lung irritation, trigger asthma and bring increased risk of dying from a stroke or from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

During the record-breaking summers of 2017 and 2018, researchers measured a 40 per cent increase in people needing Ventolin inhalers — commonly used for breathing problems — and an 18.6 per cent increase in doctor visits for asthma, Henderson said.

Millions in additional health care

Those poor health outcomes can impact society in other ways, too. When a group of researchers looked into the health effects of a 2001 wildfire that burned for seven days in Alberta, they estimated that smoke inhalation accounted for an additional $10-$12 million in health care costs.

But the actual contents of wildfire smoke and its effects on humans can vary widely depending on what type of tree or plant matter is burning, if the fire is smouldering or flaming, the weather conditions and distance from the fire.

And we don’t have enough information about how the smoke affects babies in utero, infants, pregnant women, or about the long-term effects of repeated exposure. 

« We know almost nothing about the mental health impacts, beyond anecdotes, » Henderson said.

The long-term effects are particularly concerning when it comes to those who spend their time closest to the source — the firefighters who head out to the front lines every summer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is currently studying a cohort of these men and women, but it’ll take a few more years before data is available, the conference heard.

Researchers are studying the long-term effects of wildfire smoke on firefighters. (Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press)

John Balmes, a professor at the University of California’s School of Public Health, pointed out that firefighters are often exposed to toxic gases that don’t reach the rest of the population, including carbon monoxide. At the same time, they generally don’t wear respirators or masks because the equipment isn’t practical for the job and can even melt onto their faces.

« We actually don’t have an effective way to protect the wildland firefighters, » Balmes said. « We need new technology. »

The overarching message of Wednesday’s meeting was that there’s an urgent need for more research and new strategies for mitigating damage to human health from wildfires.

« We need to change the conversation about smoke. There’s this deep desire for these things to go away and not come back again, » Henderson said.

« But we will have more bad wildfire seasons — we may have worse wildfire seasons. »

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Measures to protect victims’ rights don’t go far enough, federal watchdog says – National

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OTTAWA — The new federal watchdog for victims of crime says rules meant to give victims and their families louder voices in the justice system have fallen short.

The previous Conservative government introduced what it called a victims’ bill of rights almost four years ago that allowed victims of crime to get information about offenders in the corrections system and have their views taken into account when decisions are made about them.


READ MORE:
Cut down on court delays in Canadian justice system by supporting victims of crime: ombudsman

The regime to enforce those rights doesn’t go far enough, says Heidi Illingworth, who late last year became federal ombudsman for victims of crime.

In an interview, Illingworth says she wants to see the regime strengthened to give victims “legally enforceable” rights because “we still are not there yet.”

“To me, it doesn’t go quite far enough,” Illingworth said. “If we’ve given rights in legislation, there has to be a remedy to that right otherwise it’s not an actual right. That’s what the problem is right now, is that there is no way to enforce the rights that have been given to victims.”


READ MORE:
Federal ombudsman calls for changes to fund for parents of murdered, missing children

She used the example of how relatives of Tori Stafford weren’t able to provide their thoughts on transfer decisions for the two people convicted in the eight-year-old’s 2009 murder, finding out only after the killers had been moved.

Terri-Lynne McClintic had been moved to an Indigenous healing lodge, which corrections officials later reversed, and Michael Rafferty from a maximum-security prison to a medium-security facility.

“It’s a second victimization to many folks when they’re dealing with these big systems,” Illingworth said this week. “They’re not able to give input. A decision is made and then they’re informed after the fact.”

WATCH: Stafford says McClintic is out of healing lodge and back in prison






Illingworth plans to launch a special review of the victims’-rights framework to highlight the issue and provide recommendations for the government to consider.

In late September, Illingworth became the third person to hold the post of victims watchdog, after the Liberals took months to fill the position vacated by Sue O’Sullivan, who had held the post for seven years.

Prior to her appointment, Illingworth spent two decades at the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime, having become interested in victim services during her post-secondary studies when she did a placement with a victims agency.


READ MORE:
‘I don’t understand’: Indigenous advocates question why non-Indigenous offenders in healing lodges

Her corner office has the usual pictures of friends and family, but there is also Indigenous art Illingworth brought home after a victims conference nine years ago in the Northwest Territories.

Indigenous people are over-represented in the justice system as both victims and offenders. Illingworth said the artwork reminds her of the need for more holistic services for Aboriginal victims, such as access to elders for traditional treatments, and provide better supports on- and off-reserve.

