Welcoming the Syrian Refugees

2013-01 tnh society big.png

I recall the feeling of crippling responsibility, the sense of vulnerability, the revelation that I was responsible for a tiny life. Until I became pregnant and began to feel the awareness of the life growing within my belly, I could not have known the sudden susceptibility to a host of fears and worries that would weigh upon me.

I recall all of that: the concern, the love, the distress. These are the emotions of the young parent. In a life-changing moment, one is granted the knowledge that babies might be cute or troublesome — depending on your perspective — but they are also an enormous burden. I don’t mean that in a negative way, rather as a statement of fact. They are vulnerable and, suddenly, so are you.

After heavy criticism for his promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada, Justin Trudeau now walks on glass because of the government’s compromise to limit Canada’s Syrian refugee plan to women, children and families. Well, you can’t please everyone.

To my mind, Trudeau’s solution to the fear-based paranoia that we’ve seen these last few months, and in particular since the Paris attacks, is smart. Some might see it as pandering to the right, and yes, it is a compromise, but as with all compromises, you give something and you gain something else. While many fear 25,000 refugees are more than Canada can manage, it is a proverbial drop in the bucket. Compare that to Germany’s 800,000. We will be helping a few people, and I’m glad of that, but there will be many who will still remain homeless. So we’re not solving the Syrian hostage crisis, but we are helping some Syrians.

The government’s decision to limit the refugee demographic is indeed expedient, but it also speaks to the incredible vulnerability of these particular individuals. Not only are they refugees, but they are the most helpless, the most defenseless segment of those affected by this crisis: women, children and parents. They are the vulnerable ones.

So let’s do this. Let’s open our country to these children and their families. Instead of finding fault with Trudeau’s compromise, let’s move forward. You can’t please all of the electorate all of the time, but we can give sanctuary to a few good people.



Well, tomorrow is the big day. After eight years of research, travel, writing, rewriting, revision, and waiting, I will be launching my book, Weaving a Malawi Sunrise, tomorrow evening at Audrey’s Books here in Edmonton. It’s been a long journey, and I’m happy to be moving on to the next stage — also happy to be moving on to other projects. So if you’re in Edmonton on November 17, please stop by; we start at 7 PM. I will discuss the origins of the story, do a reading, show you my travel photos, and answer your questions.

Hope to see you there.

Goodbye, Mr. Harper


Did the country just give Trudeau a ringing endorsement or did it simply tell Harper to “get the heck out of our government”?

That’s the question I’ve been considering since I began watching Liberal red spread across the country. Here are my thoughts:

Harper’s sins are legion: gutting environmental protection, creating two-tiered citizenship, muzzling scientists, proroguing Parliament, shutting down the democratic process, covering up Duffy’s expenses — to name just a few. So — not surprisingly — I was euphoric when I saw that Harper was being beaten roundly. Sadly euphoria was quickly replaced by a cautious pragmatism. Let’s face it: The Liberals are just Conservative-light. The political spectrum has shifted so far to the right that the NDP is only a nudge left of centre, certainly not socialist.

I believe the Liberals are an improvement over the Conservatives — don’t get me wrong — but I hope they are progressive. I hope they will be welcoming to refugees. I hope they will take environmental issues seriously. I hope they will stop pushing an agenda of fear and division. I hope they will be inclusive in their governing. I hope they will bring back democracy. I hope they will reject the Conservative’s strong-arm, secretive style of governance. But I’m not naïve, and I recognize that it can be difficult to turn back the clock.

But I am excited for the future of our country anyway.

When Canadians voted overwhelmingly for the Liberals, I don’t believe they were so very enamoured of Justin Trudeau — well, maybe a little. I believe they were rejecting the politics of control, division, fear and xenophobia that we’ve seen these past few weeks. Harper — in his desperation to maintain power — pushed too hard. Yes, he roused some deep-seated prejudice, and he certainly awakened dread and division within the electorate, but on election night, Canadians decided that they no longer wanted our country to be run on discord, dishonesty and bigotry. Wab Kinew summed it up, “Canadians realized this was a mean-spirted divisive government that hid behind the economy.”

So even though I voted NDP, I’m excited by the Liberal win. In the words of Stephen Lewis: “Canadians delivered a strong message tonight — ‘Goodbye, Mr. Harper.’”

Call of the Wild


I just got back from a little BC road trip. Among other adventures, my partner, Zane, and I stopped at the Northern Lights Wolf Centre outside of Golden.

We toured the Centre, listened to the interpretive talk and went on the Blackwolf Photography Walk. The walk was truly magical. We hiked with Scrappy Dave and Flora. The wolves were both born in captivity, purchased from the zoo where they were born and imprinted at an early age. They are the youngest wolves at the centre and each has a distinctive personality. Scrappy Dave is the wilder of the two. He is adventurous and independent. He was trained to stay within a certain distance during our walk, but he was back and forth into the forest, exploring this and sniffing that. Flora, who is also the ambassador wolf at the centre, is obviously more comfortable with humans. She enjoyed hanging out with our group, and not two minutes into our walk she was scolded for jumping up on me. Apart from this apparently “doglike” behaviour, I was struck by how distinctive their behaviour was from the dogs I’ve known. If I hadn’t known they were wolves, I would have known they were somehow different than the dogs I’ve lived with. They were continuously active on the hike and always scavenging. The rosehips were ripe, so they were eating those throughout most of the trip. Bear poop was also up for grabs. Their energy level was intense and somehow distinctive from that of dogs. If you go on the walk, like we did, it’s on the wolves’ terms. You can’t force yourselves on them; you let them come to you. The wolves seemed to like Zane and me, but they don’t treat everyone equally. They both let us stroke their fur, and Flora spent a lot of time with me on the walk. We had just come off the Juan Da Fuca Trail, and we both smelled very “organic,” so that may have had a lot to do with it. If you want to go on the walk you must reserve ahead, and it’s pricey. But it was well worth it, an experience I will never forget.


