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How climate change is affecting Canada’s winters



If you live in Charlottetown, Fredericton or Sarnia and you’re dreaming of a white Christmas – or Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa – keep dreaming.

There have always been places in Canada where snow in December is rare, such as the south coast of British Columbia, but even traditionally snowy cities are seeing increasingly snow-free holidays as the climate heats up.

Between 1960 and 1984, Charlottetown had a 92 per cent chance of seeing snow on Dec. 25. That probability dropped to 52 per cent during the period between 1997 and 2021.

Fredericton went from an 88 per cent chance of snow on the ground Dec. 25 between 1960 and 1984, to a 44 per cent chance between 1996 and 2021. In Sarnia, Ont. the likelihood of snow on the ground Dec. 25 was 84 per cent between 1960 and 1984. Between 1996 and 2021, it was 36 per cent.


These are just some of the numbers Environment and Climate Change Canada’s senior climatologist, David Phillips, crunched for in an effort to see how much of a toll climate change has taken on the snowy holidays many Canadians dream about.

“I think one of the real indications of the changing climate right to our face…is the fact that we will see greener Christmases, and also Christmases that have less deep snow,” Phillips told in a telephone interview on Nov. 17.

“In certain parts of Canada, we’re losing that vision of past Christmases. Where (snow) used to be a reality, it’s more just sort of a dream.”

Climate change is causing average temperatures around the globe to rise, and Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, according to the 2019 Canada’s Changing Climate report. The report, commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada, found that annual average temperatures in Canada have increased by 1.7 degrees, or 2.3 degrees in Northern Canada, since 1948.

If 2.3 degrees doesn’t seem like a major increase, a bit of context might shift your perspective.

“From a climate point of view, two-and-a-half degrees difference is like half the difference in temperature between when the last ice age was here, and then when it wasn’t,” Phillips said. “So it’s huge, from a climatological point of view.”

To measure the effect rising temperatures have had on holiday snowfall in Canada, Phillips looked at data gathered at 44 weather stations located across the country during two 25-year periods – 1960 to 1984 and 1997 to 2021.

On average, Canadian cities and towns have seen a 13 per cent decrease in the likelihood of a snowy Dec. 25, from 79 per cent between 1960 and 1984 to 66 per cent between 1997 and 2021. However, that decrease isn’t spread evenly across the country.

While parts of the prairies and northern locations such as Iqaluit, Yellowknife and Whitehorse have recorded little-to-no change in the likelihood of a snowy December, communities on Canada’s East Coast have recorded some of the biggest differences in the country. Snowy holidays have also become increasingly rare in southern Ontario, southern Alberta and British Columbia.

London, Ont., had an 80 per cent chance of snow cover on Dec. 25 from 1960 to 1984. That probability dropped to 48 per cent between 1997 and 2021.Kelowna, B.C.’s probability dropped to 56 per cent from 76 per cent in the same periods, and Medicine Hat, Alta.’s dropped to 52 per cent from 72.

Not only are snowy winter holidays becoming rarer, but the depth of snow on the ground is thinning out as well, Phillips said.

Stick a ruler into Canada back in the 1970s and on Christmas morning, it would often say 15 or 16 (centimetres), whereas now it’s more like 10 or 11,” he said. “So we have lost that frequency and also the amount of snow. But again, it’s very regionally biased.”

Statistically, Timmins, Ont. and Quebec City were still both more than 90 per cent likely to see snow on Dec. 25 as of 2021. But the average depth of that snow had decreased by 22 and 19 centimetres respectively compared to between 1960 and 1984.

Most of the weather stations Phillips collected data from have observed a similar trend, to a lesser extent. For example, Fredericton measured an average snow depth of 21 centimetres on Dec. 25 between 1960 and 1984. Between 1997 and 2021, that depth had thinned to six centimetres.

So how will Canadians experience winter as temperatures continue to rise? For one thing, Phillips said, it will start later and end earlier.

“We are a snowy country, and climate change will still make a snowy and cold country, it’s just that the season will be different, it’ll be shorter,” he said. “So winter may start in mid-January, as opposed to now, and maybe end in early March.”

Additionally, less snow doesn’t mean less precipitation. It just means more mixed precipitation, including rain, freezing rain and sleet. Phillips said this could have financial implications for winter recreation industries in the most affected areas of the country, as well as for any farmers and gardeners who rely on snow to insulate their crops and gardens.

You’ll have more winter rain than snow,” Phillips said. “For example, you won’t see a ski industry in southern Ontario – unless they can make snow, that’ll be their saving grace.”