Those and other victims’ services need more money, she said.

ARCHIVES: Harper unveils victims’ rights bill

Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down a law requiring people convicted of crimes to pay fees for victims services. The surcharges have existed since 1988, but the previous Conservative government removed judges’ authority to waive or lower the fees when they deemed them inappropriate in particular cases.

The Liberals introduced legislation in 2016 to return discretion to judges, but later folded the measure into an omnibus justice bill now before the Senate.

Illingworth is hopeful the bill, C-75, will soon become law, restoring most of the money stream but allowing judges to make exceptions.

“The judge needs to have some discretion, but it’s really, really critical that victims’ services get funded properly and not just after-thought funding. We have groups and communities who don’t have enough,” she said.

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Canada played ‘critical’ role in urging Thailand to protect Saudi woman: Human Rights Watch – National

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Canada helped persuade the Thai government to let a young Saudi woman seek asylum rather than deport her to Saudi Arabia, according to Human Rights Watch.

Rahaf Al-Qunun, 18, was granted temporary access to Thailand on Monday under the protection of the UN refugee agency, which will evaluate her asylum claims.

While the Canadian government has publicly commented on Al-Qunun’s case, Human Rights Watch said Canada “should be proud” of its role in protecting her rights, telling Global News that  faced serious abuses to the point of murder if forcibly returned to Saudi Arabia.

READ MORE: Saudi woman seeking asylum leaves airport, granted temporary admission in Thailand

On Sunday, Al-Qunun told Global News that she was being detained in a hotel room at Bangkok’s international airport as she tried to travel to Australia, where she hoped to seek asylum.

She said she was fleeing her family, who abused her physically and psychologically, at one point locking her in her room for six months after she cut her hair and rebelled against wearing the hijab.

Saudi embassy officials seized her passport and told her she would be put on a plane to Kuwait, where her family members were, on Monday morning, Al-Qunun said.

She said she feared being killed by her family for publicizing her abuse and renouncing Islam.

READ MORE: Saudi woman, 18, detained at Thai airport, fears she will be killed if deported home

However, her pleas for help on social media captured international attention, and Thai officials eventually allowed her to enter Thailand under UN protection.

‘Canada should be proud’

Canada’s stance against human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia sparked a diplomatic spat between the two countries last year, but that didn’t stop the Canadian government from engaging with Thai officials in support of Al-Qunun, according to Human Rights Watch.

Phil Robertson, the NGO’s deputy director for the Asia region, said on Twitter that the Canadian embassy in Thailand was “steadfast and superb at every step of the way.”

Robertson told Global News that Canada played a “critical” role in helping secure Al-Qunun access to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“Ambassador Donica Pottie and her team worked long and hard on both Sunday and Monday to raise their concerns with the Thai government and UN agencies that Rahaf should not be sent back to Saudi Arabia where she would likely face serious abuses and persecution,” he said.

“The advocacy they did, working with other like-minded embassies in Bangkok, was critical in making the case that UNHCR had to be brought in to provide Rahaf with protection. It was a team effort between embassies, human rights and refugee support NGOs, media, and online activists, and Canada should be proud of the central role they played in this victory.”

WATCH: Thailand, UNHCR confer on Saudi teen barricaded in Thai hotel







Global Affairs Canada didn’t disclose any details on the the country’s role in helping Al-Qunun, but said it was following the case closely.

“Canada is very concerned by and watching closely the situation of Ms. Rahaf al-Qunun,” a spokesperson for Global Affairs said in an emailed statement. “We are in close contact with partners about her situation. Canada will always stand up for human rights, very much including women’s rights.”

WATCH: The first 24 hours of the Saudi-Canada tweet feud left Canadians reeling







Al-Qunun’s frantic pleas for help on social media drew sympathy from activists and lawmakers around the world.

In Canada, the Raif Badawi Foundation, run by the wife of jailed Saudi blogger Raif Badawi, said it was urging Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland to take up Al-Qunun’s case.

An Australian senator called on her government to issue Al-Qunun an emergency travel document so she could fly to Australia.

In the U.K., an online petition calling on Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to grant Al-Qunun asylum secured over 72,000 signatures in less than a day.

Al-Qunun’s asylum claim is currently being investigated by the UNCHR, with the agency’s Thailand representative saying it would take several days to process the case and determine next steps.