You don’t need to go on the walk to see the wolves. The program that the Northern Lights Wildlife Centre runs is really remarkable. It’s all about education: understanding the role wolves play within their ecosystems and dispelling common myths. They have educational displays and regularly scheduled interpretive lectures where they talk about wolf history, behaviour and their relationship with humans.

Wolves have been persecuted for centuries, but they are vital to their ecosystems. Wolves are a keystone species, and when a keystone species is eradicated from an ecosystem, it causes a harmful cascading effect that is destructive to multiple species and environments. This video explains what happened when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone Park.

We were inspired to go to the Centre by my daughter’s work. Nastassja wrote her Master’s thesis on the impact of the Wolf Centre on participant attitudes and knowledge. While she was researching the history of human/wolf interaction for her thesis, she wrote a rant inspired by her research. I reprinted her piece in a previous blog post. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do. She’s knowledgable and eloquent in her writing.

For her thesis, Nastassja interviewed visitors to the Centre as well as staff and the Centre’s owners, Shelley and Casey. She wanted to learn whether the Centre’s educational program changed visitors’ understanding and knowledge of wolves. Her major finding was that “conservation outcomes reported by participants included thinking about the larger picture in terms of the societal causes for wolf persecution and eradication, highlighting the importance of education, and discussing intentions to engage in pro-environmental behaviour and advocacy.” A few of the visitors have even acted on the knowledge they gained by starting petitions and other initiatives. One of the staff members told Nastassja this story:

“There was this young girl, she actually did everything to set up a fundraiser… she had it done at the Robert Bateman gallery and Robert Bateman donated the space for her to do it there. She raised $1500.00… ten year old girl. She took that upon herself because she saw our website and saw what we talk about and the issues that we have. Now she wanted to save the wolves.”

As it turns out, the young girl is one of Maia Green’s students. Maia is a personal friend. We took our Masters in Environmental Education and Communication together at Royal Roads University. She is now the founder of FUN Society and an educator at Sea to Sky Outdoor School. I didn’t pick up on the connection at first, but when I did, I had to smile. It’s sometimes shocking how close our worlds intersect.

The wolf centre has left a lasting impression. I will go back, not only to see the wolves but to support the centre and its vision. If you’re interested in learning more about the centre you can check out their website. The site contains many resources, including information about wolves. If you would like to read Nastassja’s thesis, What Big Teeth You Have: An Educational Approach to Wolf Conservation, you can find it here.



Modern economic thought arose sometime in the 18th century, a very different time than our own. In The Encyclopedia of Earth, Robert Costanza et al. explain the belief system of the time:

“After the Renaissance…it was argued that material security was needed to establish the conditions for moral progress. Scarcity caused greed and even war; scarcity forced people to work so hard that they did not have time to contemplate the scriptures and live morally. Material progress, in short, was necessary to establish the conditions for moral progress. Thus as economics emerged two centuries ago, the individual pursuit of materialism was justified on the presumption that once basic material meeds of food, shelter, and clothing were met, people would have the time and conditions to pursue their individual moral and collective social improvement” (“Historical Development”).

Anyone who has a fascination with history or a love for Dickens’ writing shouldn’t find this surprising, but somehow it was a revelation for me — like finding a piece to a puzzle lost under the sofa. It was always there, but I wasn’t looking in the right place.

In cultures where the ruling class, or the wealthy class, wants to remain the ruling/wealthy class, it’s best for them to give themselves moral authority. It isn’t necessarily enough to have wealth or even a birth right. When appealing to the common folk, it’s also good to have moral authority. The Catholic Church has relied on moral authority for two thousand years. The lack of correlation between its claims and the reality led to the Reformation and the popularity of Martin Luther’s teachings. The pharohs of Ancient Egypt and the emperors of Ancient China employed this technique, but not all elite employ such an explicit message. Often moral authority is an implicit paradigm within a society.

Embedded within both the Republican, and increasingly the Conservative, rhetoric, there’s an implicit message: If you’re poor, sick or in some other way marginalized, you’re somehow morally inferior as well. You’re not working hard enough and you’re not worthy. Although he is speaking specifically about Mormonism, I’m going to quote Mark Skousen, professor of economics at Grantham University, because his words illustrate the right-wing ethic so well: “If you live a righteous life, God will bless you. Over and over, you read about this cycle of prosperity—a business cycle, if you will” (As stated by Lehmann, 2011).

