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BC Wildfire Service warns season not yet over amid drought

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VANCOUVER — Seemingly endless summer conditions in British Columbia have prompted a warning that this year’s “very unique fire season” in the province is not yet over.

Hot and dry conditions persist, something the superintendent of the BC Wildfire Service’s predictive services said is “quite problematic,” and creates conditions for potential ignitions across B.C.

Neal McLoughlin said the season was unusual because it started slowly and was damp, with a delayed snowmelt, then it transitioned into hot, dry conditions by July that continue to persist into October.

Temperatures are about five to eight degrees above normal for this time of year, and there’s been little to no rain in several parts of B.C. in weeks.

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“We are starting to switch the status of a lot of our fires to ‘being held’ or ‘under control,’ but there still is fire activity on the landscape,” McLoughlin said in an interview. “I would suggest, while we are maintaining this hot, dry, precipitation-free period, fire season is by no means over yet.”

The service is citing a below-average season for area burned, and while lightning-caused fires reached about twice the average in August, low winds help crews to fight the fires, McLoughlin said.

“Strong winds are basically the accelerator on a fire in terms of its rate of spread and how far it can grow,” he explained.

He said between 10 and 20 millimetres of rain across B.C. over a one- or two-day period would likely be needed for the service to consider fire season over.

“Although we’re not seeing as many human-caused fire starts and lightnings are tapering off, it only takes one ignition under the right conditions, and we could see a large fire or an aggressive day in terms of fire behaviour.”

While the wildfire service downgraded the last so-called “wildfire of note” on Sept. 24, more than160 wildfirescontinued to burn across the province on Friday, two dozen of them had been sparked in the last week.

This comes as the Forests Ministry warns about drought conditions in parts of the province. Vancouver Island, the inner south coast and the northeast corner of the province reached the second-most severe level of drought on the five-point rating scale.

The ministry ranked those areas at Drought Level 4, meaning conditions are extremely dry and will likely have unfavourable effects on everything from jobs to ecosystems.

“While most forests can withstand occasional water shortages, repeated droughts cause stress to forests and trees. When trees are stressed, they are at higher risk of pests and disease,” the ministry said in an emailed statement.

It said forest health is a “key priority” for the province.

“Strategies are being developed to ensure future forests are healthy and resilient in the face of climate change and changing weather conditions. These include using adaptive management to mitigate risks through planting a wider diversity of native species that can better tolerate drought,” it said.

Robert Guy, a professor of forestry and tree physiology at the University of British Columbia, said he’s “not terribly concerned” about the dry start to fall. He said droughts are more problematic to forest health during the spring, when growth occurs.

“Overall, I don’t think having a drought at this time of year is going to be terribly consequential and in terms of forest growth,” Guy said. “Fires are, of course, a concern at any time of year when it’s this dry though.”

However, he said recurrent droughts do make trees more vulnerable to fires and insect attacks.

“One summer is not so bad, but two or three in a row, then you start to see problems, particularly with young trees. Trees where the root systems don’t go particularly deep are the most vulnerable to drought,” he said.

McLoughlin agreed.

“If this were to extend into next fire season, and then maybe another season where we have two to three back-to-back years where we have very dry conditions, that typically will then be a lead into a very catastrophic fire year,” he said.

It is too early to predict whether the drought will affect next season, McLoughlin said.

“We do have higher drought conditions leading into the end of our fire season, which could carry over into next year if we don’t see good overwinter precipitation and recovery from a precipitation and moisture perspective,” he said. “So, there’s the possibility, but it’s not to say that there’s certainty that will play out.”

The BC Wildfire Service plans to release a comprehensive wildfire summary later this month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 1, 2022.

 

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Chinese immigration to Canada record high from 2015, as some flee zero-COVID strategy

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China’s zero-COVID lockdowns have been linked to a rare wave of protests across the country in recent weeks, and immigration industry experts say the strict pandemic rules are also fuelling a surge in requests to live in Canada.

Immigration from China has bounced back from pandemic lulls to hit a new peak, according to Canadian government statistics, and immigration consultants report an ongoing surge of inquiries.

