Denying net zero is ‘simply not on’

3 August 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

702 words

Readers of this paper were recently treated to a classic piece of ‘light your hair on fire’ misinformation inspired by the fossil fuel industry. In a July 31st column, Gwyn Morgan informed us that achieving net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050 “would require phasing out fossil fuels that currently supply 84 percent of global energy”, that the G7 plan to achieve net zero “defies the laws of physics” and that “it’s clear that ‘net zero’ is simply not on.”

If achieving net zero emissions by 2050 defies the laws of physics and is simply not on, that must be news to the International Energy Agency (IEA), hardly a hotbed of wild-eyed radicals. In May 2021 the IEA released its “Net Zero by 2050” report, sub-titled “A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector”.  The report notesthat 50 countries, representing 70 percent of global emissions, and including China and the USA, have committed to net zero by 2050.

It must also be news to the European Commission, which adopted a set of measures on July 14th that will reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels, on the way to making Europe the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050. But let’s be clear what ‘net zero’ really means.

First, it does not mean no GHG emissions or no fossil fuel use. In the Paris Agreement on climate change, countries agreed to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic [human-created] emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second‐half of the century”. ‘Net zero’ means that overall there would be no net increase in the level of GHGs in the atmosphere.

To achieve net zero we have to either reduce our emissions or find ways by which the Earth can absorb more GHGs through its carbon sinks. In practice, we need to do both, although emissions reductions has received most of the attention so far; next week I will dig further into the potential to expand carbon sinks.

Clearly, the IEA believes achieving net zero, while very challenging, is do-able. Their report states: “In the net zero pathway, global energy demand in 2050 is around 8% smaller than today, but it serves an economy more than twice as big and a population with 2 billion more people”.  Moreover, “the energy sector is based largely on renewable energy”, with “two-thirds of total energy supply from wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydro energy”.

This would not mean phasing out fossil fuels, although they would be dramatically reduced. While noting there would be “a huge decline in the use of fossil fuels”, the IEA reported that compared to the “four-fifths of total energy supply today”, fossil fuel’s contribution would fall to “slightly over one-fifth by 2050”. It would mainly be used “in sectors where low-emissions technology options are scarce”, as well as in facilities using carbon capture technology and in creating plastics.

Of course, what troubles Morgan and other fossil fuel advocates is the IEA’s avowal that “there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel supply in our net zero pathway.” The IEA foresees coal demand declining “by 98 percent to just less than 1% of total energy use in 2050”, while “gas demand declines by 55 percent . . . and oil declines by 75 percent”.

Nobody is suggesting this will be easy. Recognizing that “not all technologies are available on the market today”, the IEA calls for “an unprecedented clean technology push to 2030”. The IEA suggests this requires a doubling of annual energy sector investment by 2030, but notes that by 2050, average annual energy investment takes only 1 percent more of GDP than in recent years.

Moreover, this pathway means “universal access to sustainable energy is achieved by 2030” and the creation of 30 million jobs, compared to losses of about 5 million jobs in the fossil fuel sector; this must be handled with care, ensuring a just transition for these workers.

The pathway to net zero is tough, but do-able, and brings many social, economic, ecological and health co-benefits, as the IEA and European reports make clear. It is the denial of net zero that is simply not on.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Building child-friendly communities means protecting future generations

28 July 2021

Dr Trevor Hancock

700 words

“The well-being of children is the ultimate indicator of a healthy habitat, a democratic society and of good governance.” So stated a resolution passed at the second UN Conference on Human Settlements in 1996, leading Unicef, the UN Childrens Fund, to create its Child Friendly Cities Initiative that same year.  It is seen as a vehicle to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child at the local level.

To become a Child Friendly City, cities should implement a nine-point framework that includes having “strategies for children, regular reports on the state of the city’s children, independent advocates for children, opportunities to listen to children’s views”, and other governance measures. The aim is “to consider the best interests of children in formulating and coordinating policies, services and other government action.”

Unicef reports there are almost 1,000 Child Friendly Cities worldwide; in Canada, there are 49 in Quebec as part of an NGO-led provincial initiative but few seem to be in BC.

But my specific interest here, following on from my two latest columns, is the implications of a child-friendly approach for the design of housing and other aspects of the built environment, especially here in BC.