Upon reflection, I think this ideology plays well with our increasing idealization of celebrity and the wealthy lifestyle. By idealizing the wealthy and their possessions, we seem to, by association, grant them moral authority as well. On the positive side, we can look at celebrities like Bono who have been able to draw attention to worthy causes, but on the negative side there’s a creeping sense that people who lack possessions or wealth are unworthy of equal treatment. We continue to equate material progress with moral progress.

Robert Costanza et al. “Historical Development,” The Encyclopedia of Earth.

Lehmann, C. (Oct. 2011) “Pennies from heaven: How Mormon economics shape the G.O.P” Harper’s Magazine.

Image by Peter Griffin

Memory, Henry and Teloni - 2009 I just received a beautiful email from Memory. It made my heart sing to know that I had made the person whose opinion I care about most happy. I had sent Memory the proof copy of Weaving A Malawi Sunrise. This is — in part — what she wrote:

“I feel like writing is not enough to say how happy I am with the book. I just wish you were here that I could hug you. You will make my life story to live for a long time since I have never sat down to write all the details. By today I was already starting to forget some facts. Oh, the reading has been so nice, full of memories and giggles.”

If you haven’t been following the story of my book, Weaving a Malawi Sunrise, you may not realize the significance of these words. Here is the story behind the book:

Memory Chazeza is a remarkable woman and I was drawn to her story from the first time I heard it. From the start, her life was one of hardship and struggle.

Both of Memory’s parents died when she was young, and later her uncle, who took her in, also died. Although it seemed impossible, she dreamed of attending post secondary school. She held on to this dream through threats and censure. In 2006, Memory graduated from university with a degree in education. She is now the Director of APU Secondary School for Girls in Malawi where she is putting her considerable talents and passion into improving the lives of hundreds of other young girls who are suffering the same hardships that she was able to overcome. Memory has accomplished much in her lifetime. During the 2005 famine in Malawi, Memory undertook the daunting task of launching her own Famine Relief Effort in her home region of Kasungu.  She and her husband Henry Mdyetseni, risked their lives to purchase, transport and distribute hundreds of bags of maize to thousands of the poorest villagers in Chamama, near Kasungu.

Through her work with girls and education, as well as through her Famine Relief Effort, Memory has become a respected role model in her community.   She has single-handedly changed the views of the male leaders in her community. They are now encouraging their daughters to continue their schooling.  Not only are they willingly accepting leadership from a woman, they are actively seeking Memory’s advice. With the founding of Atsikana Pa Ulendo, Memory is now able to bring education to many of Malawi’s least fortunate. Because of Memory, hundreds of little girls now believe they have a future – a future that includes education, health, independence and empowerment.

Weaving a Malawi Sunrise recounts Memory’s story as well as the common story of many Malawian women. When I set out to tell this story, I hoped I would be able to bring this almost incomprehensible reality alive for North Americans. I hope I have accomplished my goal. Weaving a Malawi Sunrise will be released this fall by the University of Alberta Press.


I’m reposting this piece from my old website because it explains our carbon budget and why it’s so important that we stay within it. It also ties in well with my recent post, We Need to Talk.

McKibbon’s approach appears simplistic, but that’s okay. The science of climate change can be overwhelming with its multitude of calculations, so concision is good.

I heard Bill McKibben speak while I was at Royal Roads. I’ve read McKibben’s work. He is the well-know author of The End of Nature and the founder of 350.org. Recently he has set out to create a movement for change.

McKibben was in Vermont, and our Skype call was interrupted several times by momentary outages and power bumps. Still his message came across loud and clear.

He pointed to three numbers. The first is 2 degrees Celsius. During the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Conference, 2 degrees was identified as the bottom line: 2 degrees is the amount our temperature can increase without threatening civilization as we know it. After that, all bets are off.

The second number is 565 Gigatons. “Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees” (McKibben, 2012). McKibben calls this our “global carbon budget.”

Here’s the final number, and it’s a doozy: 2,795 Gigatons. 2,795 Gigatons is the “proven oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries…that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn” (McKibben, 2012). In case you hadn’t noticed 2,795 Gigatons far surpasses 565 Gigatons. In fact, it is five times the number that could keep us within the 2 degree limit that would allow our civilization to survive.

2,795 Gigatons does not include new reserves as they are discovered and it doesn’t include the numbers from shale gas, but it does, quite accurately, illustrate the carbon dioxide in the current reserves held by companies like ExxonMobil, Lukoil, BP, Chevron, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Gazprom and a long list of lesser-know coal, oil and gas producers. So the bottom line is this: To stay within the “safe” 2 degree increase in temperature, 80% of all reserves would need to stay in the ground.

Although we may look at this number and it may appear very abstract, it is NOT abstract for companies like Exxon or Lukoil. “It’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony” (McKibben, 2012). So — what does this mean?

At current market values, those 2,795 Gigatons represent $27 trillion. To tell industry that they must leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground is to tell them they must give up $20 trillion in assets. Stock prices would fall; investors would bail; companies would collapse. What we forget is this: the alternative is far worse.

If you would like to read Bill McKibben’s article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” you can read the entire article online.


McKibben, R. (2012). Global warming’s terrifying new math. Rolling Stone. Retrieved from http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

It’s impossible to talk about the discourse surrounding the building of the Keystone XL or the Northern Gateway or any other major pipeline project without talking about the Alberta Oil Sands, and it’s impossible to talk about the Alberta Oil Sands without talking about Canada’s role in Climate Change negotiations.