READ MORE: Saudis helped man escape U.S. justice in hit-and-run killing of Oregon teen, feds believe

Her case has drawn renewed attention to Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, who cannot travel without the permission of a male “guardian.” It’s a rule that rights groups say prevents women from escaping the clutches of abusive families.

The Saudi government has denied Al-Qunun’s claims.

Abdul-Ilah al-Shuaibi, the Saudi ambassador to Thailand, told Saudi state-aligned news outlet Sabq that Al-Qunun has five or six sisters, and that it was difficult to believe that only one of them was abused to the point of fleeing.

He said Saudi officials never confiscated her passport, and denied that Riyadh requested her extradition.

READ MORE: The hurdles Saudi women runaways face when fleeing danger

Al-Qunun’s father is a senior government official in Saudi Arabia, a position that Robertson said would have allowed him near-impunity to treat his family as he pleased.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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In 2019, businesses must protect our trees and focus on gender equality

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Happy New Year.

Well why not leap ahead a week? If UPS can exclaim that National Returns Day, marked by peak package returns, predated Christmas by six days, then let’s get on with it.

Jennifer Wells wishes everyone a 2019 full of gratitude, among other things.
Jennifer Wells wishes everyone a 2019 full of gratitude, among other things.  (LUIS ACOSTA / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

This has not happened before, UPS tells us, because, logically, National Returns Day has heretofore been in January. Duh. Yet the 1.5-million package tally on Dec. 19 has been decreed the zenith of this season’s returns, to be followed by an expected 1.3 million package send-backs on Jan.3. E-commerce retailers have, not surprisingly, become focused on the “returns moment,” meaning that consumers say the ease and swiftness of send-backs is of paramount concern during the festive season.

The joy having thus been sucked from the holiday, let us turn to 2019.

What do I wish for the ahead.

I wish the city’s business leaders would raise their voices in chorus to protect the city’s trees and ravines. Come on, do something majestic.

There’s a business case for this — I’m relying on a report produced by TD Economics a few years back which placed an estimated value of $7 billion on Toronto’s urban forest. It’s one thing to value a commodity, like a storehouse of gold. But there are also the spinoff economic benefits, from wet weather flow reduction (an annual cost saving of $50 million) to pollution abatement (an estimated annual saving of $19 million). The value of carbon stored within the “woody tissues” of the urban forest? (Estimated between $27 million and $37 million.)

The esthetic, cultural and recreational benefits are obvious and impossible to financially quantify

To those more up on this topic than myself, I acknowledge subsequent reports have concluded that TD undervalued Toronto’s urban forest.

What else.

I have a football wish. Bell Media, owners of TSN, should do a deal with the CBC or CTV, I don’t care which, to broadcast the Grey Cup. No Canadian should have to pay for cable in order to watch the big game. Be generous.

Street furniture. The city badly bungled its open-for-tender process years ago. We wanted to look just like Chicago! I recall interviewing representatives from big international companies who promised to do just that. Instead, we went cheap, installed those pale blue clamshell things, which broke, and then installed those black things, with pedals, and then removed the pedals, and now we are often stuck having to push open a disgusting flap in order to dispense with said garbage. In streetside terms, when we put on our business face to the global business community we do it not well. (Ditto, roads.)

I wish that the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act would be amended to better protect workers and retirees. Union leaders fear that federal consultations on this were left too late in the year and may result in little, if any, change. Understandable. If the federal government doesn’t stand up for the workers of Canada, then who?

I wish that business would stop making journalists write about the gender pay gap. Yes, it is their fault.

I wish that business would stop making journalists write about the under-representation of women in the C-suite and on boards of directors. As before.

I wish that Canadian CEOs would take the initiative to align executive pay with that of workers. We have been talking about this for four decades. Ridiculous.

Silly me. I thought the habit of rewarding chief executives for nothing more visionary than cutting jobs would have ended about the time Sunbeam axed Chainsaw Al. That was two decades ago.

I wish Toronto Maple Leafs tickets could be made affordable for those who live in the real world.

I wish I could stay awake past 11.

I wish the city would pay more attention to providing affordable housing for young creative types so the city wouldn’t get, well, boring.

I wish to understand why so many of the city’s roads are in an execrable state.

I wish someone would fix capitalism.

I wish the current provincial government would understand that investing in the city’s most vital asset — our young people — is the best investment they could ever make. They are our prime resource, like trees, and like trees they spin off all sorts of positive economic benefits. What other business would stop investing in its core asset? I wish the current government would attend some remedial courses in being smart.

