Air quality warning issued after raging barge fire in Surrey - Canadanewsmedia
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Air quality warning issued after raging barge fire in Surrey

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VANCOUVER — A massive fire on a barge in the Fraser River in Surrey filled the air over Metro Vancouver with acrid grey smoke Friday, prompting health officials to issue an air quality warning.

The barge, east of the Pattullo Bridge, belongs to Schnitzer Metal, a recycling company, and was loaded with old cars and appliances ready for shipping.

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Surrey assistant fire chief Ben Dirksen said they received a call shortly after 4:30 a.m. about a large fire burning deep in a pile of scrap metal.

As of 11 a.m., the fire was still smouldering despite attempts to put it out from land and from the water using one of Vancouver’s fire boats.

Witnesses posted photos on social media showing the fire sending a huge plume of black smoke in the air. Several people said it sounded like cars were exploding.

The smoke is affecting the air quality across Metro Vancouver, with many residents reporting a chemical taste to the air. Fire officials say material from old cars, such as fabric and rubber tires, and other scrap metal are causing the toxic smoke.

Metro Vancouver posted an air quality statement on Twitter, recommending people stay inside and close the windows.

Metro Vancouver issued another health advisory later Friday, saying sporadic elevated levels of fine particulate matter were measured at air quality monitoring stations in Metro Vancouver. The advisory says smoke from wildfires in West Vancouver and from California, Oregon, and Washington may be contributing to the poor air quality.

Metro says fires burning in Agassiz and east of Manning Park, as well as the barge fire may also contribute to smoke concentrations.

Dr. Michael Schwandt, a medical health officer with the Fraser Health Authority, said they are monitoring the air quality closely and will need to determine what types of particulate matter are in the air. Inhaling particulate matter can be harmful to anyone, but can be particularly dangerous for those with health problems.

“The exact contents in the air are unknown so we are urging everyone to exercise caution outdoors,” he said.

Schwandt said anyone with a heart or lung condition should limit activity outside while the fire is still burning, and when possible stay indoors.

Anyone who is exercising or working outside should stop if they have difficulty breathing, he added. The smoke is also a concern for infants, the elderly and those who have diabetes, and lung or heart disease.

Fire crews had difficulty fighting the fire from land so Vancouver Fire and Rescue sent one of its three fire boats and four firefighters to aid in the battle. The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority was coordinating the response and working with Surrey Fire, Vancouver Fire and Rescue, and the health authorities.

Dirksen said firefighters are on barge and are attempting to pull the cars apart to get to the centre.

“We have no idea of the cause,” he said, adding that it could take all day to put out the fire.

Dirksen said officials were concerned that the plume of smoke was causing a distraction for drivers on the Pattullo Bridge, and urged drivers to keep their eyes on the road.

— With files from Jennifer Saltman

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Protest camp coming down

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RCMP say they will enforce a court injunction today and remove Trans Mountain pipeline protesters who have been camped outside a Kinder Morgan terminal in Burnaby.

Police say in a release that large structures at the protest camp, known as Camp Cloud, will be dismantled and the area cleaned up. Officers began moving in on the camp this morning.

The release says police do not expect what they call violence or disorder while the injunction is being enforced.

Protesters said Monday that several members were prepared to protect a sacred fire that's been burning around the clock at the site, although the injunction specifically says it should be extinguished due to dry conditions.

The camp has grown since November from a single trailer to include a two-storey wooden structure, a cabin, an outdoor shower, more than a dozen tents and multiple vehicles and trailers.

On Friday, a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted the City of Burnaby an injunction ordering protesters to remove all structures, shelters and vehicles from the site outside a Kinder Morgan tank farm within 48 hours, but that deadline passed on Sunday.

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Winnipeggers slam Bernier for tweet about city park named for Pakistani leader

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Winnipeggers are condemning Conservative MP Maxime Bernier for using the naming of a community park in South Pointe as a way to criticize "extreme multiculturalism."

In a tweet, the former party leadership contender suggested it was an odd dichotomy that Victoria recently removed a statue of Canada's founder, and Winnipeg recently dedicated a park to Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the modern state of Pakistan.

Bernier also argued the partition of India, which led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947, killed nearly one million people.