Canada was once recognized as the doer of good deeds, the peacekeeper, the diplomat. In the past, Canada has played all of these roles.

In 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper stood before a group of Canadian and UK businessmen and declared Canada “a global energy powerhouse, the emerging energy superpower.” In that moment, he was poised to remake Canada’s image — and remake it he has.

At international negotiation after international negotiation, Canada has impeded movement on climate action. In 2007, Canada was accused of blocking a resolution calling for binding climate change targets at the Commonwealth summit in Uganda. A year later at climate talks in Poland, Canada was again accused of obstructing progress on an agreement that would set targets for developed countries. During the 2009 Copenhagen talks, the Harper government endorsed the scientifically agreed upon 2 degree limit to global warming. But in spite of its endorsement, Canada was the only country to leave Copenhagen with a weakened emissions reduction target. That target commits Canada to reducing its GHG emissions by 17% from 2005 levels by 2020. However a recent emissions report shows we will be far short of reaching even this reduced target. It goes without saying that Canada was the first country to formally withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq has said about global treaties: “It’s not up to one country to solve global greenhouse-gas emissions. I mean, seriously now, it’s just not fair.” But to me this is misleading and disingenuous. Upon returning from Durban, a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation said this: “The Canadian Government’s inaction has led to it being constantly singled out as a laggard and even a pariah in these negotiations. They’ve made our country irrelevant to the United Nations’ efforts to combat climate change.”

Canada has been labeled “cavalier.” Canadians have been accused of “negotiating in bad faith.” Our country’s performance at climate talks led the Guardian to claim that Canada “is now to climate what Japan is to whaling.”

We know that there is overwhelming international scientific agreement that we are headed for global catastrophe if we don’t limit the planet’s warming to 2 degrees, even international governments have agreed to this number, and we have heard from a number of international organizations on the importance of limiting emissions. In 2012, the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim, announced: “A 4 degree warmer world can and must be avoided. We need to hold warming below 2 degrees. Lack of action on climate change threatens to make the world our children inherit a completely different world than we are living in today.”

The Prime Minister himself has said that climate change is “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity.” Eight years ago, he promised “a national system of regulations for the control of greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.” And for years his government has been promising regulations for the oil and gas sector. Two years ago, then Environment Minister Peter Kent said his government was “very close to finalizing regulations for the oil and gas sector.” But then late last year, Prime Minister Harper explained that given the current circumstances, “we are clearly not going to do it.” Our government’s messages have been erratic and inconsistent to say the least.

Is this mixed messaging a sign of purposeful obfuscation, is it simply run-of-the-mill political expedience, or is this the inertia displayed by a government that is unable to reconcile its neoliberal bias with the necessity for global and domestic action? I wish I had the answer to this question.

Part of the reason for Canada’s perplexing behaviour is that our government has “bet the bank” on fossil fuels. It has no “Plan B.” The government is desperate to sell the bitumen from the Alberta Oil Sands because it has no other strategy, and in order to sell Alberta’s bitumen, it needs to get it out of the province.

This is at the heart of the government’s push for pipeline construction. Alberta’s past Finance Minister, Ron Liepert, said it best: “If we don’t get moving on these pipeline projects, our greatest risk in Alberta is that by 2020, we will be landlocked in bitumen.” But here’s the thing, not even a month ago a research study published in the journal Nature found that if the world wishes to stay below the 2 degree ceiling, the most efficient plan includes “negligible” production within the oil sands by 2020.

According to Dr. Andrew Weaver, at the time a leading climatologist with the IPCC, “The tar sands remain the largest source of GHG emission growth in Canada and are the single largest reason Canada is failing to meet its international climate commitments and failing to be a climate leader.” As the world has become more willing and even eager to deal with climate change, Canada has become less so.

The Keystone XL Pipeline could transport 830,000 barrels of oil to the US every day, leading the Prime Minister to call the pipeline’s approval a “no brainer.” He has even called out the US president on the approval process: “My view is you don’t take no for an answer.” Well, you can’t just force a sovereign nation to bend to your will. And while it my just be political posturing, it seems like poor diplomacy. Since then Obama has stated quite clearly that Keystone XL pipeline would only be approved if it does not, “significantly exacerbate the problem of climate change.” With leading climatologist, James Hansen, declaring that continued development of the oil sands means “game over for the climate,” it seems difficult to imagine Obama allowing the pipeline to go through on his watch.

If the Keystone Pipeline is not approved, will that mean the end of the Alberta Oil Sands? Likely not, there’s still the Northern Gateway and the Energy East projects on the table — and there will be others. In simpler times maybe we could have developed the oil sands with impunity, but climate change threatens the health of our entire biosphere. It threatens ocean acidification, severely reduced agricultural productivity, mass extinction. Climate change threatens civilization itself. These are big issues we’re dealing with. In Stephen Harper’s own words “the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity.”

Here at home in Alberta, we face some difficult decisions, decisions that must be reached through honest and open dialogue. Obfuscation and bullying will not help us through this process. Talking around climate change will not help us either. We must be truthful in our approach. We need to allow all voices to be heard — not just those in positions of power. We require a process that allows us to come to rational, but creative, constructive decisions, and we have not seen that yet in this province or in this country.