The Society for Children and Youth of BC (SCY) began its child and youth friendly communities project in 1998. It has a toolkit for interested organisations and has developed pilot projects in New Westminster and Vancouver. Abbotsford and Surrey, among others, have developed a Child and Youth Friendly Strategy, but I am not aware of anything similar in the Greater Victoria region.

Even before the SCY project Bob Yates, a local planning consultant, wrote a 1995 report for the Society on child-friendly housing. A guide for housing professionals, the report identified a set of nine principles and then discussed how to plan a child-friendly housing project, how to design a child-friendly housing unit, how to build better communities for children, and how to manage housing through involving youth.

More recent local examples include a 2009 report prepared for Abbotsford by Cherie Enns, a social planning consultant, and most recently, a comprehensive book – Child in the City – by Sidney-based planning and urban design consultant Kristin Agnello.

Based on a series of consultations in Abbotsford, Enns reported that “what is most needed for future housing development has been the need for mixed-use neighbourhood design with affordable rental and owned housing.” Her report includes an extensive checklist for various aspects of child-friendly neighbourhood design, covering issues such as parks and other amenities, housing, transportation, schools and security.

With respect to housing, she suggests child-friendly forms include courtyard housing – which “creates a specific public space that is shared by the residents” – and co-housing, while neighbourhoods should have discernible social centres and an elementary school within one mile.

Available free through her Plassurban website, Agnello’s easy-to-read and well-illustrated book takes the view that “an environment that addresses the needs of children . . . is one that is friendlier and more accessible to people of all ages and abilities”. So make it work for children and we all gain.

She provides a comprehensive overview of policy, regulatory and financial measures, as well as nine design guidelines and 35 design objectives for both housing and neighbourhoods, all summarised in two simple charts. As well, she emphasises the importance of engaging children in participatory planning, writing: “To plan our cities in a way that enables children to be co-authors of their own communities is key to a sustainable – and inclusive – future.”

But if indeed “the well-being of children is the ultimate indicator of a healthy habitat, a democratic society and of good governance”, surely that must include not only today’s children, but the wellbeing of future generations of children. That is the deeper meaning of child-friendly communities.

In this age of climate change and other global ecological crises, the CRD and all our local municipalities must dedicate themselves to the wellbeing of future generations by  reducing our overall ecological impacts, taking only our fair share of the Earth’s biocapacity and resources.  The region’s municipalities need to embrace both Unicef’s Child Friendly Cities Initiative and develop plans to become ‘One Planet’ communities. Our children require it of us.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar                                                                                 at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

We need to build ‘Gentle infill’ for affordable, healthy neighbourhoods

21 July 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

699 words

In Canada we are 80 percent urbanised and spend 90 percent of our time indoors, making the built environment one of the most important determinants of our health. As a leader in the creation of the modern Healthy Cities and Communities movement, I continue a long tradition of considering the public health implications of housing and urban design, which includes the ecological and social impacts of such development.

In the face of an ecological crisis that includes massive and rapid climate change, resource depletion and loss of biodiversity and a social crisis that includes heightened inequality, insecure work and social disconnection, how do we create living places that are affordable, sustainable and good for our physical, mental and social wellbeing?

The concept of sustainable community design has been around for many decades. Not coincidentally, one of the early books  – Calthorpe and Van der Ryn’s “Sustainable Communities” – came out in 1986, the same year the Healthy Cities project was launched in Europe. Several other urban movements are related to the theme of healthy and sustainable urban design, including Smart Growth, New Urbanism, Livable Cities, Happy Cities – the list goes on.

What they all have in common is what has more recently come to be called ‘gentle density’. Championed by Vancouver-based urban planner Brent Toderian, this approach is about “building smarter suburbs that are more mixed, compact, walkable, and transit friendly”, he wrote in 2013. 

However, gentle density is not just for suburbs; we need ‘gentle infill’ in the urban core. In her 2016 article on this topic, Kathleen McCormick quotes Peter Pollock of the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy in the USA, who described the approach as “trying to find ways to make infill compatible with surroundings to achieve urban design goals and enable production of more housing.”

A 2017 article by Katie Hyslop in The Tyee discussed examples of gentle infill (also, she noted, called ‘sensitive’ or ‘ground-oriented’ infill) in the Lower Mainland. These “can take many forms, from building in-house secondary suites, to adding laneway homes, town/row houses, duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes to a single family home lot.” What characterises such an approach is that “nothing is higher than stacked townhouses”, she wrote.