Culturally, a growing number of Canadians will need to adopt a new vision of the holidays that doesn’t include dashing through the snow, hearing the snow crunch or building a snowman in the meadow and pretending he’s Parson Brown.

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Suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over Canadian airspace: sources – CTV News



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  1. Suspected Chinese spy balloon flew over Canadian airspace: sources  CTV News
  2. Canadian pilots were warned of ‘untethered balloon’ amid China surveillance concerns  Global News
  3. U.S. military shoots down suspected Chinese spy balloon off Carolina coast


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Federal government asking RCMP to ban use of sponge rounds, CS gas for crowd control



OTTAWA — The federal government says it wants the RCMP to ban the use of two crowd-control tools that forces across the country say they have in their arsenals: sponge rounds and CS gas.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino’s office confirmed that it wants the measures outlawed, even as the RCMP declines to say whether or not it will comply with that instruction.

The decision to restrict even the use of “less lethal” alternatives to crowd-control tools such as rubber bullets and stronger forms of tear gas has some critics questioning whether the federal Liberals are playing politics with policing.

“Removing less lethal options from our members’ available options raises real concerns for public and police officer safety,” National Police Union president Brian Sauvé said in a statement.


The confirmation that the federal Liberals want the tools banned comes after The Canadian Press raised questions about a mandate letter Mendicino gave to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki last year.

The letter directed the force to stop using three use-of-force methods: the “carotid control” neck hold, rubber bullets and tear gas.

The RCMP made headlines recently when it confirmed that it still allows officers to use the controversial neck hold despite those instructions and the fact that other police forces have stopped using it.

The force does not use rubber bullets or the more-dangerous chemical compounds referred to as tear gas, which cause irritation to a person’s eyes and mucous membranes.

But the minister’s office is now clarifying that it wants similar tools banned, too.

Mendicino’s office said in a statement that it used the terms “rubber bullets” and “tear gas” in the mandate letter “as they are general language understood by most Canadians.”

It confirmed that it considers the milder CS gas and extended-range impact weapons, which fire foam rounds, to be the operational terms for such tools — meaning that it does want the RCMP to stop using them.

That came as news to Sauvé and other experts, who say that the decision is a departure from existing policy, since police forces across the country and around the world have such crowd-control methods in their arsenals.

The RCMP said in a statement that it is “working with partners, stakeholders and bargaining agents” to review the mandate letter — and gave no indication that it intends to follow Mendicino’s orders.

“The RCMP continues to report publicly on our use of police intervention options, including the carotid control technique and the 40 millimetre extended range impact weapon that fires sponge-tipped rounds, not rubber bullets, as well as the use of specialty munitions,” it said.

It added that its extended range weapons, in use since 2017, “provide an officer with more time and distance from an individual being responded to in order to better enable de-escalation and communication, when tactically feasible.”

Public disclosures show that the RCMP used CS gas 102 times in 2021, and it used extended-range impact weapons 86 times.

The public order units of major municipal police forces, including in Vancouver and Toronto, confirmed to The Canadian Press that they also have access to the tools.

In an interview, Western University criminologist Michael Arntfield argued that CS gas is “entirely different” than the compounds typically referred to as tear gas, and sponge rounds are different than rubber bullets.

He said tear and rubber bullets are “very inflammatory terms,” bringing up images of coups d’état, or of police attacking people who had been marching for Black civil rights outside Selma, Ala., in 1965.

“I’m not sure why those terms would be used if the government was serious about looking at less lethal alternatives.”

Arntfield said he is “genuinely confounded” about why Mendicino would “tack on” a request for the RCMP to stop using police tools that are commonplace across Canada in asking them to stop using the neck hold.

“It looks like political theatre and has absolutely nothing to do with law enforcement operations.”

On Parliament Hill this week, Mendicino said broadly that there is a need to reform law enforcement institutions.

“We are closely consulting and collaborating with law enforcement and experts in the area to take an evidence-based approach so that we can keep our community safe, while at the same time making sure that police have the tools they need when it comes to de-escalating,” Mendicino said.

But he would not answer questions about why the RCMP seems to be defying his instructions, walking away from reporters when the question was posed.

El Jones, an activist who helped lead a study on defunding police forces, says police are “an unaccountable force in Canada.”

The fact that the RCMP is not following political direction shows that impunity, she argued. “I think the police are very much signalling to us, no one can tell us what to do.”

The issue of which tools are and aren’t available to police is receiving heightened attention following the killing of Tyre Nichols, who died after being beaten by police in Memphis, Tenn., in early January.