*  *  *

The above is the transcript of the opening comments I made for a panel discussion hosted by the Oilsands Student Delegation during International Week at the University of Alberta.

On Saturday afternoon, I attended a rally in support of the Burnaby residents who are protesting Texas-based multi-national Kinder-Morgan’s TransMountain Pipeline Project. It isn’t the first time I’ve stood as  part of a small crowd in wind and snow, but even in the cold, I was warmed by the words of First Nations elder Taz Bouchier. Taz spoke about our connection to the Earth, the land and the water. She spoke about protecting the land for future generations and standing in solidarity with other First Nations affected by the pipeline.


Taz Bouchier Photo courtesy of Katrina Armstrong

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation and the Squamish Nation — among others — oppose Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, but it isn’t just First Nations who oppose the project. Over 70% of Burnaby residents voted against Kinder-Morgan’s work, work that would ultimately see Kinder-Morgan’s pipeline run through protected land. Since Kinder-Morgan received a court injunction against the protestors, dozens have been arrested, including David Suzuki’s grandson Tamo Campos.

David Suzuki has been on site lending his voice to the protestors. After his grandson’s arrest, he thanked the protestors: “If we continue to look at the world and the land around is just in terms of dollars and cents, we are going to destroy the very things that make that land so precious to us, the very things that keep us alive and healthy,” he said. Author J.B. McKinnon, well-known activist Brigitte DePape, poet and SFU professor Stephen Collis, and SFU scientist Lynn Quarmby were also arrested along with 74-year-old, Della, the 74th person arrested on the mountain, and Bob Kull, the professor who taught me Systems Thinking during my time at Royal Roads University. (Bob wrote a piece for the Vancouver Observer about his experience getting arrested.) These are not radicals or extremists like some would have us believe. These are intelligent, thoughtful, respected, hardworking people who place value on the very thing that gives us food, air, water and life: our Earth.


74-year-old Della

Along with his constituents, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan has fiercely opposed Kinder Morgan’s plan. In a letter to the residents of Burnaby, he addressed the issues eloquently and concisely. The letter reflects a reality that many of us are likely to face in the future. I’ve reproduced it in its entirety below:

Dear Neighbour (and we mean it!),

Recently, many Burnaby residents received a “Dear Neighbour” letter from Kinder Morgan, regarding elements of the company’s proposal to build a pipeline, storage tanks and docks in Burnaby for the transport and storage of unrefined bitumen oil. This oil is all for shipment to offshore markets. None is for use in Burnaby, British Columbia or Canada.

The City of Burnaby is officially opposed to this proposal because of the damage it would do to our city –during and after construction – and because of the long-term safety risks it poses to residents and the environment. In their “Dear Neighbour” letter, Kinder Morgan says that if the City of Burnaby continues to stop them from cutting down more trees in the City’s Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area, the company may “have to pursue our alternate route through city streets in the Westridge neighbourhood.”

The fact is that Kinder Morgan doesn’t “have to” pursue any route through our city. They are choosing to do so. Burnaby opposes this project, regardless of where Kinder Morgan proposes to put the pipeline. It is not a facility we want. We will continue to work with our citizens to stop this pipeline, its storage tanks and its supertanker transport docks from coming to Burnaby.

In response to the letter, I would like to clarify a number of facts regarding the Kinder Morgan proposal and its potential impacts on our city.

Kinder Morgan describes their pipeline as a twinning.

In fact, in Burnaby 90% of the proposed line would follow a completely new route. It would carry unrefined oil products, not the refined (and less toxic) products carried in the existing line. It would result in a tripling of the capacity of oil stored on Burnaby Mountain and seven times the number of tankers carrying the oil (up to 580,000 barrels in each tanker) through Burrard inlet. The 890,000 barrels-per-day of oil it would carry would be for export, not for use anywhere in Canada. In no way would this pipeline resemble the existing line.

Kinder Morgan says they are your neighbour

Kinder Morgan is a Houston-based, multinational energy company. Its founder, chair and CEO – former Enron executive Richard Kinder, one of the richest men in America – is not our neighbour. He left Enron to start his investment company. His energy operations began with the purchase of Enron Liquids Pipeline.

Kinder Morgan says Trans Mountain has “been operating safely in your community since 1953.”

They have not! Kinder Morgan didn’t purchase the Trans Mountain pipeline until 2005. Since then, they have had a number of large spills, one of the most significant of which was in 2007 in Burnaby and saw a neighbourhood drenched in 1,572 barrels of crude oil, some of which flowed all the way to Burrard Inlet. Emergency evacuation of 250 Burnaby residents was required and 50 residential properties were affected. The spill entered the Burrard Inlet through a storm sewer and affected 1,200 metres of shoreline, impacting ecosystems and wildlife. The Transportation Safety Board ruled that the spill was the fault of Kinder Morgan and two contracting companies.

Kinder Morgan says this pipeline would provide economic benefits for Burnaby.

It would not. Though short-term jobs would be created in pipeline construction, there is no guarantee that any of these jobs would be for local workers. The number of long-term jobs that would be created is insignificant. Kinder Morgan president, Ian Anderson, has admitted this fact.