I wish you all a 2019 full of gratitude.

jenwells@thestar.ca

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In 2019, businesses must protect our trees and focus on gender equality

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Happy New Year.

Well why not leap ahead a week? If UPS can exclaim that National Returns Day, marked by peak package returns, predated Christmas by six days, then let’s get on with it.

Jennifer Wells wishes everyone a 2019 full of gratitude, among other things.
Jennifer Wells wishes everyone a 2019 full of gratitude, among other things.  (LUIS ACOSTA / AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

This has not happened before, UPS tells us, because, logically, National Returns Day has heretofore been in January. Duh. Yet the 1.5-million package tally on Dec. 19 has been decreed the zenith of this season’s returns, to be followed by an expected 1.3 million package send-backs on Jan.3. E-commerce retailers have, not surprisingly, become focused on the “returns moment,” meaning that consumers say the ease and swiftness of send-backs is of paramount concern during the festive season.

The joy having thus been sucked from the holiday, let us turn to 2019.

What do I wish for the ahead.

I wish the city’s business leaders would raise their voices in chorus to protect the city’s trees and ravines. Come on, do something majestic.

There’s a business case for this — I’m relying on a report produced by TD Economics a few years back which placed an estimated value of $7 billion on Toronto’s urban forest. It’s one thing to value a commodity, like a storehouse of gold. But there are also the spinoff economic benefits, from wet weather flow reduction (an annual cost saving of $50 million) to pollution abatement (an estimated annual saving of $19 million). The value of carbon stored within the “woody tissues” of the urban forest? (Estimated between $27 million and $37 million.)

The esthetic, cultural and recreational benefits are obvious and impossible to financially quantify

To those more up on this topic than myself, I acknowledge subsequent reports have concluded that TD undervalued Toronto’s urban forest.

What else.

I have a football wish. Bell Media, owners of TSN, should do a deal with the CBC or CTV, I don’t care which, to broadcast the Grey Cup. No Canadian should have to pay for cable in order to watch the big game. Be generous.

Street furniture. The city badly bungled its open-for-tender process years ago. We wanted to look just like Chicago! I recall interviewing representatives from big international companies who promised to do just that. Instead, we went cheap, installed those pale blue clamshell things, which broke, and then installed those black things, with pedals, and then removed the pedals, and now we are often stuck having to push open a disgusting flap in order to dispense with said garbage. In streetside terms, when we put on our business face to the global business community we do it not well. (Ditto, roads.)

I wish that the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act would be amended to better protect workers and retirees. Union leaders fear that federal consultations on this were left too late in the year and may result in little, if any, change. Understandable. If the federal government doesn’t stand up for the workers of Canada, then who?

I wish that business would stop making journalists write about the gender pay gap. Yes, it is their fault.

I wish that business would stop making journalists write about the under-representation of women in the C-suite and on boards of directors. As before.

I wish that Canadian CEOs would take the initiative to align executive pay with that of workers. We have been talking about this for four decades. Ridiculous.

Silly me. I thought the habit of rewarding chief executives for nothing more visionary than cutting jobs would have ended about the time Sunbeam axed Chainsaw Al. That was two decades ago.

I wish Toronto Maple Leafs tickets could be made affordable for those who live in the real world.

I wish I could stay awake past 11.

I wish the city would pay more attention to providing affordable housing for young creative types so the city wouldn’t get, well, boring.

I wish to understand why so many of the city’s roads are in an execrable state.

I wish someone would fix capitalism.

I wish the current provincial government would understand that investing in the city’s most vital asset — our young people — is the best investment they could ever make. They are our prime resource, like trees, and like trees they spin off all sorts of positive economic benefits. What other business would stop investing in its core asset? I wish the current government would attend some remedial courses in being smart.

I wish you all a 2019 full of gratitude.

jenwells@thestar.ca

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That ‘red tape’ Ford is cutting? It was meant to protect the environment, workers, lives

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Pretty much everyone hates “red tape.” The problem is, we don’t all agree on what it is.

I mean, to me, the phrase calls to mind layers of useless paperwork that must be filled out in triplicate and filed in person to 27 different departments. Pointless administrative hassle. Who isn’t in favour of eliminating that?

But when legislation comes forward promising to slash red tape, it often looks like it’s taking aim at something else. In the case of Bill 66, the “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act” introduced by the provincial government just before it broke for the rest of the year, it strips away regulations that are meant to protect us and our environment, and in some cases to save lives.