Vancouver immigration lawyer Ryan Rosenberg, co-founder and partner at Larlee Rosenberg, said COVID restrictions have been a new motivator for potential Chinese immigrants.

“I think that what we are seeing is that COVID lockdowns really shocked people and it caused people to think that maybe China is not a good fit for themselves and for their families.”

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Rosenberg, who has been in the industry for more than 20 years, said the traditional driving forces for Chinese clients considering Canada were better education for their children, cleaner air and a healthier lifestyle.

Permanent resident admissions from China hit 9,925 in the July-to-September quarter, online statistics by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show.

That is more than triple the pandemic low of 2,980 in the same quarter of 2020, and is also up 15 per cent from 8,690 recorded in the third quarter of 2019, before the pandemic hit.

Quarterly admissions from China are now higher than at any point since 2015, as far back as the online statistics go. A spokesperson for Immigration Canada was not available to confirm if immigration rates had been higher before 2015.

Politics is also a factor, Rosenberg said, citing the consolidation of power with President Xi Jinping, who was recently confirmed for a precedent-breaking third term.

“(The) latest extension of Xi’s rule in China has also scared certain people, mostly business owners … and they are wanting to look at Canada as an option for themselves and their family,” said Rosenberg.

“There is a strong vibe that we are picking up on people wanting to get out for those reasons more than anything.”

Tiffany, a Richmond, B.C., immigration consultant who only wanted her first name used for fear of reprisals against her family from China, said many of her clients say China’s zero-COVID strategy made them feel “their freedom and liberties have been stripped away.”

“Many could sense the pressure that (Chinese) society is shifting, from once being a bit open and relaxed to being strict, prompting them to think of escaping to other countries,” the consultant said in an interview in Mandarin.

Immigration consultant Ken Tin Lok Wong said his firm has also seen an increase in family reunion applications.

“Because of COVID-19, many decided to come here to visit their family members in Canada,” Wong said in an interview in Mandarin.

“After spending some time here, they realized that although they probably could make more money in their hometowns (in China), being close to family members is more important than anything in life.”

Rosenberg said the subject of immigration has become so sensitive that his clients in China are reluctant to discuss matters over electronic communication, fearing they might be monitored by the Chinese government.

“It’s coming to the point that the concern is getting in the way of people being able to have meaningful conversations about this in China, and that can somehow limit our ability to do really good work for them,” said Rosenberg.

China’s embassy in Ottawa did not respond to a request for comment.

The desire to leave China during the pandemic, combined with the caution of speaking about it openly, has sparked a coded term in Chinese online discussions: “run xue,” or run philosophy.

The bilingual term refers to studying ways to get out of China, and is widely used on Chinese-language websites and chat rooms.

A recent immigrant who moved from Beijing to Vancouver three years ago said he made his “run” for political reasons. He too asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisals from the Chinese government.

The engineer, who is in his late 30s, said he went on multiple trips to Taiwan after the island opened its doors to Chinese tourists in 2008.

“I remember, I stopped by at Freedom Square, a public plaza in Taipei, and saw some people running around carefree. Some were doing music rehearsals and others were even waving placards to express their political opinions,” he said.

“I didn’t see any police presence at the square and that was the awakening moment for me. I thought to myself: ‘Oh, I actually could live my life this way.’”

He said he was now content with his life in Vancouver, despite feeling lonely during holidays and having to work multiple jobs to make a living.

Rosenberg said young immigrants with lots of work years ahead of them were favoured for their ability to contribute to the Canadian economy in a “meaningful and direct way.”

“So, the bias is towards people who are a bit younger, highly educated, and can speak English or French, and then having experience in Canada, (rather) than experience earned outside of Canada,” said Rosenberg.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Meta and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

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Girl Guides of Canada announces two potential new names for Brownies program

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Girl Guides of Canada is asking its members to vote on two new name options for its Brownies program — comets or embers.

Last month the national organization told members it would be changing the name of the program for girls aged seven and eight because the name has caused harm to racialized Girl Guides.