Many ‘gentle density’ projects are multi-family dwellings, but on a human scale; not large, impersonal high-rises. Vancouver-based Charles Montgomery and his team at Happy City have been looking at how to design Happy Homes: “multi-family places where people are happier, healthier and more connected”. They found that “mixed-use neighbourhoods that encourage walking are most likely to be associated with positive social encounters and a strong sense of community” and that “access to nature is strongly linked to positive neighbourhood relationships and trust among community members”

But while the physical design is important, so too is the social design. Among the ten princiiples they identified are the need to create opportunities for people to participate in the design and management of their project and do meaningful and enjoyable things together.  

There are a number of environmental and social benefits to this approach. The environmental benefits include avoiding the need for further destructive urban sprawl; creating smaller and more energy efficient homes that require fewer resources to build and operate, and car-free or low car-dependency living that reduces greenhouse gas and other pollutant emissions.

The social benefits include more affordable housing which, if built in walkable, bikeable neighbourhoods, reduces the need for car ownership, as I discussed last week. This frees up income for other purposes. Other social benefits include less time spent commuting and more convenient access to daily necessities in a ‘15-minute neighbourhood’.

All of these environmental and social benefits result in health co-benefits. These include less air pollution and climate change, more physical activity and reduced obesity, and more social connection. The good news is that there are a growing number of small-scale ‘gentle infill’ projects being proposed and developed in the region’s core, with potential benefits both locally and regionally.

So it is time to consider the first recommendation of a recent Declaration endorsed by many leading Canadian urbanists that municipalities should update their current zoning policies to allow “gentle density to be built, as-of-right, alongside houses in low-rise residential neighbourhoods”.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

The difference between social, supportive and affordable housing

14 July 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

702 words

From time to time fierce debates erupt over proposals to introduce more dense housing into residential neighbourhoods. I suspect that part of the problem is a failure to distinguish between housing that is affordable, social housing and supportive housing, as well as a related concern about loss of property values.

Particularly in the wake of reports of crime and violence linked to temporary accommodation for people who are homeless and have been moved into some form of congregate housing, I think when people hear the terms ‘affordable’ or ‘social’ housing, they assume this means that the ‘hard to house’ and criminal element are about to be dumped in the midst of their community.

This is far from the truth. So let’s distinguish between these various forms of housing.

Affordable housing means just what it says: housing that the average person can afford, be it ownership or rental, private or public. The Canada Mortgage and Housing Company (CMHC) says that for housing to be affordable, it must take less than 30% of a household’s pre-tax income. A 2020 CRD study, using 2016 Census data (the latest available then) found that beteeen 30 – 50 percent of tenant households in the CRD were spending 30 percent or more of their income on housing costs.

The Victoria Foundation’s 2020 Vital Signs report found that in 2019 someone working 35 hours per week for the then minimum wage of $14.60 per hour would spend 47 percent of their income to rent an average bachelor apartment (at $965 per month); they would need to work 55 hours per week to bring that down to the acceptable 30 percent level. And of course, when you spend that much on housing, you have less to spend on food and other daily necessities.

A very revealing map from a 2020 CRD report on housing and transportation costs shows that when the two costs are combined, the cheapest places to live are almost all clustered in the Core (Victoria, Esquimalt, Oak Bay and southern Saanich), as well as Sidney, with annual household costs ranging from $22,000 – $29,000; the highest costs are in the West Shore and Saanich Peninsula, ranging from $30,000 – 38,000.  

So the Core is where we should create more affordable housing, perhaps following local urbanist Todd Litman’s 2018 suggestion that every neighbourhood grow by 1.5 percent annually to match the growth rate for the Region. The aim must be to create the ‘15-minute neighbourhood’, where what you need on a daily basis is available within a 15 minute walk, bike or transit ride.

When it comes to social housing, the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness (COH) notes “While all social housing is affordable, the term ‘social housing’ refers more specifically to housing that is subsidized by a level of government”. It is just housing for ordinary people whose incomes are insufficient to afford market-price housing.