The economic value of any taxes Kinder Morgan would pay would not offset the negative economic impacts to other businesses and the significant permanent limitations the pipeline right-of-way would put on land-use opportunities.

Burnaby has long-term plans – developed with our citizens – for town centre, transportation, residential and recreational developments. All would be severely negatively impacted by the pipeline, tank farm and docks.

Given the planned and potential economic development opportunities that would be eliminated, the taxes Kinder Morgan would pay would not compensate for the permanent damage the project would cause – even without the devastating economic, social and environmental impacts of an oil spill or tank farm fire.

Kinder Morgan told the National Energy Board that Burnaby’s request to hold a hearing locally (not in Calgary), to enable Burnaby citizens and businesses to participate, is “just another attempt by Burnaby to delay and obstruct.”

This is astonishing. Burnaby believes it is critical to ensure citizens can participate in the National Energy Board review process. We therefore requested that the National Energy Board hold a hearing in Burnaby or Vancouver. Kinder Morgan called our request “an attempt to delay and obstruct.”

The hearing then took place on October 9 in Calgary to determine whether or not Kinder Morgan can continue to break Burnaby’s bylaws and cut down trees in our Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area to enable Kinder Morgan to create a helicopter staging area and to drill bore holes for a project that has not been subject to public hearings and has not been deemed by any local, regional, provincial or federal government in Canada to be in the public interest.

Kinder Morgan says the route that would include tunnelling through Burnaby Mountain is now their preferred route.

Kinder Morgan has changed their stated route preference several times. After the change to Burnaby Mountain, the National Energy Board postponed the project hearings by seven months, as citizens who would be directly affected because of the change had been given no opportunity to participate in the hearings.

We believe that Kinder Morgan’s repeated preferred route changes are designed to divide our community and to enable them to say they are responding to public input. We expect their route preferences to continue to change.

Kinder Morgan says they are “committed” to “fully restore” any areas they disturb.

This is not possible. The damage done as a result of Kinder Morgan’s initial survey work has had far-reaching damaging effects on the Mountain. Further drilling and tunnelling work would cause much greater irreparable damage to the conservation area. Certified arborists described the damage from Kinder Morgan’s initial survey, saying: “The impact of this action will be felt for many years to come and will extend much further than the direct area of intrusion…The removal of 6 mature live alders and 7 wildlife trees has had an immediate visual and ecological impact on the Site 1 K.M.C. Drilling Location. There will also be long term effects of such a high level of disturbance that will be felt in the immediate area and surrounding areas downhill.

“None of the trees removed, live or wildlife, posed any kind of risk or hazard to the public. There were no trails or structures which would have been impacted by the standing wildlife trees.”

Even though Kinder Morgan’s proposal is not approved and has not been deemed by any government to be in the public interest, to fund the current application Kinder Morgan received National Energy Board approval in 2011 to charge a $1.45/barrel surcharge to shippers on oil shipped through their existing pipeline.

When the oil is refined and shipped back to Canada to be sold, the price at our local gas pumps will reflect the cost of this federal-government approved Kinder Morgan subsidy. It’s estimated that this will result in an increase in our local gas prices of approximately one cent per litre.

Kinder Morgan Canada President Ian Anderson later explained the deal to his investors by stating that if “the project doesn’t succeed or we don’t get the permits, all the development costs are being covered by the firm service fees that we are collecting so there is no risk there to us.”

Who covers the cost? Consumers, not Kinder Morgan or its investors.

Kinder Morgan says, “We have had close to 150 early interactions with the City of Burnaby, but have yet to receive constructive feedback that would enable us to refine our routing based on the City’s preferences.”

The City of Burnaby has no interest in refining routing. We have made it clear to Kinder Morgan that no route through our city is acceptable.

When we did attempt to offer Kinder Morgan feedback about the project, asking 1,700 questions through the regulatory review process to attempt to clarify what they are proposing to do, where they are proposing to do it and the nature of the risks, the company chose not to answer 62% of our questions and gave partial answers to 14%. Kinder Morgan said most of the City of Burnaby’s questions were not relevant.

In fact, the questions we asked are fundamental to attempting to ensure the safety of our citizens and our community. For example, we asked for Kinder Morgan’s Emergency Response Plan for the Burnaby Terminal. In response, Kinder Morgan told us that the plan is confidential and that they won’t provide the plan unless stipulated conditions are met, including Burnaby being willing to respond to any kind of event associated with the Trans Mountain Pipeline system within our jurisdiction – and signing a confidentiality agreement! In other words, we have to accept the project in our community before Kinder Morgan will share with us critical information that would allow us to assess its safety. That’s absurd – and Kinder Morgan has since been ordered by the National Energy Board to provide the plan. Hundreds of other questions critical to Burnaby citizens, however, remain unanswered by Kinder Morgan.

One interaction Kinder Morgan had with a citizen was to alert the RCMP to the fact that she had been taking photos of the Burnaby Mountain tank farm. Police responded by going to the home of this citizen, saying they believed she may have posed a security threat.

The RCMP said this action was taken because the Burnaby Mountain tank farm is a potential terrorist target. If this is the case, why is Kinder Morgan proposing to triple the size of this terrorist target in a densely populated urban area on a hill above homes, businesses and critical waterways?

