Ecological sanity and social justice: We can’t have one without the other

Dr. Trevor Hancock

15 November 2022

700 words

More than 40 years ago, in my major paper for my Masters degree, I sought to identify the fundamental principles underlying public health. I concluded there are two: Ecological sanity and social justice. The pursuit of these principles has defined much of my work to create a healthier society ever since.

So I was pleased to find that ‘Earth For All’ – the recent report to the Club of Rome – is largely focused on those two issues. Or to be more precise, it is focused on finding solutions to the growing ecological insanity and social injustice that plagues humanity today.

A separately published background paper, available on the Earth4All website, provides a more in-depth exploration of the relationship between inequality and sustainabilty. The authors are Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, two British social epidemiologists who wrote ‘The Spirit Level’, an important 2010 book on the social and health consequences of inequality. (Pickett is a member of the Transformational Economics Commission, whose members guided the final report and the Earth For All strategy.)

Their paper “outlines six ways in which large income and wealth differences – both within and between countries – reduce the chances that our societies will respond adequately to the environmental crisis.” The first of these is rooted in the simple fact that on a finite planet there are limits to growth, as the Club of Rome’s 1972 report by that name made clear.

If the pie cannot keep growing, then the only way that those who do not have enough of the Earth’s bio-capacity and resources can meet their basic human and social development needs is for those who take an excessive amount to take less. This issue is closely related to Wilkinson and Pickett’s second and third points: People will only accept the burden of changes that are needed to achieve a sustainable world if they feel the burden is fairly shared, which means those who benefit most right now must make the largest changes.

The inequality of impact is seen at both the personal and the global levels. A November 2nd article in the Guardian reported an analysis by Autonomy, an independent economic consultancy in the UK, that looked at income and greenhouse gas data from 1998 to 2018. They found that the ‘polluting elite’ – the top 1 percent of earners in the UK –  “are responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emissions in a single year as the bottom 10 percent over more than two decades”.

This polluting elite is found not just in high-income countries, but in all countries. As Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, notes, “it’s the rich who are disproportionately responsible for the climate crisis”, adding “the most effective way for the government to tackle climate change would be to properly tax the rich, through a well-targeted carbon tax scheme.”

The same point has been made at COP27 over the past two weeks: Wealthy countries have contributed most to the greenhouse gas emissions that have caused global warming, but it is low-income countries that disproportionately bear the environmental, social, health and economic costs. That is why the issue of compensation for the resulting loss and damage has been such a hot topic at the conference.

Wilkinson and Pickett’s next two points are that consumerism – in itself a threat to sustainability because always making and selling more ‘stuff’ depletes the Earth – “can be reduced by lowering the inequality that intensifies status competition and increases the desire for personal wealth”, and that the evidence is clear that beyond a certain point (which Canada is well past), greater equality is a much more important determinant of health than more wealth.

Their final point is that “greater equality leads people to be more cooperative and mutually supportive”, making it easier to get people to work together to address the challenges we face. Or conversely, as the ‘Earth For All’ report puts it, over-consumption comes “at the expense of social cohesion and human and planetary health.”

In short, ecological sanity and social justice are inextricably linked; we can’t have one without the other. Next week I will look at some of the policies the ‘Earth For All’ report proposes to rectify these inequalities.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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


Canada must stop digging a deeper climate-crisis hole

Canada’s federal and provincial governments need to immediately stop all supports for fossil-fuel exploration and extraction, and find ways to pressure Canadian banks to do the same

Dr. Trevor Hancock

8 November 2022

700 words

When you are in a hole, as the old adage goes, stop digging. Well, as the COP 27 UN climate conference in Egypt makes clear, we are in a hole on climate change. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned last month the world is in “a life-or-death struggle” for survival as “climate chaos gallops ahead”, while the World Health Organization calls climate change “the single biggest health threat facing humanity”.

We quite literally need to stop digging up – and drilling for – fossil fuels. In a May 2021 report, the International Energy Agency stated “the global journey to net zero by 2050 . . . includes, from today, no investment in new fossil fuel supply projects.” And Mr. Guterres said in April 2022 “Investing in new fossil fuels infrastructure is moral and economic madness.”

Yet the world continues to invest in new fossil fuel infrastructure and to expand production of fossil fuels. A 2021 report from a group led by the Rainforest Action Network stated “most of the oil majors are still on the path to significantly increase their oil and gas production between now and 2030.”