The omnibus bill quietly plans to amend dozens of pieces of existing legislation affecting 12 different ministries, all to “cut red tape that’s standing in the way” of “making Ontario competitive again.”

Sounds harmless enough.

Looking closer, that all doesn’t sound so harmless.

Some areas jump out as particularly needing more thought:

Child-care protections: Bill 66 changes the number of babies — children under the age of 2 — that can be cared for by a single adult in an unlicensed home-based daycare from two to three. The existing regulation came into effect in 2015, after children died in unlicensed daycares. Removing barriers to more daycare spots is a worthy goal, but not if it sacrifices the safety of small children.

Environmental and planning protections: The bill would allow municipalities to pass bylaws under the Ford government’s beloved “Open For Business” slogan (literally, they would be called “open for business planning bylaws”) that would exempt developers of commercial or industrial uses such as factories from a whole slew of regulations. Among them are those contained in the Greenbelt Act and the Places to Grow Act, the environmental protection anti-sprawl legislation that Ford famously promised not to touch during the election campaign. Another set of rules it could exempt developers from are those that protect the Great Lakes and other sources of drinking water, including the Clean Water Act, which was brought into force after the Walkerton tragedy that killed seven people and sickened thousands of others through contaminated drinking water. The bill also repeals the Toxics Reduction Act meant to reduce pollution by preventing industrial uses of certain toxic chemicals.

Subscribe to the Star to support reporting and analysis from award-winning columnists like Edward Keenan.

And it allows municipalities passing such bylaws to skip the normal processes of providing public notice and holding hearings before exempting developers from all these laws.

Labour protections: Among other changes weakening employee protections, this bill would exempt municipalities, hospitals, universities and other big public institutions from rules requiring them to use unionized contractors for infrastructure projects. If the government wants to debate the merits of collective bargaining, it can do so, but it shouldn’t sneak big changes to worker protections through on the misleading premise that it is just clearing away red tape.

The provincial government claims to be doing all of this to help create jobs, which is another goal we all like in theory. But in pursuit of that goal, we can’t just throw out the rules meant to protect human lives and the environment that sustains us.

This bill, contrary to its claims, isn’t just addressing administrative runarounds and costly paperwork. It is eliminating or exempting companies from rules that were put in place to save lives — in many cases, after the real threat to human life was made tragically clear. Our children, our drinking water, our labour protections, our environment — these things are too important to be waved away in an omnibus overhaul of regulations. When the legislature comes back in February, this bill requires much debate and revision. Cut the red tape, sure. But don’t cut our safety.

Edward Keenan is a columnist based in Toronto covering urban affairs. Follow him on Twitter: @thekeenanwire

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‘I am superbly worried’: West Coast fishermen await decision on restrictions meant to protect orcas

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A year after the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed off several West Coast sports fishing area to protect orcas, fishermen say they’re worried more closures are on the way along southern Vancouver Island. 

In 2017, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans closed several areas in the Juan de Fuca Strait to commercial and sport fishing between June and October.

The closure was part of the DFO’s efforts to protect a dwindling population of about 74 southern resident killer whales that feed on chinook salmon, which inhabit those waters in that time period.

Ryan Chamberland, president of the Sooke Region Tourism Association and owner of the Vancouver Island Lodge, says more closures would devastate the small fishing villages along the coast.

« Closing us down — ruining towns, everyone losing equity in their assets and properties, is not going to solve an issue, it’s going to create a crisis, » Chamberland said.

« No one wants to lose their houses and jobs and and their way of lifestyle and opportunities to be on the water. »

The concerns of sports fishermen come at a time when some marine mammal experts say the closures might not even help the endangered southern resident killer whale.

Ryan Chamberland, owner of the Vancouver Island Fishing Lodge in Sooke, B.C., fishes mostly for salmon and halibut. (Ryan Chamberland/Facebook)

In November, Ottawa announced it wants to establish new areas of critical habitat off the west coast of Vancouver Island for southern resident killer whales — the Swiftsure Bank in the Juan de Fuca Strait between Vancouver Island and Washington state, and La Perouse Bank off Tofino, B.C. 

The DFO says it has consulted on the the critical habitat areas and it’s still planning what fishing restrictions, if any, may be applied next year. Ottawa says designating the area as a critical habitat would also enable it to restrict other activities like whale watching and marine traffic, which some argue disturbs the orcas.

