Good morning! Wendy Cox in Vancouver today.
The Globe and Mail puts a premium on data-informed journalism, including as part of our COVID-19 coverage. At a time when “fake news” has become a rallying cry for people who would prefer to shoot the messenger, bringing you information that is underpinned by hard numbers has been a priority for us.
But it’s been difficult to do in British Columbia.
In Quebec, Ontario and Alberta, provincial governments have pledged to keep up-to-date, public records of schools that have reported a virus case. Premier Doug Ford has said the province will report on “every single” school case. Alberta Health has promised that all cases would be reported online.
British Columbia has said it will publish information about multiple, linked cases rather than individual cases. Information about individual cases will be sent to schools and parents only.
Last month, The Globe reported on how going back to school is actually a safe thing in almost all parts of Canada after journalists Kelly Grant and Chen Wang did a data an analysis of where the hot spots are. British Columbia didn’t figure prominently in that story because the province is not reporting publicly the data down to the level of neighbourhoods.
Instead, B.C. has released a map of how many residents have tested positive in each of the province’s more than 80 Local Health Areas, but this dataset is only updated monthly and each designated zone can cover several communities and wide swaths of territory in more rural regions.
On Tuesday, three BC First Nations asked British Columbia’s information and privacy watchdog to force the province to divulge specific information about where cases are popping up near their territories. They said they need the information to help them take extra measures to protect their vulnerable communities from the pandemic.
At the same time, the mayor of Powell River, a five-hour and two-ferry trip northwest of Vancouver, also wants up-to-date case data to strengthen his municipality’s response and fight fear among residents as a nearby First Nations village battles a cluster of 28 people sick with the novel coronavirus.
B.C.'s Provincial Health Officer and its Minister of Health acknowledge the unique threat COVID-19 poses to First Nations communities, but have so far refused to release such information on the grounds that it could violate the privacy of patients and put some of them at risk of facing discrimination.
There is reason to be concerned: In Saskatchewan, Hutterites there say they have been stigmatized after the province published more detailed information about outbreaks in their rural colonies where communal living is the norm.
Individual First Nations have often been quick to announce outbreaks within their own communities, but it is difficult to find a clear picture of where COVID-19 has affected these communities across the province and among Indigenous people living outside of their hometowns.
A spokesperson with B.C.'s First Nations Health Authority, which delivers health care to Indigenous people across the province, told The Globe and Mail Monday that preliminary data show they have recorded 286 cases among First Nations up to last Saturday.
Speaking at an unrelated news conference Tuesday, Health Minister Adrian Dix acknowledged the complaints of First Nations and praised their response to the pandemic so far, but did not commit to releasing any more data.
Judith Sayers, president of Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, said communities need such information to save lives, noting she has witnessed cases spreading fast in several communities such as Haida Gwaii and Alert Bay.
“We’re supposed to be on a government-to government level, and so we should be able to share them in that fashion. It’s just deplorable,” said Dr. Sayers, whose ancestral name is Kekinusuqs.
The privacy commissioner’s spokesperson said Tuesday he will make a decision soon on how to proceed with investigating the complaint.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.
AROUND THE WEST
ALBERTA SCHOOLS: Classes in Alberta had barely been up and running for a week before hundreds of students were sent home to isolate after COVID-19 infections were confirmed in dozens of schools. The disruptions are a sign of things to come, as students, parents and teachers brace for repeated disruptions every time a student tests positive, forcing their classmates into isolation, or if a student has to say home because they have a symptom of COVID-19. Grade 10 student Logan Orgill, who made it four days before his class was sent home because of a positive case, told The Globe’s Carrie Tait: “I’m here, at my house, bored out of my mind, doing nothing.”
WILDFIRE SMOKE: Smoke from American wildfires turned British Columbia skies a leaden grey and blanketed Vancouver with an acrid burning smell and some of the worst-quality air in the world, causing Canada Post to suspend deliveries in some parts of the province on Monday from unsafe conditions. The Greater Victoria Teachers' Association called for schools in the district to close until air quality improved and the BC Teachers' Federation advised its members to take a sick day if the smoke made them feel ill, noting the respiratory stress comes on top of concerns about the spread of the new coronavirus. The smoke from wildfires in Washington State, Oregon and California moved into the Metro Vancouver region early Friday morning, with readings on the air-quality health index quickly surpassing 10, signalling a “very high” health risk. That reading held steady through Monday; IQAir, which tracks air quality in major cities around the world in real-time, has had Vancouver rallying with Portland, Ore., for worst air quality in the world.
POLICE OVERSIGHT: Alberta’s Justice Minister says he supports making police disciplinary decisions public, as the United Conservative Party government reviews the province’s policing laws. Currently, the results of disciplinary hearings are not routinely made public unless someone files a freedom of information request. Justice Minister Kaycee Madu says he can see no reason why those decisions shouldn’t be released. He compared the issue to employment standards investigations and complaints to the labour relations board, where resulting decisions are public documents and easy to access.