The Canada Energy Regulator reported in July that Canada is the fourth largest oil producer in the world and that since 2010, crude oil production has increased by 57 percent and exports by 87 percent. In addition, Canada was the sixth largest natural gas producer in the world.

Of particular concern are the ‘carbon bombs’; fossil fuel extraction projects that will release at least 1 billion tons of CO2 over their lifetimes (see my May 22nd and 29th columns). There are 425 such projects around the world, of which 40 percent are yet to start extraction. They will emit almost triple the amount of CO2 emissions allowable after 2020 if we are to stay under a 1.5°C rise in global temperature. Canada, with 12 carbon bombs – all in BC or Alberta – is the seventh largest carbon bomber in the world and could add 39 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Small wonder that an article in The Guardian in June of this year described Mr. Guterres, speaking at a White House-organised Major Economies Forum, as “furious” that “governments that are failing to rein in fossil fuels, and in many cases seeking increased production of gas, oil and even coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel”. Fossil fuel producers and financiers, he added, “have humanity by the throat.”

Unforgivably, the government of Canada is supporting increased production and export of fossil fuels, while Canadian banks and the Canadian government are among the global leaders in financing fossil fuel expansion.  The Rainforest Action Network report noted “the world’s 60 largest commercial and investment banks . . . poured a total of $3.8 trillion into fossil fuels from 2016–2020.” The report showed Canada’s big five banks are among the top 25 global banks supporting fossil fuels, with RBC ranked 5th in the world, TD 9th and Scotia Bank 11th.

A July 2021 report from the Dutch consultancy Profundo, commissioned by Greenpeace, notes: “Since the Paris Climate Agreement was signed in 2015, the six Canadian banks in this study have provided over $694 billion to fossil fuel companies in the form of loans ($477 billion) and underwriting services ($216 billion)”, with 88% of it going to oil and gas companies.

Meanwhile, Canadian governments are also funding fossil fuel expansion. In 2021, Environmental Defence reports, federal government support alone amounted to at least $8.6 billion, of which $5.1 billion was provided through Export Development Canada. A 2022 report from the International Institute for Sustainable Development pegged provincial subsidies at a further $2.5 billion in 2020/21.

This at a time when the fossil fuel industry is wallowing in cash from the windfall profits stemming from Russia’s war on Ukraine. Moreover, the report notes, “between 2018 and 2020, Canada provided 14 times more fossil fuel finance than support for renewables.”

Canada’s federal and provincial governments need to wake up and smell the burning, immediately stop all supports for fossil fuel exploration and extraction, and find ways to pressure Canadian banks to do the same. The health and wellbeing of this and future generations depends upon whether our governments stop digging.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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

As UN climate summit begins, not much good news, but room for hope

The consequences of a mere 1.1°C of warming are already becoming very apparent; the impacts of a rise above 1.5 or even 2°C will be severe

Dr. Trevor Hancock

1 November 2022

701 words

One of the five great turnarounds proposed in the recent ‘Earth For All’ report to the Club of Rome is the energy turnaround. So with COP27 – the annual UN conference on climate change – opening in Egypt, this is a good time to look at this issue.

Regrettably, there is not much in the way of good news, although there is still  room for some hope. In a September joint report with other major UN agencies and the UK Met Office, the World Meteorological Organization announced that while CO2 emissions went down a bit during Covid, atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations continue to rise”, with the three main greenhouse gases – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – all reaching new record highs in 2021.

The report also noted preliminary data for January to May 2022 show a 1.2 percent increase in CO2 emissions over pre-pandemic (2019) levels. This is particularly troubling given that the world is supposed to be working to reduce emissions.  Unsurprisingly, current commitments by the nations of the world are not sufficient to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. For example, the Lancet Countdown (see below) reported “the carbon intensity of the global energy system has decreased by less than 1 percent” in the 30 years since the  UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was adopted.

With the current policies and commitments, we will hit betweeen 2.5 and 2.8°C  warming by 2100, well beyond the 2°C target, never mind the 1.5°C  target. In fact the report found an almost 50 percent chance that during the next five years, at least one year will exceed the 1.5°C target. If all national pledges are met – which has not been happening – warming could be kept to 1.9 – 2.1°C.