In large part we have a problem today because the federal social housing program was cancelled in 1993, resulting in “drastic reductions in the amount of affordable housing available”, as the COH notes. On top of that, we have created an income crisis; low income wages have stagnated, minimum wages do not deliver a living wage, jobs have become less secure and benefits have been reduced, all in the interests of low prices for most of us and profits for business.

It is important to note that social housing is not the same as supportive housing, although the latter usually requires government or NGO support. The COH describes supportive housing as housing that includes “individualized, flexible and voluntary support services for people with high needs related to physical or mental health, developmental disabilities or substance use” – people who could be members of our own family or those of our friends and neighbours.

In the end, perhaps the simplest test is this: Can your children or grandchildren live somewhere nearby? Probably not. If not, we need to fix it. We must encourage a serious investment in social housing, policies that increase higher wages and income supports, and the creation of  ‘gentle density’, car-free, low-rise in-fill in neighbourhoods that fills the ‘missing middle’ gap in housing while being is more ecologically sustainable. More on this next week.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Sorry about the Earth, but we need to make money

7 July 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

699 words

Two weeks ago, my column on why we need to stop subsidising industries that harm our planet and our health was published at the height of the heat emergency that affected BC, killing hundreds of people and setting off large and deadly forest fires. So why on Earth are we spending scarce public resources to prop up the fossil fuel industries that are the underlying cause of the climate emergency and that we need to wind down?

I could understand if the funds were being used to transition those industries and their employees into clean and renewable energy production. But too often they are used to support business as usual. The most recent example of this idiotic approach is a new report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Winnipeg.

Looking at three as yet uncompleted pipelines (Trans Mountain, Keystone XL – now cancelled – and Coastal GasLink), they found “cumulatively, Canadian governments have provided over CAD 23 billion in government support since 2018”. Much of that is in the form of loan guarantees rather than direct funding.

But as the report’s author, Vanessa Corkal, noted in a July 7th Times Colonist article, such loans and guarantees “encourage companies to make choices they wouldn’t otherwise make”. They may have some short-term benefits, but they mean other, wiser long-term choices are not made, making this a betrayal of future generations.

It’s not just the fossil fuel industry. There are many other examples of counter-productive uses of public money to prop up industries and practices that are harmful to people and the planet.

A January 2020 report on “Subsidising extinctions” by three UBC scientists in the journal Conservation Letters noted: “In 2010 world governments agreed to eliminate, phase out or reform incentives that harm biodiversity by 2020.”  Yet, they added, “few governments have even identified such incentives, never mind taking action on them.”

There is a local example of this right here in BC, noted Dr. Jessica Dempsey, the lead author for the UBC study noted above. They looked at three coal mines in northeastern BC that are located in the home of the threatened Central Mountain caribou. The mines benefit from the Mineral Exploration Tax Credit.

A December 2020 UBC news release quotes Dr. Dempsey: “Our research shows that not only do the costs of mining activity in northeastern BC outweigh the benefits, but the public is in fact helping to fund the extinction of caribou by subsidizing exploration and development.”

Then there are fisheries. Rashid Sumaila, a professor at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and director of the Fisheries Economic Research Unit, co-authored a 2019 UBC study in the journal Marine Policy on the impact of subsidies on small scale fisheries. They found that in 2018, of the total $35.4 billion (U.S.) in subsidies, globally, $22.2 billion, or 62 percent, went to ‘capacity enhancing’ activities, which illogically seek to increase fishing capacity at a time when the world’s oceans are already heavily overfished.

Here in Canada, they reported, 45 percent of the $853 million (U.S.) in subsidies in 2018 went to beneficial actions, but 22 percent went to capacity-enhancing actions, while the rest was ’ambiguous’. But why would we spend a single penny on capacity-enhancing subsidies, never mind $194 million (U.S.).

Fisheries subsidies pale in comparison with farming subsidies. A September 2019 report from the International Food Policy Research Institute found that governments around the world shelled out over $700 billion of support for agriculture, but that “only around 15 percent of this support is for public goods”, by which they mean better nutrition and environmental outcomes. In fact, they observed, subsidies “are rarely being deployed to drive sustainable outcomes, and more often pull in the opposite direction.”

The overall  attitude that emanates from many of these industries and the governments that support them seems to be ‘Sorry about harming the Earth, but you have to undertand that we need to make money, and this is the price we have to pay for progress’. And of course, by ‘we’ they really mean you, not themselves; they are not the ones who are harmed by their practices. This is a deeply immoral economy driving a deeply immoral society.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the

University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy

Oh Kanata: Time for a new flag and a new name?