Chamberland was at the Sport Fishing Institute of British Columbia’s annual conference in Vancouver on Thursday, where he says more potential closures were a hot topic.

According to the institute, sport fishing contributes more than $1 billion to the provincial economy each year. 

« I am superbly worried, » he said. « West Coast communities fully depend on the sport fishing industry. »

Effectiveness in question

Andrew Trites, director of the University of British Columbia’s Marine Mammal Research Unit, was also at the conference.

Trites says there isn’t enough evidence to support the view that banning sport fishing has any impact on the southern resident killer whales. 

« I think the intended goal is is all well and good. But I am a bit concerned that management actions are be being put into place without any attempts to determine whether or not they’re effective, » he said. 

Trites doesn’t deny that the southern resident orcas have a food problem — evidence shows that they are thinner than their cousins, the northern resident killer whales.

But he says the more than 600,000 large chinook salmon estimated in the areas where the southern resident orcas roam should be more than enough to feed them.

Southern resident killer whales are genetically different from northern resident killer whales, which are thriving by comparison. (Valerie Shore/Shorelines Photography)

« The thing is that we tend to look at the food problem as being in our backyard, » he said. 

When they’re not swimming along southern Vancouver Island, Trite says, southern resident killer whales spend the rest of the year along the coast of Oregon and California, where salmon-bearing rivers have been destroyed, dammed or drained.

He says those rivers no longer have enough salmon to feed the killer whales.

There is still some debate about whether marine traffic is blocking the orcas’ access to salmon, Trite says. But the DFO’s restrictions last year didn’t restrict marine traffic — just fishing. 

The DFO’s restrictions around the Juan de Fuca strait last summer didn’t include marine traffic. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)

Worldwide attention

The plight of the whales attracted worldwide attention last summer, after the female orca known as J35 spent 17 days carrying her dead calf as she travelled through West Coast waters.

Only 74 of them remain, and there have not been any documented successful births since 2015. The southern residents are genetically and behaviourally distinct from other killer whales in B.C., and feed primarily on salmon.

Several factors have been attributed to the orcas’ slow demise, including lack of salmon, marine noise and inbreeding.

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Jim Wilson’s resignation announcement was delayed to protect accuser, Ford says

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TRENTON, ONT.—Premier Doug Ford says he didn’t reveal that former cabinet minister Jim Wilson abruptly resigned Friday over sexual misconduct allegations to protect the privacy of the accuser.

Denying NDP accusations of a “cover up” of the true reason for the dramatic departure, Ford said Wednesday that he personally approved a press release stating the veteran legislator was leaving only to seek treatment for alcohol addiction.

He added the accusers are free to “go to the police if they wanted to. They haven’t as of yet. They don’t want to.”

The departure of Kimber was not mentioned in the Wilson press release, which also stated the cabinet minister had gone a step further from resigning his economic development portfolio to quit the Progressive Conservative caucus of which he has been a member since winning his first provincial election in 1990. Wilson will sit as an independent MPP.

That was a red flag for reporters and political insiders that there was likely more to his resignation than troubles with alcohol.

“He was asked to resign,” Ford said of Wilson, noting that if the minister had not quit “he would have been fired immediately” and that his addiction trouble “is a real issue.”

The premier said he won’t reveal the conversation with Wilson but added “he understood…the situation. He understood he needed to leave the party.”

Ford, who was at the air force museum at CFB Trenton to talk about an upcoming program to help members of the military in Ontario, also had stern words for Kimber.

“He lasted about a minute when we found out,” the premier said before referencing both men.

“They’re gone, they’re done. See ya later.”

Ford would not commit to publicly releasing the results of the third-party investigation of the two men and could not provide a time line for how long it would take.

“We’re going to turn over every single stone, talk to every single person and that takes a while.”

Ford stressed he has “zero tolerance” for sexual misconduct in the government and said workers have the right to feel safe in their jobs.

Wilson was the premier’s most experienced minister and Kimber one of Ford’s top advisers.

Sources told the Star that Wilson stepped down from cabinet and caucus after a complaint from a male PC staffer about inappropriate behaviour.

Behind closed doors, cabinet ministers were being assured that was the “public story” while the “real story” was the staffer’s complaint.

Similarly, Kimber, the premier’s executive director of issues management and legislative affairs, left Friday after it emerged that texts of a sexual nature had been sent to female PC staffers in the past.