The consequences of a mere 1.1°C of warming are already becoming very apparent; the impacts of a rise above 1.5 or even 2°C will be severe. Within the coming decades, in some parts of the world, temperatures could reach dangerous levels at which outdoor labour becomes impossible. The report notes a five-fold increase in the frequency of weather, climate and water-related disasters in the past 50 years, noting it is costing “on average, US$202 million in losses daily” – that’s DAILY! And as is always the case, “the world’s most vulnerable populations will suffer most, as seen in recent extreme weather events.”

Then there are the health impacts. The Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, reports on the health impacts of climate change in the annual Lancet Countdown report. Released in late October, the report proclaimed health is “at the mercy of fossil fuels” and notes “heat-related deaths [among those 65 and older] increased by 68% between 2000–04 and 2017–21”. Among other things, the Countdown reported, “heat exposure led to 470 billion potential labour hours lost globally in 2021” and the potential for the spread of diseases such as malaria and dengue fever was markedly increased, while “every dimension of food security is being affected by climate change.”   

The Countdown urges a ‘health-centred response’, which would “reduce the likelihood of the most catastrophic climate change impacts, while improving energy security, creating an opportunity for economic recovery, and offering immediate health benefits.” Those global health benefits would include preventing many of the 1 – 2 million annual deaths from fossil fuel air pollution, while a shift to a more plant based diet would prevent some 11 million deaths annually.

And what is B.C. doing about this? In short not much. In late October, a coalition of over 450 B.C. organisations, representing some 2 million people, issued its first report card on B.C.’s progress in addressing ten urgent climate actions to confront the climate emergency. Six of the ten actions received a failing grade, and for two of the four where there was some progress, most of the detailed actions were also a failing grade.

So here is a challenge for our new B.C. Premier, David Eby, as he takes office: Shuck off the legacy of failure bequeathed you by John Horgan and become a true climate champion by adopting a health-centred response to climate action and energy-policy. Next week, I will discuss what such a policy would look like.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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

Earth for All: Fair shares for the rest of humanity

  • Published as The human and environmental cost of growth-obsessed ‘extractivism’

Dr. Trevor Hancock

25 October 2022

700 words

The new Club of Rome report ‘Earth For All’ addresses the two greatest challenges facing humanity: The massive and rapid ecological ‘triple crisis’ of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution – to which I would add resource depletion – and the social crisis of massive inequality. Importantly, it links these two crises to a common source: the growth-obsessed neo-liberal extractivist economy. As a result, much of the report’s focus is on the need for “unprecedented economic shifts in a single generation – actually, within a single decade.”

While the term ‘extractivism’ is being used more often in the critical analysis of the failures of our economic system, it is perhaps not a widely understood concept. In brief, we have an economic system that extracts both renewable and non-renewable natural resources – often generating a lot of local and even regional or global ecological damage, then processes, distributes and uses them – again, often generating further ecological harm, and finally discards them, with further harm resulting.

But extractivism also has a social and human cost. Only too often, resources are extracted by large multi-national corporations in low-income countries or disadvantaged communities where protection of workers, communities and the environment is lax, or poorly enforced, or undermined by corruption. As a result, while ostensibly intended to create local development, the process can perpetuate poverty and poor living conditions, while creating local environmental harm.

Humans have extracted resources for millennia, but the scale of extraction today is massive and often unsustainable. It is well represented by the ecological footprint, which expresses our use of resources and generation of pollution (specifically, carbon dioxide) in terms of the amount of bio-productive land needed to support that activity. This includes our use of crop and grazing land, forest land, fishing grounds and built-up land, as well as the amount of land needed to absorb our carbon dioxide emissions. It is, if anything, an undersestimate, since it does not measure other forms of pollution, nor does it reflect the loss of biodiversity.

The most recent report from the Global Footprint Network and York University has data up to  2018. Globally, we used at least 1.8 times the amount of bio-productive land available, usually expressed as 1.8 Earths;  clearly, that is unsustainable. But the demand placed on the Earth varies, with the 1.1 billion people in the 48 high-income countries using on average 3.8 Earths, while the 950 million people in the 36 low-income countries used only 0.7 Earths.

Canada has one of the largest footprints, at 5.1 Earths. In other words, we use 5.1 times our fair share of the Earth’s biocapacity and resources. Meanwhile, almost 1 billion people in low-income countries lack the economic and social development needed to meet basic human needs for all. Clearly, the authors of ‘Earth For All’ note, “low-income countries need to grow their economies”, adding that this can be done in an ecologically sustainable manner.

