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Historic drought behind B.C. wildfires, salmon die-off could continue, experts say

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VANCOUVER — Thousands of dead fish, a prolonged wildfire season and intense water shortages leading to ice rink closures are all symptoms of record-setting drought in parts of British Columbia.

The Lower Mainland, Sunshine Coast and West Vancouver Island areas are experiencing Level 5 drought conditions — the most severe in the province’s classification scale, which the B.C. government’s drought information web page says means adverse impacts are “almost certain.”

John Richardson, a University of British Columbia professor in the department of forest and conservation sciences, said the current stretch of parched conditions is an anomaly for the province.

“This is quite prolonged,” he said in an interview. “This is the warmest, driest September we’ve ever had on record.”

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Though Environment Canada is calling for a chance of rain in some parts of the province Monday, David Campbell, head of the BC River Forecast Centre, said the dry weather could persist for at least another week, “if not several weeks.”

Experts say the drought conditions have already brought on significant adverse effects.

Thousands of dead wild salmon were found last week in the Neekas Creek, which runs through Heiltsuk Territory in the central coast region of the province.

William Housty, conservation manager for the Heiltsuk Integrated Resource Management Department, said he has seen pre-spawn mortality before “but never to this degree.”

“We’re looking at pretty much 100 per cent mortality of all the salmon that were in the creek at that time. It’s just unheard of at this time of year that we don’t have rain,” he said.

High tides and plentiful rain earlier in the season allowed the salmon to enter the river, Housty explained, but the following weeks of drought conditions dried out waterways and prevented the fish from spawning.

Oxygen levels dropped, the water temperature rose, and the result was massive die-off, he said.

“The Neekas is definitely the worst-case scenario. I don’t think the die-off that large is happening everywhere. But definitely what we’re seeing consistently across the board, is that the river levels are so low that the salmon just aren’t in them,” Housty said. “And if they are, they’re dead.”

Zoology professor Eric Taylor said though the images on social media of waterways clogged with floating dead fish are compelling, it’s important to understand that the drought impacts are local.

“You can’t really extend what’s happening in a reasonably limited area to across the province as a whole and infer Pacific salmon everywhere are under stress because of this,” Taylor said.

And it’s not the drought alone that is of concern for the salmon, he added.

“Fish can handle drought. They’ve handled it for thousands of years — it’s just one of a myriad of challenges that they face,” Taylor said. “It’s when these challenges pile on top of each other that the real issues for fish happen.”

He said the best solution is to ensure fish can easily access refuge areas, which would allow them to more easily adapt and survive during droughts.

Meanwhile, the Sunshine Coast Regional District delayed the opening of a local ice rink after the government implemented water restrictions amid concerns there wouldn’t be enough for homes, fire protection and the Sechelt Hospital.

The BC Wildfire Service also issued a news release ahead of Thanksgiving weekend urging people to use caution and remain vigilant to prevent human-caused fires. The government has banned open fires in much of the province.

“Sustained warm and dry weather will extend British Columbia’s wildfire season well into the fall,” the statement said.

As of Sunday, there were more than 185 wildfires still burning across the province.

The service said a cold front is expected to sweep across the province Monday, but that winds associated with the weather pattern may create “elevated fire behaviour conditions.”

“Very little precipitation is expected to accompany the front,” it said.

Even when the rain returns, Richardson warned the dry conditions could create greater flood risks.

“The soils have been drying, they become hydrophobic and so when they first get moisture, it takes a while for the moisture to soak in naturally,” he said. “So, initially, it’s very resistant and water runs off the surface and — especially on steep slopes — that leads to lots of erosion and potentially slope failures.”

But floods are a worst-case scenario that would also require heavy rainfall in a short amount of time, Richardson said.

“Best-case scenario is it starts to drizzle, and everything gets wetted up, and we don’t see anything happen at all,” he said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 9, 2022.

 

Brieanna Charlebois, The Canadian Press

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Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News

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Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.

Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.

Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.

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The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.

“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.

Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.

“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”

LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS

Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.

Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.

The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.

Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.

The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.

Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.

Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.

Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.

Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.

MISLEADING COSTS

IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.

The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.

Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.

“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.

SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES

Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles

“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.

He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.

“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.

NO DEBT RELIEF

CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.

On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”

Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.

Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.

Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.

“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”

After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.

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Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries

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A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.

Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.

It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.

Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

British Columbia‘s police watchdog has cleared a slain Burnaby RCMP constable of wrongdoing after she shot a man in the altercation that led to her death.

The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.

It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.

Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.

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Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.

Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.

“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.

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