The allegations against the rising star emerged as he was gaining Ford’s trust. That burgeoning relationship left some rivals feeling threatened, sources told the Star.

However, insiders emphasize it was a coincidence that the departure of Wilson, whose chief of staff is Kimber’s wife, came on the same day as allegations surfaced about the issues manager.

Neither Wilson nor Kimber have returned messages seeking comment.

The minister’s exit triggered a hasty cabinet shuffle Monday, which was held behind closed doors at Queen’s Park early in the morning to avoid media attention.

All six of the shuffled ministers as well as the premier ducked reporters by leaving the swearing-in ceremony at Queen’s Park from a side entrance.

The opposition New Democrats have charged that the Tories are trying to “cover up” the scandals.

“Mr. Ford didn’t tell Ontarians the truth about the departure of his most senior minister, and that’s wrong,” said NDP MPP Sara Singh (Brampton Centre).

Robert Benzie is the Star’s Queen’s Park bureau chief and a reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robertbenzie

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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Pressure increases on Ontario to ban vaping displays to protect teens from addiction

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Pressure increased on the Ontario government to ban displays of vaping gear in convenience stores, where they can be seen by children and teens, as hearings on a bill setting the rules for sales of cannabis and vapour products drew to a close.

The Lung Association and Canadian Cancer Society urged Premier Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservatives to amend Bill 36 to make it clear vaping materials should be kept from public view just as cigarettes have been since 2005 under law.

Allowing the display and advertising of vaping products in thousands of convenience stores across Ontario will lead to increased nicotine addiction among teenagers, health groups warn.
Allowing the display and advertising of vaping products in thousands of convenience stores across Ontario will lead to increased nicotine addiction among teenagers, health groups warn.  (Steven Senne / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS file photo)

“Let’s not go backwards with vaping,” Sarah Butson of the Lung Association told MPPs on the committee, adding the measure is needed to protect youth.

While it’s illegal for retailers to sell tobacco or vaping products to anyone under 19, health groups fear the displays, often featuring candy and fruit flavours to complement the addictive nicotine, are designed to lure kids into the habit.

“We are talking about more than hooking a new generation on a new product, which is vaping, but potentially a new generation of people who smoke,” she added on the last day of public presentations to the committee.

“We know from our lessons in tobacco that the more that we normalize a product, the more that youth is exposed to a product and that it is readily available, the more it increases the curiousity and the more like they are, actually, to start.”

Vaping displays in convenience stores and gas bars were to be banned starting July 1 under regulations passed by the previous Liberal government under the Smoke Free Ontario Act.

Ford’s PCs nixed the change.

Conservative MPP Robin Martin (Eglinton-Lawrence) acknowledged a number of groups have raised similar concerns to the Lung Association about vaping displays.

“We’re trying to make sure that youth are protected,” she said in an exchange with Butson.

“Vaping products have existed for a few years now and in a fairly unregulated way. This is an issue that we’re just coming to grapple with.”

Health Minister Christine Elliott’s office said earlier this month that displays and promotions are fine as long as they comply with federal law.

The Canadian Cancer Society testified that there has been a “stunning increase” in e-cigaratte use by Ontario teens, with surveys showing 10 per cent of teens puff on them — the same rate as teen smoking of cigarettes.

“It cannot be said that retail displays and promotion for e-cigarettes in convenience stores (is) just targeting adult smokers,” said Rob Cunningham, a policy analyst. “There are e-cigarette displays at retail beside the candy and chocolate bars.

“Kids should not be exposed to such promotions.”

With the legalization of recreational cannabis coming next Wednesday, the government hopes to get Bill 36 passed quickly. MPPs will consider amendments to the proposed legislation Monday as it goes to clause-by-clause examination in committee before going to the legislature for a final vote.

On the cannabis portion of the bill, a lobby group called the Consumer Choice Centre warned allowing municipalities to ban private marijuana stores within their boundaries will create “prohibition zones” where the criminal black market will continue to thrive.

“Waiting up to three business days for a package to arrive in the mail, which you have to be physically present to receive, is not accessible enough,” spokesman David Clement said in regards to the official government online sales channel, the Ontario Cannabis Store.

School boards said they need to be consulted on “buffer zones” between cannabis stores and schools, opposing a one-size-fits-all approach that won’t work given the “geography of school locations is vastly different across the province.”

In a written submission, the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association also said exposure to second-hand smoke is a major worry. While toking would be banned on school property, the 20-metre no-smoking zone zone around playgrounds and sports fields is too small.