At the same time, it goes without saying, high-income countries – and for that matter, the 47 upper-middle-income countries (such as Algeria, Belize, Fiji or Malaysia) that have an average footprint of 2.2 Earths – need to reduce their footprints; in the case of Canada, by 80 percent. While this may seem daunting, it is worth remembering that 65 percent of Canada’s footprint is attributable to our carbon emissions, which is another reason why the rapid shift to a low-carbon, net-zero enegy system is so vitally important. A shift to a low-meat diet would also significantly reduce our footprint, while improving our health. So, as the report’s authors say, this is doable.

The ‘five great turnarounds’ proposed in ‘Earth For All’ aim to “reduce unfair and unnecessary material footprints”, while at the same time ensuring that the rest of the world – the 3.8 billion people outside the high and high-middle-income countries – have a fair share of the Earth’s resources and are able to meet their human and social development needs.

I will describe the three ‘great turnarounds’ that take aim at poverty, inequality and gender equity next week. But our role, locally, must be to reduce our ecological footprint – especially our carbon and food footprints – while supporting federal policies that favour fair and clean development in low-income countries.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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

Earth for all, not just for some

Dr. Trevor Hancock

18 October 2022

700 words

Way back in 1977, the World Health Organization declared the goal of achieving Health For All by the Year 2000. This should be understood in the way the US Public Health Service defined a goal in 1980: “a timeless statement of aspiration”. Clearly Health For All was not achieved, and is still not achieved today. But nonetheless the idea – indeed, the ideal – is important, and it inspired many people, including me.

What is particularly noteworthy is the focus on ‘all’. In my presentations, I always point out it is not health for a few, not just for some, not even for many, but for all. It stems from a deeply humane concern to include everyone, to ensure everyone in the world enjoys good health.

But the ultimate determinant of the health of everyone in the world is the state of the natural ecosystems of which we are a part, coupled with the extent to which the Earth’s natural resources and biocapacity are fairly distributed within and between societies. Which brings me to ‘Earth For All’, a report to the Club of Rome that I mentioned in my August 28th column and is now published.

The report comes 50 years after the Club of Rome released ‘The Limits to Growth’, a ground-breaking and controversial exploration of the future of humanity and the Earth. That 1972 report used a ‘world systems model’ to explore several alternative development scenarios. It found that ‘business as usual’ (BAU) led to ecological overshoot and societal collapse in the mid-21st century – now 30 years away. It also found plausible alternative development paths that could avoid collapse – but regrettably, we did not take them then, and are not taking them now.

‘Earth For All’ builds on the ‘Limits to Growth’, using an updated model to revisit the different scenarios. In addition to BAU, the report examines two alternatives to BAU, one of which assumes twice as much resources are found and used as in the original scenario, while the third assumes a dramatic increase in technology. A fourth scenario was a route to a stabilised world through large scale societal change.

One of the researchers, Gaya Herrington, looked at how the actual data over the past 40 years for the main elements of the model compared to the trends in the scenarios. She found that “the first three scenarios most accurately tracked the actual data”, which, the authors note, “should set off alarm bells.”

Both BAU and BAU with double resources led to societal collapse in the 21st century, the first because “material consumption crashed up against planetary boundaries”,  the second because with twice as many resources “inefficient overuse continued for longer”, resulting in “the biggest collapse due to excessive pollution.” The ‘high tech’ scenario led to serious declines, but not collapse; only the ‘stabilised world’ scenario led to “widespread increases in human welfare and popualtion stabilization.”

Importantly, in her foreword, Christiana Figueres – a notable global leader on climate change – makes the point that we face a metacrisis that includes “climate chaos, environmental degradation and perverse inequality.” Not only do those crises interact, she writes, they “all share the same deep root: extractivism . . . [that] not only deplete the planet . . . it also depletes our human souls.”

The main focus of the book, however – and the accompanying Earth4All website – is not on the problems, but the solutions. The authors note in their opening chapter that “the long-term potential of humanity depends upon civilization . . . undergoing five extraordinary turnarounds within the coming decades.” And they take an optimistic stance: “Our analysis indicates its fully doable” and “can be achieved by 2050.”