Kinder Morgan says they are looking to reinforce their “rights” to undertake the destructive work they call “studies” in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area.

We are looking to enforce the bylaws that clearly prohibit these destructive “studies” – to protect the conservation area our citizens have told us they want to protect.

With this project proposal, Kinder Morgan is demanding that Burnaby – and Metro Vancouver – accept most of the impacts and risks. Kinder Morgan even refused to confirm that it would guarantee supply from its proposed line for Burnaby’s Chevron refinery. Their focus is on maximizing profits, regardless of the many significant costs and damage to our community.

Our concerns are compounded by the fact that the National Energy Board has said that it will not be hearing evidence, and that Burnaby and other intervenors will not have opportunities in the NEB hearing to question Kinder Morgan. Their draft conditions suggest that Kinder Morgan will receive approval for its project, before having to address any of the fire, safety and routing issues that will be raised by Burnaby and other intervenors in the pre-approval hearing process.

I am very pleased that at September’s Union of British Columbia Municipalities meeting that brings together Mayors and Councils from throughout the province, delegates passed three emergency resolutions regarding their concerns about Kinder Morgan’s proposal – one demanding restoration of a full National Energy Board public hearing process for this project; one to compel Trans Mountain and all other pipeline operators shipping diluted bitumen, to provide site specific consequence analyses and response plans and tactics for submerged and sunken oil to be subject to public review and approval by impacted communities; and one asking the Province of British Columbia to undertake its own Environmental Assessment process for the Trans Mountain Expansion Project, which should include sufficient opportunity for meaningful participation by all interested British Columbians.

The delegates’ support for these emergency resolutions demonstrates clearly that concerns about Kinder Morgan’s proposal are not limited to just a few cities. They are shared by communities throughout the province. Their votes mark an important milestone in ensuring our shared, wide-ranging concerns about both the deeply flawed hearing process and the proposal itself are heard and acknowledged by the federal government and the National Energy Board.

The City of Burnaby will continue to represent its citizens’ interests as we move through this process. We look forward to continuing to hear from you directly, via a dedicated Burnaby telephone line at 604-297-4400, or email to mayor@burnaby.ca.


Derek R. Corrigan

My Friend, the Wolf


Last year, my daughter, Nastassja, began graduate studies in Intercultural and International Communications. For her thesis, “What big teeth you have: An educational approach to wolf conservation,” she conducted a series of interviews at a wolf conservation centre. She hopes to determine how education can effect public perception and ultimately conservation of wolves. To contextualize her research, she has studied the history of Canadian public policy on the “management” of the species.

The following is a short piece she wrote as a result of her research:

Having spent a number of hours conducting interviews and researching wolves, wildlife education and the pathetic policies of our government that do not only fail to protect wolves, but strive to systematically murder them, I wanted to share some of the insights and information I have learned throughout the process of doing research; an undertaking that for me has become something far more than just a thesis.

First of all, some background. Wolves are known as a keystone species. I have included a nice little graphic to demonstrate this concept here:

The idea of a keystone species is that the species in question is the keystone in the archway and the remaining stones are an ecosystem. If you remove the keystone, the entire archway collapses. The integral role of wolves in the ecosystem was perhaps most aptly demonstrated by events that took place throughout the twentieth century in Yellowstone National Park.

In 1926, the last wolves in the park were killed. The eradication of wolves from Yellowstone was a result of the usual human motivations for such policies: irrational fear, hatred and misunderstanding, the uneducated assumption that removing an apex predator from an ecosystem would have no negative effects, pressure from stakeholders such as hunters and ranchers, and from what I’ve come to note in my research again and again an almost compulsive need to exterminate wolves at any and all costs.

I won’t pretend to know why humans are so remarkably stupid.

Within a few years of the wolf’s disappearance in the park, visitors began to notice that the once vibrant ecosystem seemed less alive. Waterways became muddy and stagnant, vegetation disappeared, and small birds, beavers, and other animals native to the landscape were nowhere to be seen.968775_10151388224890951_964857141_n

A study was conducted and it was discovered that the reason was due to an explosion of deer, elk, and other ungulate populations. Unchecked, hooved animals were becoming accustomed to spending their days along the water whereas with wolves around, they only visited when they had to. This in turn was decimating the vegetation around lakes and rivers, resulting in mass erosion. Beavers had no materials with which to make their dams, causing a lack of the stagnant water needed to breed insect populations that in turn feed small birds and so on up the food chain.

It wasn’t until 1995 that a solution to this problem was enacted. 35 Canadian wolves were captured and relocated to Yellowstone. The difference in the park’s ecosystem happened quickly. Ungulate herds were reduced to healthy populations, and vegetation recovered. Waterways healed and absent animals began to return.

So we have this example of how important wolves are to an ecosystem, which means the Canadian government protects them right? Yeah, no. This is the Canadian government we’re talking about after all.

Here are some fun facts about how our government treats a keystone species.

Outside the parks you’re allowed to hunt, bait and trap wolves 9-12 months of the year. You don’t even need a tag to hunt a wolf. Alberta actually offers bounties if you kill one, and it doesn’t matter if the wolf is young, old, pregnant or a pup. In addition, park protection is rendered meaningless for an animal that ranges hundreds of kilometres. The wolves don’t know that there’s an invisible line between life and death.