28 June 2021

 Dr. Trevor Hancock

701 words

Last week the Times Colonist announced that for Canada Day it would be running a full-page pull-out of the Canadian Indigenous Flag. Designed by the late Curtis Wilson (Malizdas) of the Wei Wai Kum First Nation near Campbell River, it is a revised Maple Leaf Flag with swimming salmon in the side-bars and orca in the maple leaf.

Dave Obee, Times Colonist’s Editor and publisher, commented that this flag “reflects the times we are in”, adding “Canada, as we know it, could not exist without the Indigenous presence.” While recognising that this is not the official flag, he said, “this year it seems like the right one.”

I agree. But why only this year, I thought. Why not adopt it as Canada’s flag? And while we are at it, why not change the name of this land we call Canada to Kanata? After all, the Government of Canada website tells us that “the name Canada likely comes from the Huron-Iroquois word “kanata,” meaning “village” or “settlement””, so it is an Indigenous name already.

Such an idea is not without precedent. Increasingly, the country we used to call New Zealand is re-naming itself Aotearoa New Zealand, Aotearoa being the original Maori name for the land, often translated as “the land of the long white cloud”.

Go to the government’s website and you will find it is headlined Government of New Zealand/ Te Kawanatanga o Aotearoa, and you are greeted with ‘Kia ora’, which means ‘hello’ and has come to be the common greeting in Aotearoa New Zealand these days.

The Maori arrived in Aotearoa around the 13th century, populating the country – until then free of humans – only 500 years before the first Europeans arrived. As a result, and because they all came from various eastern Polynesian islands with related languages and cultures, there is only one Maori language across the entire country, although with many local dialects, as is true of English.

In 1985 Maori was recognised as “a taonga (treasure) that the Crown (government) was obliged to protect under the Treaty of Waitangi” and in 1987 became one of the three official languages of Aotearoa New Zealand, alongside English and New Zealand Sign Language.

So it was wonderful, when I attended a large global health promotion conference in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2019 to hear the Maori elders greet delegates from around the world in Maori, with no English translation available. They were in effect proclaiming with pride ‘this is our language, this is our culture, this is our land’ – and so they should.

Here of course, things are more complex. There are three main groups of Indigenous people in Canada. The First Nations (often still called “Indians”) were the first to arrive, starting some 20,000 years ago and now comprise more than 50 Indigenous Nations and languages and over 600 communities.

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia (CE) the Inuit arrived about 1,000 years ago – well before the first Europeans arrived 500 years ago – moving east across what is now their homeland in the Arctic from the Bering Strait all the way to Labrador (and beyond, to Greenland). There are eight main Inuit ethnic groups and five main dialects in Inuktitut, the Inuit language.

Finally, the CE states the “Métis are people of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry” and possess “a singular cultural heritage of dual origins” that first emerged in the 18th century, west of Sault Ste Marie (although much of this is still much debated).

So as far as I know there is no single agreed upon Indigenous term for the land we today call Canada. But the term Kanata has an historic relationship to the modern word for the country and is an Eastern Canada Indigenous term, nicely balancing the western Canada imagery on the Canadian Indigenous Flag.

I put this idea forward not as a definitive answer – for one thing, it has not had any input from Indigenous people themselves, who would be key to any such change – but in the spirit of reconciliation. So why not start the discussion here: How should the name and flag of the country we call Canada be changed to reflect and honour the Indigenous people of this land?

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy


Stop subsidies to ‘corporate welfare bums’ that harm our health

22 June 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

697 words

One of the frequent complaints by the proponents of neoliberal economics and small government and their corporate supporters is that there is a lot of waste in government. All manner of things get described as a waste of taxpayers’ money (and they are always called taxpayers, not citizens), but the focus is usually on various forms of social support, especially welfare programs that are said to be abused.

Yet the public largesse devoted to what federal NDP leader David Lewis, in 1972, memorably called “corporate welfare bums” vastly exceeds the amount ‘wasted’ in welfare fraud and similar issues. Particularly problematic is what has to be the greatest waste of all; government subsidies and support for businesses whose activities and products actually harm our environments and our health.