The first three of those turnarounds are focused on inequality, underscoring that it is Earth for Alll, not Earth for a few, some or many: Ending poverty, addressing gross inequality and empowering women. The fourth is to “make our food system healthy for people and ecosystems” and the fifth is to transition to clean energy. I will address these turnarounds in the coming weeks, linking them to local action in this region. Given their importance, they should be a key focus for the new municipal councils we have just elected.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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

“It’s called outside” – We need licensed outdoor childcare

(Published as It’s called outside” in print and “Why we need licensed outdoor childcare” online)

Dr. Trevor Hancock

11 October 2022

700 words

There is an apocryphal story of a mother taking her young daughter out into the backyard. The child looks up from her i-Pad and says “Where are we?” Her mother replies “It’s called outside”.

The point is obvious: We have become so screen-oriented that we – and especially our children – have lost touch with the outdoors, with nature. There is growing concern that this is bad for their health, and a reciprocal concern that it is bad for nature too. After all, if they have had no contact with nature, why would they cherish, respect and protect nature?

So what if you had a childcare program that improved the physical, cognitive and social-emotional development of children, increased their connections to nature and place and had a beneficial effect throughout their lives? Wouldn’t you want it to be made available for your kids and grandkids, and indeed for every child?

That program is nature-based outdoor childcare, and it was the focus of a recent one-day Summit at Royal Roads University, organized by the BC Nature-based Childcare Advisory Committee (the Committee).“The evidence of the benefits of outdoor childcare and education is clear”, said Dr. Enid Elliot, an instructor in early learning at Camosun College and one of the Summit organisers.

That evidence includes studies in a number of countries that have shown benefits such as increased fitness, improved motor skills, improved mental and social wellbeing, more complex and imaginative play, increased environmental knowledge related to place, and connections to nature that persist into adulthood as pro-environmental attitudes.

Moreover, even though many assume outdoor childcare is less safe, experience shows that is not the case. On the contrary, as long as proper safety and risk mitigation strategies are in place, children develop awareness of personal boundaries for safe activity while developing “communities of safety”. In addition, being outdoors means lower rates of disease transmission, including Covid. As Dr. Elliot concluded: “In fact there is a risk to not allowing children to be outside, to not be connected to the land”.

But the problem is that this form of childcare is not licensed in BC. “Right now in BC”, explained Dr. Mariana Brussoni, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at UBC and Director of the Human Early Learning Project, “childcare can only get licensed if it is attached to a building. That means that operators . . . must still find and license a facility, even if they never set foot in it. Or they run an unlicensed childcare centre, with no regulatory oversight.”

As a result, the program – if licensed – is more expensive to run than it should be, which means it is not accessible to low-income families. If it is not licensed, then it cannot access wage enhancement funding from the province and is not eligible for the new $10-a-day childcare support funding. Either way, the children, families and staff lose out.

Outdoor childcare is an efficient way to expand childcare spaces, costing less per space, so society as a whole loses out when it is not widely and equitably available. Which is why the conference organisers and their supporters are pushing to have outdoor childcare licensed in BC.

The good news is that just to the south, the State of Washington has licensed outdoor, nature-based childcare, meaning BC can learn from them. Their program was described to the group at some length by two key members of the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF).

They emphasised that licensing basically follows the same rules as regular childcare, but with additional training for the inspectors on specific additional rules for outdoor nature-based care, which they described in some detail.

An added benefit that is emphasized by both the BC Committee and the DCYF is the chance to connect with and learn from local Indigenous people about their history and their connection to the land. A new BC-based program, Learning Outside Together, developed by the Early Childhood Educators of BC and the BC Aboriginal Child Care Society, provides a useful new way to do this.

To learn more, or to help ensure outdoor, nature-based childcare is available to all, visit or the Facebook page “Spreading Our Branches”.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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

Municipal candidates must think globally while acting locally

Posted out of sequence, as I forgot to post it the previous week

Will they promote walking, biking/rolling and public transportation? Or will they promote further urban sprawl, single-family dwellings and a car-focused transportation system?

Dr. Trevor Hancock

27 September 2022

700 words

The Club of Rome has just published what may be its most consequential report since ‘The Limits to Growth’ in 1972. Fifty years on, they created a stellar panel of Earth scientists, economists, social development experts and activists, to write ‘Earth For All’, sub-titled ‘A Survival Guide for Humanity’. The book and related website and other activities are intended “to help steer humanity away from ecological and social catastrophe”.