This ad promotes guided wolf hunts in Alberta: “Hunt the elusive timber wolf. There is no limit on wolves.” Unfortunately whoever created it was too stupid to know that timber wolves aren’t even a real species.

The government aerial culls 100 wolves per year, meaning they hunt down packs from a helicopter with high powered rifles, running to exhaustion and killing entire families that don’t have a chance of eluding them. In one of my books I read an account of a rifleman who recalled a wolf so desperate to escape that it jumped off a 300 foot cliff. I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of watching on film how a wolf reacts to being shot… the sight still haunts me and always will.

In addition to these policies, our own Fish and Wildlife officers deploy poisoned carcasses along the borders of Jasper National Park that are laced with Compound 1080. Compound 1080, I have learned, is a cascading poison. That means that when an animal eats a carcass laced with the poison and dies, every single animal that scavenges their carcass will die also and so on. The poison leaches into and contaminates waterways. It inflicts hours of excruciating agony on its victim before they’re finally allowed to die.

In BC, the alpha pair of a wolf pack are abducted and sterilized. As pack leaders and the only breeding pair, this creates mass confusion upon their return. Pack structure disintegrates, and often falls apart completely. It does little to curb reproduction rates, as the beta pair will take over instead. All it serves to do is to cause more confusion and suffering for the animals.

Many of these policies are carried out under the guise of the protection of mountain caribou, an endangered species. It’s important to note that ten years of these policies have done nothing to bolster caribou numbers. Why? Because human-caused habitation loss and destruction are the reason for the decline of the mountain caribou. Are we doing anything to address that? Of course we’re not. Wolves continue to be an easy scapegoat.

As if that wasn’t example enough of humanity’s excessive cruelty toward wolves, one of the only two wolf centres in Canada had a number of its wolves released by vandals last year. The alpha pair, Haida and Granite, were subsequently shot and killed.

Before Europeans reached North America, wolves were revered for their hunting prowess by indigenous peoples. Some anthropologists even believe that early humans created hunting practices and family structure around their observations of wolf pack behaviour.

So why are wolves despised and their direct descendants, dogs, considered “man’s best friend”? Why are wolves portrayed as mythic monsters when they’re more like us than most people care to realize? One of the most common things I have heard when conducting interviews is that the wolves are a lot smaller than people thought. This might have something to do with giant, computer generated wolves dominating popular culture, or it might be a conceptual throwback to hundreds of years’ worth of fairytales portraying them as malevolent, evil beings. Perhaps it’s a combination of both. In truth, there are no documented cases of a truly wild, unhabituated wolf attacking a human being.

I should add at this point that wolves account for a very small percentage of livestock deaths, negligible especially when compared to deaths from illness and disease. In some cases they’re even falsely accused of killing livestock when they’re scavanging a deceased animal’s corpse. Even in these cases, ranchers are compensated by the government for every animal lost to predation. No money is spent on prevention such as guardian animals, fences, or visual deterrents. A lot of money is spent on wolf eradication and extermination.

This year, BC unveiled its “Wolf Management Plan”. You can read it here: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/fw/wildlife/management-issues/docs/grey_wolf_management_plan.pdf

The first thing to note about the plan is that it bases its decisions on wolf population numbers that are estimates, not real numbers. An inside source (a biologist who works for the government) leaked that the numbers were inflated by as much as 30%. We don’t even know how many wolves there really are, yet the BC government sure seems to know how many should be exterminated.

The second issue is that the plan presents an exaggerated view of the impact of wolf predation on the livestock and hunting industries, while failing to address the ecological benefits of a healthy wolf population and the economic benefits of having said population manage our ecosystems and provide tourism opportunities

Third, there is far more emphasis on “management” in the plan than there is on “conservation.” Conservation seems more of an afterthought if it’s in there at all. To make matters worse, the articles cited in the plan provide sketchy scientific support for its conclusions at best.

To give you an idea of the degree to which the plan ignores science, the initial draft (consistently) misspelled the scientific name of the wolf, Canis lupus, as “Canis lupis”.

We have our own “management plan” here in Alberta, which in essence allows wolves to be baited, trapped, poisoned and aerially shot with absolutely no regulation whatsoever. A dead wolf in Alberta is worth $300.00. Oh, and in case you didn’t know, your taxes pay for that.

I know most people are either too busy or too inundated with the evils of the world to stop for a minute and pay attention to what’s happening to our wildlife. We still have a chance. Unlike Yellowstone in the early twentieth century, we still have wolves. Why let them be driven to the brink of endangerment and perhaps eventually extinction when they’re right there, right now? We need to stand up to our government and let them know that we won’t stand idlely by while they enact ecological destruction and systematic cruelty on another species. That people will take responsibility for their own actions and repercussions of those actions, like the decline of the mountain caribou. Parts of BC are already beginning to show the devastating effects of wolf management policies.

I don’t want to imagine a world without the predators of history, myth, and our imaginations. Too many species have already disappeared under our watch… and it breaks my heart to think that our oldest and most spiritually sacred allies might join them.

“We have doomed the wolf not for what it is, but for what we deliberately and mistakenly perceive it to be – the mythologized epitome of a savage ruthless killer – which is, in reality, no more than a reflected image of ourself.” – Farley Mowat