Girl Guides says that some Black Canadians, Indigenous residents and people of colour have chosen to skip this program or delay joining the organization because of the name,  adding a change can ensure more girls feel like they belong in the program.

Members were invited to vote for one of the two new name contenders in an email sent Tuesday.

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The email says the name comets was chosen because they inspire as they travel through space, boldly blazing a trail, and the name embers were selected because they are small and full of potential that can ignite a powerful flame.

Girl Guides says members can vote until December 13 and the new name will be announced in late January.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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Veterans’ cases raise fresh concerns about expanding assisted dying law

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Revelations that some Canadian veterans have been offered medically assisted deaths while seeking help from the federal government are adding to worries about Ottawa’s plans to expand such procedures to include mental-health injuries and illnesses.

Veterans’ organizations are instead calling on Ottawa to increase access to mental-health services for former service members, which includes addressing the long wait times that many are forced to endure when applying for assistance.

“Mental-health injuries can be terminal only if they’re untreated, unsupported and under-resourced,” said Wounded Warriors executive director Scott Maxwell, whose organization runs mental-health support programs for veterans and first responders.

“That should be where we’re focused: resourcing, funding and investing in timely access to culturally competent, occupationally aware mental-health care.”

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While medical assistance in dying was approved in 2016 for Canadians suffering from physical injuries and illness, the criteria for MAID is set to expand in March to include those living with mental-health conditions.

While that plan has already elicited warnings from psychiatrists across the country, who say Canada is not ready for such a move, Maxwell and others are also sounding the alarm about the potential impact on ill and injured ex-soldiers.

Those concerns have crystallized in recent weeks after reports that several former service members who reached out to Veterans Affairs Canada for assistance over the past three years were counselled on assisted dying.

Those include retired corporal and Canadian Paralympian Christine Gauthier, who told the House of Commons’ veterans affairs committee last week that she was offered an assisted death during her five-year fight for a wheelchair ramp in her home.

The federal government has blamed a single Veterans Affairs employee, saying the case manager was acting alone and that her case has been referred to the RCMP. It also says training and guidance has been provided to the rest of the department’s employees.

The issue has nonetheless sparked fears about what will happen if the criteria for MAID is expanded in March, particularly as many veterans with mental and physical injuries continue to have to wait months — and even years — for federal support.

Those wait times have persisted for years despite frustration, anger and warnings from the veterans’ community as well as the veterans’ ombudsman, Canada’s auditor general and others about the negative impact those wait times are having on former service members.

“My fear is that we are offering a vehicle for people to end their lives when there are treatment options available, but those treatment options are more difficult to access than medically assisted death,” Oliver Thorne of the Veterans Transition Network recently testified before the Commons’ veterans affairs committee.

And despite the government’s assertions that a single Veterans Affairs’ employee was responsible for proposing MAID as an option, Royal Canadian Legion deputy director of veterans’ services Carolyn Hughes said the reports have added to longstanding anger and fears in the community.

“Many veterans have been angered and retraumatized by this situation, seeing it as an extension of the perception of ‘deny, delay, and die’ from VAC to veterans,” she told the same committee.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday that the government is looking at striking the right balance between providing access to assisted deaths and protecting vulnerable Canadians, including veterans.

But the Association of Chairs of Psychiatry in Canada, which includes heads of psychiatry departments at all 17 medical schools, is calling for a delay to the proposed MAID expansion, saying patients need better access to care including for addiction services.

The Conservatives have also called for a delay, with democratic reform critic Michael Cooper underscoring the need for more study and preparation.

“Many veterans who turn to Veterans Affairs for services and support are vulnerable,” he said. “Many have physical injuries and mental-health issues arising from their service. What they need is help and support. And it can be devastating to be offered death instead of help.”

NDP veterans affairs critic Rachel Blaney said it is essential that the government increase access to services for veterans.

“We should always make sure that there’s resources and services out there,” she said. “We don’t want anyone to feel like this (MAID) is ever the first option for them. “

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2022.

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