This happens because there is a narrow and short-term understanding of societal benefit that gives credit for investments made and incomes generated here and now, while discounting or even completely ignoring the harm done to the environment, to people elsewhere and to future generations. Clearly, this has to stop.

It is worth understanding the many ways in which subsidies and other forms of support are provided. According to Vanessa Corkal, a policy advisor with the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), writing recently in the National Observer, “a subsidy is a financial benefit given by a government to a specific industry or sector”. Those subsidies come in the form of grants, tax or royalty breaks (foregoing revenue intended to support Canadians) and less obvious forms such as loan guarantees.

But it doesn’t stop there. Beyond subsidies lie ‘supports’ (such as wage subsidies) and ‘externalities’ – the cost of all the damage caused by the industry and its products (such as health impacts or pollution) that the industry does not have to pay for.

The list of unworthy corporate recipients of government (read tax-paying citizens) support is long, but surely right at the top must be the fossil fuel industry, followed by industries such as mining, forestry, agriculture and fisheries (of which more next week).

So in the midst of an accelerating climate crisis, why is a single penny of public funds going to the fossil fuel industry? And yet billions of dollars are being spent, both here and around the world, to expand and support the production and consumption of fossil fuels. It is sheer madness, suicidal, in fact.

A report this month from the IISD looked at international public financing for natural gas expansion in the Global South. The authors found that this amounted to nearly USD 16 billion per year from 2017 to 2019, four times as much as was invested in wind or solar. The problem is that this risks locking “countries into a high-carbon pathway, imperilling their economic future and the global climate.”

Also this month a report from the Tear Fund, a Christian charity devoted to tackling poverty, found that “between January 2020 and March 2021, G7 nations committed more than US$189 billion to support coal, oil and gas, while clean forms of energy received only $147 billion. In other words, fossil fuels received more than half of the total support to energy-intensive sectors”.

In Canada, a recent report from the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University pegged the cost of federal subsidies alone to the fossil fuel sector at $1.9 billion in 2020, with ‘support’ adding another $18 billion, while the cost of externalities was estimated to be $63 billion.

Here in BC, according to’s May 2021 report on the issue, in 2020/21 the NDP government “spent $1.3 billion on fossil fuel subsidies — 8.3 percent more than the previous year”. Of this, $421 million was for the Deep Well Royalty Program, a tax loophole for fracking operators. Shockingly, reports that in 2020/21 “the NDP government gave the oil and gas industry almost five times as much money in subsidies as it earned in oil and gas royalties”.

In its 2020 Manifesto for a Healthy and Green Covid-19 Recovery, the World Health Organisation said it well: “Stop using taxpayers money to fund pollution.”. Governments must listen, stop pandering to the large corporate welfare bums and actually do something to protect citizens from corporate-created harms.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

Who has the right to cut old growth?

15 June 2021

Dr Trevor Hancock

700 words

The new ‘War in the Woods’ to protect old growth forest in Fairy Creek and far beyond raises an important issue that has been neglected. By what right are those trees being cut? Who gets to decide?

In some ways the easiest answer is ‘not us’, meaning not the settlers who came to this land within the past 200 years or so. We came to a land that was already occupied by a population of Indigenous people estimated to have been in the range of 200,000 to 1 million people, according to the First Nations Health Authority, although the population had been massively reduced by a smallpox epidemic that arrived in BC around 1780.

Yet the European-style state that was created here claims state ownership of 94 percent of BC as ‘Crown land’, with 5 percent in private hands and 1 percent federally owned, according to the Land Title and Survey Authority of British Columbia. Meanwhile, the BC Treaty Commission notes “Indian reserves cover just 0.4 per cent of the BC land base”.

This of course conveniently ignores the fact that with few exceptions none of this land was legally purchased from, or ceded by, the hundreds of Indigenous bands and tribes that actually lived on and drew sustenance from the land. In fact, 95 percent of BC is unceded, according to ‘Pulling Together’, a guide for Indigenization of post-secondary institutions from BCCampus.

Indeed, in 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada found that aboriginal title still exists in BC and that “aboriginal title is a right to the land itself—not just the right to hunt, fish and gather”. Unsurprisingly, overlapping Indigenous land claims cover more than 100 percent of BC, notes the Canadian Encyclopedia.