“We are in the midst of a planetary crisis of our own making”, they write. I will not repeat here their discussion of the challenges we face; I have discussed them often in these columns, most recently in August, and before that in June. Because what really matters is what we do about the crisis we face.

“The long-term potential of humanity”, the authors state, “depends upon civilization . . . undergoing nothing short of five extraordinary turnarounds within the coming decades”. These are to end poverty, address gross inequality, empower women, make our food system healthy for people and ecosystems, and transition to clean energy. Underpinning them all is a radical transformation of our economy

Moreover, they write, “there is sufficient knowledge, funds and technologies in the world to implement them”. For example, they indicate that it would take an investment of only 2 – 4 percent of global income each year to fund the energy and food system turnarounds. And they believe this is achievable by 2050.

For obvious reasons, their focus is largely on national and global policies; words such as local, municipal or community do not appear in the index. But in the midst of municipal elections, it is important that candidates who want to run our municipalities for the next 4 years think and talk about what local actions are needed to support these transformations. And it is important that voters ask them about these issues and judge them on their understanding and commitment.

So, for example, when candidates talk about securing economic development, ask ‘to do what?’ Will economic growth increase our greenhouse gas emissions, our consumption of resources and our waste emissions? Or will it entail a switch to energy and resource conservation, restoration of our local ecosystems, ecologically sustainable food systems and reductions in waste and pollution? Will it create jobs that provide a living wage, or more part-time, insecure jobs with minimal benefits?

On housing, transportation and urban development, will they prioritise the creation of social housing by providing land and incentives and cutting red tape and support creating an abundance of housing, especially ‘missing middle housing’, in a manner that is human-scale and attractive, while at the same time increasing energy and resource conservation.

Will they promote walking, biking/rolling and public transportation, expand the ‘All Ages and Abilities’ trail network and implement the Victoria Transit Future Plan?  Or will they promote further environmentally damaging urban sprawl, large single-family dwellings and a car-focused transportation system?

On environment and energy, will they follow the lead of Vancouver and ban new fossil fuel hook-ups? Will they develop a regional strategy to shift us to a clean net-zero-carbon energy system ASAP? Will they protect and restore natural areas and promote sustainable, regenerative agriculture? Will they adopt a zero-waste policy, especially for food waste, and oppose landfill expansion?

It should not come as a surprise that these ideas sound like many of the proposals put forward to create ‘One Planet’ communities and to create a more livable Victoria. They too come from an understanding that for the sake of future generations and for people around the world, we have to become a model of how to live well and with justice within the limits of the Earth.

‘Earth for All’ ends with a call to create a social movement rooted in conversations “in every home, every school, every university, every town and city” about these necessary transformations. And they urge the creation at local and national levels of citizens’ assemblies to discuss how to bring about these changes.

So a final question for candidates: Will you support the creation of a regional Citizens’ Assembly to discuss how to create a livable, healthy, just and sustainable community here in the Greater Victoria Region? And if not, why not?

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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

First Nations agreed to share the land, not give it up

Dr. Trevor Hancock

3 October  2022

700 words

I began writing this on September 30th, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to reflect on the past, present and future of the relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people. One obvious issue to consider in that relationship is the land on which we all live. Indigenous people lived on this land for millennia before Europeans started to settle on Vancouver Island in the 1840s.

Like many others now, when I introduce myself in a meeting I refer to the fact that I live on the traditional and unceded or improperly ceded territories of the Lekwungen speaking people. The extent to which those lands were not in fact ceded (surrendered to Britain) by the local Indigenous people was brought home to me recently by a book entitled ‘To Share not Surrender’.

The book is one product of a 2017 conference organized by the Songhees First Nation and the University of Victoria to consider the so-called Douglas Treaties. These ‘treaties’ form the basis of Indigenous and settler rights to the land in this region and in a couple of other places on Vancouver Island.

The first thing one has to conclude from reading the book – and especially Neil Vallance’s chapter on the making of the Douglas Treaties – is that the ‘treaties’ were in essence fraudulent. There were oral discussions with Chiefs and others for which no formal records were made by the British. They then ‘signed’ a paper with a cross (few if any spoke English or wrote), indicating their agreement; the actual written text was sent later from the Hudson’s Bay Company and their ‘signatures’ attached.