“Our members suggest this be increased as it is a short distance in which second-hand smoke could easily travel and affect others,” the association wrote.

—with files from Kristin Rushowy

Rob Ferguson is a Toronto-based reporter covering Ontario politics. Follow him on Twitter: @robferguson1

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U.S. considers further measures to protect North Atlantic right whales

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A new U.S. government assessment of the plight of the North Atlantic right whale is questioning whether local fishing closures are enough to save the endangered species, pointing to the threat posed by vertical sea floor-to-surface fishing lines throughout their range.

The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) evaluation of « recovery challenges » was released ahead of a meeting next week to address proposals to protect the whales that would alter the lobster fishery in New England.

Those proposals include reducing the number of sea floor-to-surface lines by 50 per cent over five years and a month-long lobster fishing closure in the western Gulf of Maine.

Single sighting shuts down fishery

American and Canadian authorities have used local area closures as a preferred management tool to protect the whales.

This year, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans imposed severe restrictions on snow crab fishing in the Gulf of St. Lawrence after 12 right whales died there in 2017. 

In the Bay of Fundy in June, the appearance of a single right whale in a protected area shut down the lobster fishery on Grand Manan, N.B., for 15 days. The industry claims it cost a million dollars in lost income.

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates nearly 85 per cent of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once, 59 per cent at least twice and 26 per cent of the regularly seen animals are entangled annually. (Center for Coastal Studies)

« They closed the lobster fishery in an area that hadn’t harmed a whale in several decades for absolutely no reason, » said Laurence Cook, president of Lobster Fishery Area 38.

« To close us down once because one was seen travelling through a box was economically damaging to the island and completely unnecessary to protect right whales. »

Still, after a catastrophic 2017, no right whales were found dead in Canadian waters in 2018.

A million lines in the water

NOAA said closures « while very effective, regionally, may not be enough » to stop the population decline.

It estimates there are a million vertical fishing lines in the path of the right whales, with 622,000 in U.S. waters from Georgia to the Gulf of Maine and the remainder in Canadian waters along the Scotian Shelf and in the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

The agency said nearly 85 per cent of right whales have been entangled in fishing gear at least once, 59 per cent at least twice, and 26 per cent of the regularly seen animals are entangled annually.

« With a 26-per cent annual entanglement rate in a population of just over 400 animals, this translates to about 100 entanglements per year, which is significant for such a small population, » the report states.

1 in 10,000 chance of entanglement

The report acknowledges with more than 1 million lines out there, any single line has perhaps a 1 in 10,000 chance of entangling a whale in any one-year period, meaning an individual fisherman — and his or her descendants — could go several generations without ever entangling a right whale.

Scientists are working to map and model where the North Atlantic right whales main food source has been found in high concentrations in the past in order to get an idea of where they may be found in the future. (Pat Foster/Adrian Colaprete)

« Given this, it’s easy to believe that all these entanglements are happening somewhere else, regardless of where one fishes. »

« But by mapping known locations of gear that led to the entanglement of a right whale, one can see that there is no place within the fished area along the East Coast of North America for which entanglement risk is zero. »

Canadian role singled out

The NOAA report echoes a criticism from Canada’s Environment Commissioner this week that Canada waited until 12 of the whales died in the Gulf of St Lawrence to before taking « strong » measures.

« Notably until spring of 2018, very few protections for right whales were in place in Canadian waters, » NOAA stated.

« In comparison to recent decades, more right whales now spend significantly more time in more northern waters and swim through extensive pot fishery zones around Nova Scotia and into the Canadian Gulf of St. Lawrence. »

The New England Aquarium, which operates whale-watching tours, is one of seven organizations and governments to submit proposals to the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team.

The aquarium claims only one-third of right whale deaths are detected each year, meaning an average of between 12 and 16 right whales are dying each year.

« We assume that 50 per cent of all right whales deaths are occurring in Canada, » the New England Aquarium states in its proposal.

Better identification of entanglement sources

While American advocates urge larger closures and line reductions, the state of Maine said more data is needed and proposes that its fishermen use specially marked gear to rule them out as the source of entanglements.

« The best available data on whale sightings, whale behaviour in specific areas, and entanglement data indicate a low probability of right whales interacting with Maine fishing gear, » said Erin Summers, of the Maine Department of Marine Resources, in a proposal to the Take Reduction Team.

Read more stories at CBC Nova Scotia

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