In an interview with CTV News in February 2020 Kim Stanton, a lawyer at Goldblatt Partners LLP who specializes in Aboriginal law, noted that because so much of BC was never ceded, the imposition of the Indian Act was illegitimate and thus while “Canada and B.C. assume that they have jurisdiction . . .  they never legally got it.”

So by what right is the BC government granting any kind of logging, mining or other rights to private companies for lands that the BC government does not legally own? And if the BC government does not legally own the land, then what right do these companies have to log or mine or otherwise use the land, unless they have agreements with the First Nations that hold Aboriginal title. But then, who should they have an agreement with?

In both the Fairy Creek and the earlier Wet’suwet’en case (a dispute over the Coastal GasLink pipeline), hereditary leaders and elected leaders have been in disagreement. Stanton notes the law of the hereditary chiefs “is the law that pre-exists colonization in the territory,” and their “authority is with respect to all of their ancestral lands”.

Meanwhile, the elected Band Council is a colonial imposition under the Indian Act, not part of the traditional governing mechanism of First Nations. According to Pam Palmater, an Indigenous lawyer and the chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, in an interview with CTV’s Power Play in February 2020, the elected councils “don’t have the authority under the Indian Act to make decisions on traditional territory”, only on the reserve lands. And anyway, Stanton suggests the Indian Act is illegitimate in BC.

Missing in all this, of course, are the rights of the rest of humanity, of future generations and of nature itself. Does not the rest of humanity have an interest in the forests here, just as – many would argue – people outside Brazil have an interest in not seeing the Amazon destroyed? Do people in BC, and humanity as a whole, not have the right to a healthy environment, which must surely include intact and healthy ecosystems?

Finally, what about the rights of nature, which we are slowly beginning to recognise. Given the growing recognition of the benefits of stewardship of traditional lands by Indigenous people, guided by traditional values, would we all be better off if we gave the land and waters personhood, represented and safeguarded by traditional indigenous leadership, as is beginning to happen in Aotearoa New Zealand?

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar

at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

What happened in Kamloops was part of a national crime

9 June 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

700 words

Some may find this column disturbing, as it is about the deaths of Indigenous people a century or more ago. Moreover, in quoting from a 1922 report, some of the words used then (e.g. Indians) are not acceptable today. But it is important to quote verbatim. I am grateful to Andrew Nikiforuk, by the way, whose June 2 article in The Tyee reminded me of this story.


I cannot imagine what Indigenous people may have felt if they read a recent letter in the Times Colonist about the discovery of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children in Kamloops. As part of what seems to be an attempt to downplay the significance of the deaths, the writer stated “without knowing what killed the Aboriginal children in Kamloops, there is no reason to suspect there was criminal activity.” He is wrong, very wrong, as are others who may think like him.

There was a crime, indeed “a national crime”, and it was called that 99 years ago. In a 1922 booklet, ‘The Story of a National Crime’, Dr. Peter Bryce, Chief Medical Officer of the Immigration and Indian Department (as it was then called) from 1904 to 1921, described what had happened to the health of Indigenous people, including in the residential schools, as a “criminal disregard for the treaty pledges to guard the welfare” of Indigenous people. (His report is available online.)

But his reports were largely ignored by the government and he was compelled by his oath of office to not disclose what he knew. So not only was there a crime, it was covered up until Dr. Bryce retired in 1921 and felt free to speak out.

Each year from 1904 to 1914, Dr. Bryce states in his 1922 booklet, he“wrote an annual report on the health of the Indians, published in the Departmental report”. And with specific reference to the residential schools he noted “The annual medical reports from year to year made reference to the unsatisfactory health of the pupils”.

In 1907 he also made a “special inspection of thirty-five Indian schools in the three prairie provinces”. The report on this, he wrote, “was published separately (and) the recommendations contained in the report were never published and the public knows nothing of them”. This 1907 report found that in the 15 years of their existence “24 per cent of all the pupils which had been in the schools were known to be dead” (so probably an under-estimate), while in “one school on the File Hills reserve, which gave a complete return to date, 75 percent were dead at the end of the 16 years since the school opened”.

Then in 1909 he undertook a special investigation of 8 schools in the Calgary area, finding very high levels of TB in the schools and in the Indigenous population.  But, reports Dr. Bryce, “no action was taken by the Department to give effect to the recommendations made” by the 1909 and 1907 reports, and a letter he wrote to the Minister in 1911 complained that “I have not received a single communication with reference to carrying out the Suggestions of our [1909] report”.