And what did the First Nations agree to? Vallance – who is a retired property lawyer who did his PhD on this subject at UVic – says they were ‘sharing treaties’: “In sum”, he concludes, “First Nations negotiated with James Douglas an agreement to share, not surrender, their land and its resources”.

So what does that mean for those of us who now occupy the lands subject to the Douglas Treaties. After all, we settlers can trace our local roots back, at best, less than 200 years – less than one percent of the time that Indigenous people have been in North America.

More specifically, what does it mean for municipal governments whose main focus is about the management of land, and whose principal source of revenue comes from a tax on land. If the land is, in reality, to be shared, what does that mean in practice? What are the fair and just terms for sharing the land?

I don’t begin to have an answer to those questions, and in any case, clearly, it is something that needs to be decided in negotiations between First Nations and the municipal, provincial and federal governments. But I have given it some thought, assisted by discussions with my colleagues in Livable Victoria, among others. 

It seems to me that one place to start is with a powerful comment in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: “reconciliation will never occur unless we are also reconciled with the earth.” In other words, land use must be compatible with reconciliation with the natural world, as understood by local First Nations. Among other things, surely this means respecting the land, waters, plants and animals and protecting and restoring natural areas.

Second is the issue of returning land. The ‘Land Back’ movement aims “to get Indigenous Lands back into Indigenous hands”. While negotiations have already done that to some extent, surely there is more to be done?

Third, sharing the land must mean shared decision-making. Local First Nations must have voice and power in land use decisions (whether municipal, provincial or federal) made with respect to their traditional territories and based on traditional knowledge.

Finally, rent and compensation: Surely local First Nations are owed rent for the current use of their lands – perhaps through a share of the property tax ? – and compensation for the historical confiscation and use of their lands.

Reconciling land use and development is going to be an issue of growing importance for all the newly elected Councillors in this region – so you may want to ask candidates for their views on these issues.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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

How to build a safer Greater Victoria

Published as “Community safety is about more than police”

Dr. Trevor Hancock

21 September 2022

699 words

It is said that it takes a whole village to raise a child, not just the family and the school. Similarly, the most important message in the decades-old global Healthy Communities movement that I helped to create is that it takes efforts at all levels and across all sectors to create a healthier community. So while the health care sector is obviously needed, it is not the most important contributor to the health of a community.

These lessons apply equally to community safety. While a good police force is necessary, it is not sufficient to create safety; it takes the whole community to do that. And what is true of a healthy community – that it is built one home at a time, one street at a time, one block at a time and one neighbourhood at a time – is equally true for creating a safer community.

 As my last two columns have pointed out, community safety is a complex, indeed a ‘wicked’ problem, requiring a complex, sophisticated, long-term and comprehensive set of approaches. One of the global champions of this approach is Irvin Waller, an Emeritus Professor of Criminology at the University of Ottawa. Professor Waller has helped shape policy and practice in a number of countries and at the UN, where he is renowned for championing the recognition of the rights of victims.

Above all else, Professor Waller emphasizes the science of community safety and crime and violence prevention. In blogging about his 2019 book, “Science and Secrets for Ending Violent Crime”, Waller has said “Study after study confirms that smart investments in preventing violence before it happens are more effective and cost effective than the status quo of police and prisons.”

Moreover, he adds, “Investing in effective violence prevention is more affordable and successful than policymakers think; a modest equivalent of 10 percent of what they spend on police, courts, and corrections will do it and often before the next election!”  

He emphasises not only being tough on crime but ‘tough on causes’: A 2021 Policy Brief he co-authored for the Canadian Municipal Network on Crime Prevention (CMNCP) notes “Solid prevention science identifies actions where violent crime has been reduced by 50% better than the status quo”. Scientifically proven prevention programs noted in the brief include engaging and supporting young males, supporting positive parenting and early childhood, strengthening anti-violence social norms, mitigating financial stress and improving the physical environment.

His work has greatly influenced work of the CMNCP, which was founded in 2006. The Network provides ready access to international and national evidence-based crime prevention programs and practices, mentorship, and support from community safety specialists and peer practitioners, as well as workshops and training. 

Regrettably, not a single municipality in the Capital Region is a member of this network, even though membership fees for all of them except Saanich are under $1,000 ($1,100 for Saanich). So protestations that municipal councils here are concerned with community safety and crime prevention are not matched by their actions.