The “carotid control” neck hold, which the RCMP reported it used 14 times in 2021, had been widely condemned after George Floyd was killed when a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.

Jones said police are not transparent enough about their policies or how much training they provide for officers when it comes to the use of force.

“We don’t have good use-of-force study in Canada,” she said. “The picture of use of force in Canada, period, by the police, is just not very clear.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.


David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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Inuit, environmental groups call for stronger measures to reduce underwater noise



Hunters from Pond Inlet, Nvt. — known as Mittimatalik in Inuktitut — have said they’re seeing fewer narwhal in areas where they were once abundant, making it harder to feed their families, and that the whales’ behaviour is changing.

Lisa Koperqualuk, vice chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, says that’s because of noise from ships.

“It impacts our culture when marine animals are disturbed and are not in their usual places,” she said, adding hunters have to travel further to find narwhal.

Research has found narwhal are sensitive to noise. Aerial surveys indicate their numbers are declining in Eclipse Sound on the northeastern end of Baffin Island during the summer.


A 2020 report by the Fisheries Department suggests that could be due to increasing ship traffic from mining, cruises, ice breaking and development, as well as other factors such as the presence of killer whales or natural movement in the region.

Newly revised international guidelines on reducing underwater noise from ships recognize the unique effects on Inuit, but environmental and Inuit organizations say stronger measures are needed.

The International Maritime Organization’s subcommittee on ship design and construction met in London last week, where members agreed on revisions to the 2014 guidelines. They include updated technical knowledge and sample templates for underwater noise management plans.

The draft updated guidelines also reference Indigenous knowledge and Inuit Nunaat, or Inuit homeland in the United States, Canada, Greenland and Russia. There, it states effects from underwater noise on marine life could be greater due to ice breaking, the presence of noise-sensitive species and Indigenous hunting rights.

“That is something ICC is really encouraged about because really we are the first Indigenous organization to have a voice at the IMO,” Koperqualuk said.

The council, which represents about 180,000 Inuit worldwide, wanted a separate section included in the guidelines focusing on challenges particular to the Arctic and Inuit Nunaat. For instance, it said noise travels further in cold water and expressed concern about the consequences for marine species Inuit rely on for food, culture and livelihoods.

Koperqualuk said there was interest in specific recommendations for ships operating in these waters, such as using Indigenous knowledge in voyage planning, but the north-specific section was ultimately not included in the guidelines because it’s not universally applicable.

Koperqualuk also noted the guidelines are voluntary and there has been little uptake by ship owners.

Andrew Dumbrille with the Clean Arctic Alliance, made up of 20 non-profit organizations, agreed there is a need for mandatory measures.

He pointed to a 2019 study on implementation of the existing guidelines overseen by World Wildlife Fund Canada, the Chamber of Shipping America, World Maritime University and Transport Canada. Several organizations reported they were a low priority as they are not mandatory as well as barriers such as the lack of baseline measurements for underwater noise or reduction targets.

“These new guidelines are more detailed and they have the latest science and latest perspective on not only underwater noise impacts but technology fixes and management solutions,” Dumbrille said.

“Unfortunately these guidelines are still voluntary and so that’s problematic on a number of levels.”

The revised guidelines are to be submitted to the Marine Environmental Protection Commission in July for approval.

A working group tasked with reviewing the guidelines ran out of time last week to finalize a list of suggested next steps, areas needing further research and assessment, and suggestions to increase awareness and uptake of the guidelines. Dumbrille said a correspondence group will continue that work.

“The pathway to regulatory measures is slow,” he said. “Some people are saying it’s not fast enough to respond to the threat and the urgency and the need around addressing underwater noise because our oceans are getting louder and that’s especially true for the Arctic.”

The Arctic has some of the lowest underwater sound levels on Earth, but research suggests that could change as new shipping routes open due to sea ice loss.

A study published in the scientific journal Environmental Pollution in October predicts underwater noise emissions from ships could double every 11 and a half years on average without incentives or regulatory steps. A 2021 report by the Arctic Council found noise pollution from ships had doubled in some areas of the Arctic between 2013 and 2019.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says underwater noise has been linked to a wide range of effects on marine species that rely on sound, including behavioural changes, habitat loss, increased stress levels and permanent injury or death.

Transport Canada saidit’s pleased with the revised international guidelines, but acknowledged more work is needed.

In June 2021, Transport Canada announced the Quiet Vessel Initiative with $26 million in funding over five years to test the most promising technologies, vessel designs, retrofits and operational practices to make ships quieter. Ottawa has also been developing an Ocean Noise Strategy which, it expects to launch later this year.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 4, 2023.

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


Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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