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Feds vow military support as B.C. continues to battle more than 100 active fires –



As BC Wildfire Service crews continue to fight more than 100 active wildfires across the province, the federal government is vowing to provide any additional support needed in fighting the blazes.

In a news conference Friday evening, Canada’s public safety minister announced Ottawa is currently co-ordinating with the B.C. government to mobilize military support to help where needed.

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan said a base will be positioned in Edmonton to provide aviation resources and up to 350 military personnel to help fight the fires.

“If needed, it can be used to support evacuations, firefighters and residents from the communities,” Sajjan said.

He also said the military resources will be helpful in providing assistance as the province continues to respond to more fires throughout the summer.

Fires of note across B.C.

Meanwhile, as hundreds of residents in B.C. anxiously prepared to leave their homes at a moment’s notice, BC Wildfire Service says they are bracing for more fires to be sparked throughout the weekend.

According to the director of provincial operations for BC Wildfire Service, out of 168 active wildfires, nine of them are currently of note, with the Sparks Lake fire near Kamloops being the most concerning. Located about 15 kilometres north of Kamloops Lake, the fire is classified as out of control and is estimated at 310 square kilometres.

“We saw 12,000 lightning strikes, roughly, yesterday,” said Cliff Chapman. “Many of those lightning strikes were hitting near communities, [as] was seen in the Kamloops area.”

On Thursday night, a wildfire near the city’s Juniper Ridge neighbourhood triggered an evacuation order for some 200 residents. Crews managed to tame the fire and keep it under control Friday, eventually rescinding the order and allowing residents to return home.

Some people have said they were already prepared to leave, even before the evacuation order, as the tragedy in Lytton, B.C., is still fresh in their minds.

WATCH | Lytton destroyed by wildfire:

In Lytton, B.C., a heat dome fuelled by climate change has created scorching temperatures, stoking fires that have destroyed the town. More than 1,000 people have been displaced, and it’s not yet known whether anyone has died. 5:48

“Yesterday morning … I had gathered all of our special documents two days prior,” a Juniper Ridge resident told CBC News. 

In a statement, Kamloops Fire Chief Steve Robinson said the efforts of firefighters saved an estimated 400 homes. 

“An absolute near-miss,” another Juniper Ridge homeowner said, as they recounted witnessing the wildfire only 300 metres away from the neighbourhood.

Chapman said more than 1,300 homes are currently under the evacuation order as of Friday and another 950 are under alert.

Wildfire support is currently working with the federal government and Canadian military for additional support and aviation resources, he said.

More fires expected

Chapman said hot, dry conditions, along with thunderstorms, are causing some wildfires in the southeast Interior of the province to grow quickly, which prompted an early start to the 2021 fire season.

“We are three weeks ahead of our drying cycle,” he said. “For comparison sake, in 2017, which was another devastating year for the province and wildfires, the fires didn’t start until July 7 and we didn’t hit that 100,000-hectare mark until mid-July.”

He said there were 70 new confirmed fires in the southeast region of the province throughout Thursday evening and officials were expecting just as many on Friday evening and into the weekend.

There are fires near Lillooet, 100 Mile House, Buckinghorse River and several small communities in the Cariboo, but the closest blaze to a major city was the Merry Creek fire, burning near Castlegar, home to about 8,000 people.

Officials are also keeping a close watch on the Deka Lake fire, estimated at 200 hectares (two square kilometres).

The southwest flank of Deka Lake fire is currently out of control and increased fire activity in the area is expected throughout Friday. The Cariboo Regional District has issued an evacuation order for more than 600 properties in the area. (BC Wildfire Service/Twitter)

The fires near Lytton have closed Highway 1 in both directions north of Hope to Spences Bridge. Drivers are being asked to avoid this area to support firefighting operations.

Highway 3 is also closed in both directions, according to DriveBC, as crews battle the Merry Creek wildfire between Highway 3B and Crestview Crescent.

Meanwhile campers at Green Lake Provincial Park in the Cariboo are being asked to leave immediately as the Sparks Lake fire continues to grow and threaten the area.

Extreme weather intensifying

Climate scientists are cautious about citing climate change as the cause of any specific weather event, such as the current heat wave in British Columbia. But some say evidence suggests extreme events are intensifying and becoming more common because of global warming.

A 2019 report commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada found the country is warming twice as fast as the global average, with the highest rates occurring in the North, the Prairies and northern B.C. Temperatures in the Arctic are increasing at three times the global rate.

Jet streams, meanwhile, which essentially move weather patterns, are stalling much longer due to the shrinking temperature difference between the Arctic and mid-latitudes, according to CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.

“You get great [heat] waves, like what’s happening over B.C., that stick around for longer,” she said.

Anyone placed under an evacuation order must leave the area immediately.