Instead, in 1913 Duncan Scott, whom Dr. Bryce – in a 1911 letter to the Minister – had already accused of actively opposing any action on his reports, was made Deputy Minister of the Department, with predictable results. In June 1914 he wrote to Dr. Bryce putting a stop to his annual reports.

In fact, Dr. Bryce wrote in 1922, “from 1913 up to the time when Dr. W. A. Roche [who had been appointed Minister in 1913] was eliminated from the government in 1917 . . . the activities of the Chief Medical Inspector of the Indian Department, had in practice ceased”.

So yes, there was a crime, both in the “criminal disregard” of the obligations of the government to protect the health of Indigenous people, perhaps especially in the residential schools, but more generally. And part of that criminal disregard was the ignoring of Dr. Bryce’s reports and recommendations and the suppression both of the reports and the work of Dr. Bryce.

Facing this truth is one step in the process of reconciliation.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

Climate change, young people and the courts

(Published as ‘On climate, it’s short-term pain for long-term gain, backed by courts’)

Dr Trevor Hancock

1 June 2021

699 words

One of the biggest challenges in addressing climate change is that it’s a very slow-moving crisis. We need to take action now in order to avert problems many years, even decades into the future, but our system is biased against such action. Short-term pain for long-term gain has never been a popular message, and is not likely to get you re-elected, while the business cycle is too focused on the short-term bottom line. 

In the case of climate change, moreover, we are asking older adults in positions of power to make decisions that not only may adversely affect their situation here and now, but where the benefits will likely come after they are dead and will largely benefit people on the other side of the world.

However, this message resonates with younger people, since they will be alive when the adverse impacts on society of climate change, loss of biodiversity and other massive human-created ecological changes are felt. Which is why young people and NGOs around the world are taking their governments  – and in some cases, corporations – to court, where they are winning significant victories.

The situation was summarised by Chris Tollefson, a law professor at UVic and Executive Director of the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation, speaking at the opening plenary of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics in late May (you can also find much of this on the website of the US Climate Change Litigation database).

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court, in a case brought by the Urgenda Foundation and 900 Dutch citizens, upheld an earlier court ruling that the European Convention on Human Rights applied to the government’s actions on climate chgange. It found the government had a duty of care to protect the right to life and a responsibility to reduce emissions based on the science; specifically, a 25 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020.

More recently, reported Bill McKibben in The New Yorker,a Dutch court has ruled that Shell must markedly increase its planned cuts to emissions. Noting that “severe climate change has consequences for human rights, including the right to life”, a spokesperson for the court stated: “the court thinks that companies, among them Shell, have to respect those human rights” and that “the consequences of severe climate change are more important than Shell’s interests”. Powerful findings indeed!

In France, a case brought by four NGOs resulted in a ruling in 2021 that “France’s inaction has caused ecological damage from climate change” and that “France could be held responsible for failing to meet its own climate and carbon budget goals under EU and national law”.

In Germany, a case brought by youth argued that the reduction targets in the Federal Climate Protection Act were insufficient to protect their human rights. In April 2021 the federal Constitutional Court ruled in their favour, striking down parts of the Act. Of particular importance, the court found “one generation must not be allowed to consume large parts of the CO2 budget . . .  if this would at the same time leave future generations with a radical reduction burden”. In other words, future generations have rights today.

In Australia, a case brought by 8 school children argued that the Environment Minister had a “duty of care” and was legally obliged to consider potential harm to them in the future in deciding whether to allow a coal mining project to proceed. Australia’s ABC reported the Federal Court judge found climate change would have “catastrophic” and “startling” impacts on Australia’s children, the mine would increase that risk and a duty of care does exist.

Tollefson, who is counsel for the plaintiffs in the La Rose case here in Canada, summarised the reasons for these cases as “a response to democratic failure, an invitation for judicial oversight and an invitation to enhance the role of best available science in political discourse” – quite an indictment of our current system.

Even though the cases in Canada and the USA are hitting snags, these rulings hold out hope that young people, NGOs and the courts are able to hold governments and corporations responsible for the harms caused by their actions, or their failure to act.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar

at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.