His remarks came Tuesday night, after Bernier's initial series of tweets on the weekend were roundly disparaged for stoking racist and xenophobic tensions.

Rashid Ahmed, a Pakistani university professor in Winnipeg, scoffed at the suggestion that more diversity and multiculturalism is somehow a form of extremism.

If "being loved by each other is extreme, that's fine," said Ahmed, who campaigned for the new name to city officials. "I'm happy with that word as extremism." 

Rashid Ahmed, a Pakistani university professor in Winnipeg, was part of the group that asked that the park be named after Muhammad Ali Jinnah. (Radio-Canada)

He said Bernier appears to be exploiting Islamophobia to rile up anti-immigrant sentiment. 

"Why do they only choose this name, this park, as the symbol for the division or the multiculturalism? Why not other parks all over Canada?"

In a followup tweet sent Monday, Bernier said his controversial tweets were not meant to trash diversity itself, but rather "ever more of it." Members of his party have tried to distance themselves from his remarks since the weekend.

"Something infinitely diverse has no core identity and ceases to exist," he tweeted.

Ontario Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, who is Pakistani-Canadian, said Maxime Bernier's latest tweet about the naming of a park in Winnipeg after the founder of the modern Pakistani state is offensive and an attempt to divide Canadians. (Salma Ataullahjan/Senate of Canada)

Conservative Ontario Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, who is Pakistani-Canadian, told CBC News that Bernier's remarks are not merely offensive — it's an attempt to divide Canadians of Pakistani origin from other Canadians.

"A lot of [Pakistani-Canadians] supported his leadership bid and instead of wishing them well on Pakistan Independence Day he tweets this out … He's just poking us in the eye for no reason."

The City of Winnipeg held a naming ceremony for the park in the city's south end this May. It is in honour of a revered figure in Pakistan who is called "Qaid e Azam," Urdu for "great leader."

Jinnah Park lies alongside a pond and includes a cricket field, play structure, swing set and benches. It is located south of Tim Sale Drive at Northern Lights Drive.

Local MP Terry Duguid was among those Wednesday to ask Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer to dismiss Bernier from caucus.

This new multicultural reality is reflected in our parks, our streets, our buildings, and I view that as a very, very positive thing.– Liberal MP Terry Duguid

"It's really unfortunate, these tweets and these comments by Maxime Bernier. They're very divisive. They're not helpful."

Duguid said Winnipeg has a history of naming places in support of their cultural communities, such as Dr. José Rizal Park, named after a Filipino hero, and Manila Road, based on the Philippines' capital city.

"This new multicultural reality is reflected in our parks, our streets, our buildings, and I view that as a very, very positive thing."

Scheer said in a statement late Wednesday that Bernier doesn't speak for his party on any issue.

"I disagree with politicians on the left and the right when they use identity politics to divide Canadians. I will not engage in this type of politics."

Scheer did not elaborate specifically on the tweet. A request from CBC News to both Scheer and Bernier about the Winnipeg tweet was not returned.

Coun. Janice Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert) said she was approached by the city's Pakistani community to name the park after one of their leaders.

She said the new name creates a broader understanding of Pakistan for other Canadians, while acknowledging the contributions of the Pakistanis already making a life in the city.

Winnipeg has more than 5,000 people of Pakistani origin, according to the 2016 census. A large contingent resides in the city's southern reaches.

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Toronto firefighters rescuing woman trapped on downtown crane

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Fire department workers are in the process of rescuing a woman inside the operator's compartment of a crane in downtown Toronto.

Emergency services were called to the construction site near the intersection of Dan Leckie Way and Lake Shore Boulevard West at around 6:30 a.m. ET.

Firefighters say they will attempt to speak to the woman first, then determine how to safely bring her down.

"They are going to go through their procedures to try to negotiate with her to get her down safely," said Acting Staff Sgt. Sean Cassidy of Toronto police.

The fire department's high-angle rescue squad is leading the operation.

"The crane boom actually hangs over, partially, onto the Gardiner Expressway, so there was some concern for her safety," Cassidy added.

It was not immediately clear how the woman scaled the crane.

It's the second such incident in 16 months in Toronto. In April 2017, a 23-year-old woman was rescued, and in January was granted an absolute discharge after pleading guilty to two mischief counts.

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