Evacuation centres have been set up in the following locations to assist anyone evacuating from a community under threat from a wildfire: 

  • Castlegar: Castlegar Community Complex, 2102 6th Ave.
  • Chilliwack: Chilliwack Senior Secondary, 46363 Yale Rd.
  • Kelowna: Salvation Army, 1480 Sutherland Ave.
  • Merritt: Merritt Civic Centre, 1950 Mamette Ave.

Evacuees are encouraged to register with Emergency Support Services online, whether or not they access services at an evacuation centre.

Those looking for loved ones can contact the Canadian Red Cross for family reunification services at 1-800-863-6582

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Clean fuel standards allow companies to get both tax credits and sell carbon credits



OTTAWA — Canada’s new emissions standards for gasoline and diesel will allow oil companies that get a federal tax break for installing carbon capture and storage systems to also generate credits based on those systems, which they can then sell to refineries and fuel importers.

Cabinet approved the final regulations for the Clean Fuel Standard last week and The Canadian Press obtained them Monday ahead of their intended publication July 6.

The regulations require Canadian companies that produce or import gasoline or diesel to register as “primary suppliers” and then show how they are ratcheting down the life cycle emissions for the fuels by a fixed amount every year until 2030.

Life cycle emissions include every greenhouse gas produced from initial extraction, through refining, upgrading and transporting, to their final use such as to power a vehicle.

To comply with the new standards, companies need to show that they have reduced the life cycle emissions the required amount through a variety of activities, including buying credits from other companies along the life cycle chain that have reduced their own emissions.

Those credits can come from things such as building electric vehicle charging stations, replacing coal or natural gas power plants with renewable electricity sources, producing and distributing biofuels, or investments in clean technology including carbon capture and storage.

Carbon capture projects that benefit from the new federal tax credit — worth 50 to 60 per cent of the project’s cost — can also generate Clean Fuel Standard credits for sale.

“So they’re double counting,” said NDP environment critic Laurel Collins.

Collins said the Clean Fuel Standard is an “essential” tool to drive investments and conversions to renewable energy, but as it currently stands, it’s not appearing to be doing much of that.

Keith Stewart, the senior energy strategist at Greenpeace Canada, said double counting projects isn’t going to generate additional emissions cuts, and instead just takes the financial weight off companies that are now rolling in cash.

“There is no rational way anyone should get a credit for the Clean Fuel Standard, and a 50 per cent tax credit, along with being able to write it off on the royalties, at a time when oil companies are making more money than God,” he said.

The federal government watered down the Clean Fuel Standard plan in 2020 at a time when fossil fuel companies were struggling because of a pandemic-related oil price plunge. But in 2022, oil prices have surged, largely because of the Russian invasion in Ukraine, and most Canadian companies reported record profits or near-record profits in the first quarter.

Collins is also dismayed that the implementation timeline for the new standards is being pushed back another six months. The draft regulations published in December said they would take effect in December 2022, but the final regulations push that back to the second half of 2023.

An Environment and Climate Change Canada official speaking on background because he was not authorized to speak publicly about the regulations yet said the date was moved to allow a longer time to create the emissions reductions credits gasoline and diesel producers need to comply with the emissions standards.

The Canadian Fuels Association wouldn’t comment on the final version of the regulations until the government officially releases them but said it has long supported the plan.

“The CFA and its members are obligated parties and have consistently been on the public record in support of the Clean Fuel (Standard) because it promotes a ‘technology neutral’ approach to decarbonizing fuels and provides policy certainty that is necessary for companies to plan and invest in low carbon fuels projects,” a statement from the association said Tuesday.

“In preparation for this regulation our members have already committed to billions of dollars of investments in low-carbon fuel technologies.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.


Mia Rabson, The Canadian Press

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Support dogs to comfort victims at Quebec’s specialized sexual violent courts



QUEBEC — Some Quebec domestic assault and sexual violence victims will be able to be accompanied by a support dog during court appearances.

Justice Minister Simon Jolin-Barrette says a pilot project is being launched in collaboration with a guide dog training foundation and the province’s crime victims assistance group.

Support dogs will be offered in the province’s specialized courts that were recently created to handle cases of sexual violence and domestic assault.

Jolin-Barrette says the animals’ presence will provide comfort to victims and help them feel more confident and safe as they navigate the legal process.

The courts are located in Quebec City, Beauharnois and Bedford, in the Montérégie region; Drummond, in the Centre-du-Québec region; and St-Maurice, in the Mauricie area.

The Quebec legislature adopted a bill last year to create the specialized tribunals, which are designed to offer a supportive environment to victims who come forward to denounce their alleged abusers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.


The Canadian Press

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Trudeau expected to face tough questions on Canadian military spending at NATO summit



MADRID — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to face tough questions at a major NATO summit this week as a new report released by the alliance ahead of the meeting shows Canada heading in the wrong direction when it comes to military spending.