TEPEE PROTEST: An experienced defence lawyer says a Saskatchewan judge’s attendance at an Indigenous demonstration after he ruled on it could expose the court to potential allegations of bias. Michael Spratt says it’s unusual for judges to have contact with one of the parties in a case that either could end up before them, or has already. Judges act as independent arbitrators and a perception of bias may undermine a court decision and the principle of impartiality, which forms trust in the system, he said. Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Graeme Mitchell appeared Sunday at a closing ceremony for a 24-year-old Métis man, whom he ruled was allowed to stay on the provincial legislature’s lawn to finish a hunger strike over high suicide rates. Justice Mitchell dismissed the government’s bid to remove Tristen Durocher’s tepee and found the bylaws that prohibit overnight camping on the Regina grounds infringed on his Charter rights as an Indigenous man. During his stop at the camp, the judge spoke to Mr. Durocher and accepted a Métis sash from a supporter. Some people there praised Justice Mitchell for his appearance and celebrated his decision.
BIZARRE HEIST: The RCMP are investigating two incidents in which hot tubs and $230,000 worth of beef were stolen in what investigators say is part of a nationwide scheme. On Aug. 30, a burgundy-coloured semi truck with fake transport papers picked up $230,000 worth of beef from the JBS meat-packing plant in Brooks, southeast of Calgary. Days later, seven hot tubs were stolen from Blue Falls Manufacturing in Thorsby, more than 400 kilometres away.
FALL ELECTION FOR B.C.? Since the 2017 provincial election, the Greens have formally supported the minority NDP government in British Columbia through a written agreement between the two parties. While the province remains in a state of emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Premier John Horgan has fuelled election speculation by suggesting that pact is no longer binding. “Nowhere in that document will you see the word pandemic. So the world we live in today is not the world of 2017,” the Premier told reporters on Sunday. Newly elected BC Green Leader Sonia Furstenau said the current agreement has delivered the promised stability, and has allowed the province to respond to the pandemic. Still, her party is preparing for an election call that could come in the next week.
PEAK OIL? Energy giant BP is predicting fossil fuel consumption will shrink for the first time in modern history, with peak oil demand now likely in the world’s rear-view mirror. The forecast in the company’s 2020 Energy Outlook, released Monday, says that global economic activity will partly recover from the COVID-19 pandemic over the next few years, but “scarring effects,” including work-from-home edicts, will lead to slower growth in energy consumption. While the overall demand for energy will grow, the supply will change: The role of fossil fuels will decrease while renewable energy will increase, the report says.
HATE CRIMES: More than 600 incidents of hate targeting Asians within Canada have been reported to Chinese Canadian groups since the pandemic began, and one in three of those attacks have been assaults, the groups say. The data, which have been collected since February, show that 83 per cent of the incidents were reported by East Asians, followed by 7 per cent by Southeast Asians. It says 44 per cent of the attacks were reported from B.C. – the highest in Canada – while 38 per cent of the occurrences were reported in Ontario and 7 per cent in Quebec. Women reported 60 per cent of all incidents. In B.C., women were even more disproportionately affected, accounting for nearly 70 per cent of all reported incidents there. The data found nearly 30 per cent of reported incidents are assault, including targeted coughing, physical attacks and violence, and that verbal harassment is the most common type of discrimination.
TRANS MOUNTAIN: The Trans Mountain pipeline carried a record-breaking amount of crude to British Columbia from Alberta in August, despite persistent price and demand woes gripping the energy sector as the COVID-19 pandemic drags on.
MOE’S HOPES FOR THE THRONE SPEECH: Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says he wants to hear the federal government pledge its support for the oil and gas industry in next week’s Throne Speech. Saskatchewan has no Liberal seats in the House of Commons, and the Saskatchewan Party Premier said he wrote the letter with the hope that the province’s interests will be represented in the Sept. 23 speech. “This doesn’t mean the voices of Saskatchewan people should be ignored,” Moe said.
TC ENERGY: TC Energy Corp. has appointed one of its senior executives, Tracy Robinson, to become president of its partly owned Coastal GasLink, a $6.6-billion pipeline project in British Columbia.
BUILDING MORE AFFORDABLE HOUSING IN VANCOUVER: Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart is launching a bold push to create cheaper forms of housing in Vancouver’s single-family neighbourhoods by calling for the city to allow up to six units on any residential lot. The catch is that two would have to be rented or sold at below-market rates permanently. That could be a first for Canada and is only outdone by Portland, Ore., which recently passed a similar policy in mid-August except that it required three “affordable” units if there were six built on a lot. Fourplexes would be allowed outright under Vancouver’s new proposal.
WINNIPEG MAN WALKS FOR THE ARTS: Soon to be 96 years old, Winnipeg arts patron Douglas MacEwan is walking a kilometre a day to raise funds for the city’s four major performing arts organizations. On Nov. 11, his birthday, he will have reached 96 kilometres and raised $96,000. The money (to be divided equally between Manitoba Opera, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra) is being donated by an anonymous benefactor.
Gary Mason on the wildfires, the pandemic and climate change: “Scientists have been warning about this day for ages. A warming planet would force a reckoning, they said. Well, we are living it now. The real tragedy? Our political leaders still aren’t prepared to do anything about it.”
Josh Gordon on the housing market: “If you follow the housing debates in Toronto and Vancouver, you’ll have undoubtedly heard the claim that the affordability challenges facing both cities are the result of supply problems. Common complaints include a lack of new housing, burdensome regulation and flawed zoning. This ‘supply narrative’ has been endlessly repeated. There’s only one problem: there’s no good evidence for it.”