One of the key steps emphasized both by Waller and the CMNCP is to create a ‘responsibility centre’ – some form of permanent community safety and crime prevention council, which in our case should be regional. It would bring together key players and stakeholders from across the region, including of course the police, but also schools, social agencies, businesses, community members and municipal governments. Together they would create a community safety and crime prevention plan and engage the whole community in that work.

Closer to home we have the work of Steve Woolrich of Rethink Urban, who wrote a series of columns on community safety in this newspaper in the summer of 2020. He is also the Vice-President of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) Canada. In his columns and in his work he stresses the importance of a ‘full spectrum’ approach linking safety, design, planning and health, engaging the community in what he calls a ‘circle of compassion’.

You will have an opportunity to hear from some of those mentioned here in an online community forum co-sponsored by Livable Victoria and other key partners, to be held on Monday October 3rd, 12 – 1.30 PM. Check the Livable Victoria website for details.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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

Community safety – a wicked problem with no simple solutions

Calling for the defunding of the police is an approach that is just as mistaken as calls for more policing

Dr. Trevor Hancock

14 September 2022

699 words

While community safety is about more than crime and violence, as I discussed last week, it is nonetheless where people’s minds often go. They are greatly assisted in that by the attention paid to crime and violence by the media, often amplified by what we might call the ‘law and order’ brigade, for whom the answer is more and better policing.

Now I am not about to join those calling for the de-funding of the police, an approach that is just as mistaken as calls for more policing; clearly, we need a police force that deals with crime and violence. But both the advocates of law and order and the advocates of de-funding fall into the trap that H.L. Mencken remarked upon many years ago, “For every complex problem there is a solution that is simple, neat – and wrong!”

So instead of being simplistic, we need to recognize that community safety belongs in the category of ‘wicked problems’: “a complex issue that defies complete definition, for which there can be no final solution, since any resolution generates further issues, and where solutions are not true or false or good or bad, but the best that can be done at the time”, as Rittel and Webber defined them 50 years ago.

Obviously, the first way in which it is a complex issue that defies complete definition, as I discussed last week, is that the most important safety issues, from a public health perspective, are falls, transport-related accidents and self-harm and suicide. Intentional injury (assaults) are the fifth most common cause of injury-related hospitalization.

A second issue, which I also touched on last week, is that many assaults are either domestic/intimate partner violence or sexual violence. Statistics Canada reports that “women accounted for about 8 in 10 victims of intimate partner violence in 2020” and that 80 percent or more of such crimes are not reported to the police. So violence caused by strangers seems more common, and gets more attention, even though, as StatCan also reported, “4 out of 5 victims of solved homicides in 2020 knew their killer”.

A third issue is that assault itself is not the crime that is uppermost in people’s minds. A Victoria Police Department (VicPD) survey released in June found that when asked “Which one problem should VicPD pay closer attention to?” the top two issues were homelessness (18 per cent) and mental health (16 per cent). Then came breaking and entering (15 percent) and traffic offences (14 percent), while drug possession/use (9 percent) and drug trafficking (8 percent) were 5th and 6th; assault was in 7th place at 6 percent.

This survey also reveals another aspect of the complexity. As reported in this newspaper, “Victoria police spokesman Bowen Osoko said neither homelessness nor mental health problems are criminal matters. ‘That talks to the need for more services and support for people experiencing homelessness [and] more services and support for people with mental health [issues]’”, he said

A fourth problem is that a safe community is not just about data and facts pertaining to injury, but about perception. If we do not feel safe, if we are fearful, we may not go downtown, or use the parks, or go jogging in the evening. Many factors influence our perception of safety, including the media attention focused on crime, which can heighten fear; the design and lighting of our public spaces; the extent to which there are ‘eyes on the street’ and other factors.

Finally, any truly effective approach to creating a safer community must take a public health approach. Just as with cancer or heart disease, the best outcome is not to have to treat the problem, but not to have it in the first place. So while it is tempting to resort to ‘law and order’ to arrest and punish perpetrators, it would be better to ask why is this happening, and what causes that and so on, moving upstream to identify and remedy the underlying factors that contribute to a community being and/or feeling unsafe.

In my next column I will explore some of the complex issues involved in creating a safer community, and the evidence of what does and does not work.

© Trevor Hancock, 2022

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

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