Members of the 30-member military alliance agreed in 2014 to increase their defence spending to two per cent of their national gross domestic product, and the target is expected to be front and centre when the summit begins on Wednesday.

Trudeau met with NATO leaders Tuesday evening at a dinner hosted at the royal palace in Madrid by King Felipe VI, and will begin formal talks in the morning.

The new report released by NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg estimates Canadian defence spending will instead decline as a share of GDP to 1.27 per cent this year, down from 1.32 per cent last year and 1.42 per cent in 2020.

The report did not specify the reason for the expected decline, or whether it includes $8 billion in new military spending that was promised in April’s federal budget and whose purpose has not been clearly defined.

Asked about the report during a news conference at the end of this year’s G7 meeting in Germany, as he prepared to head to Madrid for the NATO leaders’ summit, Trudeau said the government has announced several “significant” new investments.

Those include $4.9 billion to upgrade Norad, the shared U.S.-Canadian system used to detect incoming airborne and maritime threats to North America, as well as plans to buy new fighter jets to replace Canada’s aging CF-18s.

The prime minister also said Canada has repeatedly proven its commitment to the NATO alliance by deploying troops and equipment on a variety of missions, including by leading a multinational NATO force in Latvia.

“Canada is always part of NATO missions and continues to step up significantly,” Trudeau said.

“We know how important it is to step up and we will continue to do so to make sure that the world knows that it can count on Canada to be part of advancing the cause of democracy, the rule of law and opportunities for everyone,” he added.

Successive Canadian governments have shown little appetite for meeting the two per cent spending target, which the parliamentary budget officer has estimated would require an extra $75 billion over the next five years.

They have instead emphasized Canada’s numerous other commitments to the alliance, including the provision of 700 Canadian troops to Latvia along with several naval warships to assist with NATO patrols in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean.

That is despite Canada having agreed to the target, as well as repeated exhortations from Stoltenberg and criticism from American officials in Washington calling on Ottawa to invest more in its military and collective defence.

The continuing decline in Canadian defence spending as a share of GDP will almost certainly lead to even more pointed questions for Trudeau in Madrid than was already expected, said defence analyst David Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute.

This is particularly true given confusion surrounding the government’s announcement last week that it plans to invest in Norad modernization, with uncertainty around where the money is actually coming from, when it will be spent and on what.

“I would assume that they were hoping to send a message with the continental defence piece that irrespective of what’s happening in Europe, Canada’s got other defence commitments and that contributes to overall alliance security,” Perry said.

“But the mechanics of how the continental defence piece rolled out would take away from some of that.”

That defence spending is on a downward track when Canada is facing pressure to contribute more overseas and struggling with significant military personnel and equipment shortfalls is also a concern, said Robert Baines of the NATO Association of Canada.

“I’ve always been amazed that Prime Minister Trudeau has facility for dancing over the very serious situation Canada is facing when it comes to defence,” Baines said. “Trying to do so much, and then having so many resource issues and challenges.”

To that end, Trudeau sidestepped a question over whether Canada is prepared to send more troops to Latvia, as NATO seeks to double the size of its forces throughout eastern Europe in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Latvia’s ambassador to Canada told The Canadian Press earlier this week that Canada is talking with allies about reinforcing the Canadian-led battlegroup in his country.

The battlegroup in Latvia is one of four established by NATO in 2017, with Germany leading another such unit in Lithuania and Britain and the United States responsible for forces in Estonia and Poland, respectively.

Germany and Britain have both said in recent weeks that they are ready to lead larger combat units in Lithuania and Estonia, but Canada has so far remained silent about its plans in Latvia.

Trudeau also wouldn’t say whether Canada is prepared to put more of the military on high readiness, as Stoltenberg announced on Monday that the alliance plans to increase the number of troops on standby from 40,000 to 300,000.

“We have been working closely with NATO partners, with the secretary-general of NATO, and especially with the Latvians, where Canada leads the (battlegroup) and is committed to making sure we continue to stand up against Russian,” Trudeau said.

“We, like others, are developing plans to be able to scale up rapidly,” he added. “And those are conversations that I very much look forward to having over the next couple of days in NATO.”

Baines predicted whatever additional troops and equipment are added to the Canadian-led battlegroup in Latvia will predominantly come from other NATO members as Canada only recently deployed more troops to the region.

The government announced in February that it was sending an artillery unit and 100 additional soldiers to bolster the 600 Canadian troops already in the Baltic state. It also recently deployed two additional warships to the region.

Perry said it remains unclear how much more the Canadian military, which is short about 10,000 service members, has to spare.

“Maybe there’s an ability to find some more at the back of the cupboard,” he said.

“But if the alliance is going to collectively be stepping up with some additional … troop and equipment commitments, then I’m sure there’d be lots of pressure on us to be part of that as well.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2022.

— With files from Lee Berthiaume in Ottawa


Laura Osman, The Canadian Press

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