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Quebec homeowners say Ottawa must address decades of erosion caused by ship traffic

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VERCHÈRES, Que. — Every year, 100-year-old Angélique Beauchemin watches more of her land crumble into the St. Lawrence River.

From her home along a busy stretch of river in Verchères, Que., on Montreal’s South Shore, she watches waves from passing ships crash into the rock wall at the base of her property, sweeping chunks away and eating into the unprotected banks from below.

The higher parts of her land, she said, are sinking an inch or two a year as they slope ever more steeply toward the river. While she’s not a scientist, she says her biggest fear is that one day there will be a landslide and the white house at the top of the hill where she’s lived for decades will tumble down.

“It could go completely,” she said in a recent interview.

Despite her age, she made the steep hike down the slope to the river, wearing a straw hat and sunglasses, with the help of a cane.  At the bottom, she pointed to places where the water has carved bays into the shore since her last visit.

“This is even worse than it was,” she said. “It’s not reassuring.”

Beauchemin says the area below the wall used to be a small sandy beach where people could swim. Now, she feels the rest of the rock wall — along with the remnants of the concrete sidewalk that used to allow residents to wander from town to town — will wash away before the end of the summer.

Beauchemin is part of a group of people who live in towns along Montreal’s South Shore who are urging the federal government to counter the effects of shoreline erosion that they say is affecting animals and vegetation and damaging their land.

The culprits, they say, are the waves from the large ships that pass through the narrow stretch of the St. Lawrence, eating away at rock walls and pulling cloudy swirls of soil away with each ripple.

Micheline Lagarde, the president of a committee of residents formed in 2019, pulls out old articles showing that the federal government built anti-erosion infrastructure along the river in the 1960s and 1970s.

But the federal program that funded wall maintenance was eventually scaled back and eliminated entirely in 1997. The walls, she said, have been crumbling ever since.

In an interview in her kitchen overlooking the river, Lagarde said people feel “completely abandoned” in the face of ongoing property damage.

“It’s like there’s nobody who wants to take responsibility,” she said.

Lagarde said that after years of lobbying their MPs, residents banded together to form a citizens’ committee. Since then, they’ve done more lobbying and even went to Ottawa to present a petition with 2,300 signatures and tried unsuccessfully to meet then-transport minister Marc Garneau.

Lagarde says it’s nearly impossible for homeowners to build or repair retaining walls themselves because the operation requires specialized contractors and engineers and would cost an estimated $5,000 to $6,000 per metre — meaning the bill for a whole property could hit hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if they wanted to, she said they may not even be granted permits because the St. Lawrence River falls under provincial and federal jurisdiction.

Last week, Lagarde and fellow committee member Diane Lalonde took The Canadian Press to visit several properties in the Verchères and nearby Contrecoeur, Que., areas. They pointed out trees and other vegetation that had been lost, chunks of land that have been swept away and concrete and rock retaining walls that have crumbled.

John Masserey’s home sits about nine metres from the water, with a lawn that is held back from the river by a nine-foot-tall metal sheet piling wall built in the 1960s.

Last week, Masserey walked along the base, pointing out rusted spots where water has begun to seep through. The wall is anchored on one side by a concrete base, about half of which has eroded, and on the other by angled rods digging into the grass.

“If they fail and the sheet pile goes, the house is no longer suitable for habitation,” he said.

Masserey raised concerns about the sheet piling almost 30 years ago, when he wrote to the federal government suggesting the action of the waves from ship traffic was degrading the base. The response from the Canadian Coast Guard in 1993 said there was no federal money for restorations.

Masserey and Beauchemin have joined a class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of the residents of Varennes, Que., Verchères and Contrecoeur. The $50-million lawsuit, which has not yet been heard on its merits, alleges the owners have experienced worsening erosion that exceeds what would occur through natural processes due to ships.

In a statement, Transport Canada said it is aware of erosion problems in the area and is following the issue with other partners.

“In order to protect the banks, funds were granted by the federal government in the 1960s to build protective structures; this program has since ended,” it wrote.

Transport Canada said it has taken steps to reduce the impact of ship-generated waves, including issuing navigation notices based on water levels, monitoring ship speed and instituting voluntary speed reduction measures that came into effect in 2000.

The department also said erosion is not only due to ships, but also to “natural factors” such as ice, wind and currents.

“As these issues are not within Transport Canada’s mandate, the department does not have a program or funding to address shoreline erosion related to these factors,” the department said, noting that responsibility for the river is shared with the province and cities.

Lagarde said she’s not opposed to the class action, but hopes the matter can be resolved amicably.

She hopes to meet with the federal environment and transport ministers about repairing the crumbling walls and to work with scientists to come up with new, environmentally friendly ways of countering erosion.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 26, 2022.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press

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Its a Jungle out there: Microscopic Threats abound

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COVID-19 and its many variants, Monkeypox and several sexually transmitted diseases that have been with us for many decades looking for hosts. Yup, these viruses have been with us for a long time and infection rates are continually increasing. Protection from these invaders is legion and often have some familiarity with each other. HIV infections have increased globally by 23% since 2018. There seems to be a new Sexual Transmitted disease(STD) announced every few months. Viruses have regional pandemic control, but with the ease of travel the spread of threatening viruses continues and our health systems are often not ready for this spread. Our medical professionals are at their wits ends, burnt out and often migrating to a newer, less stressful profession, leaving us with staff shortages globally.

How to stay safe and healthy during this time? Well, don’t laugh folks. Really. Here goes.

1. Get your vaccinations for Covid-19 and Monkeypox(where available).

2. Masks are still a barrier between you and what can harm you in the air around you.

3. Know who you’re having intimate relations and contact. Meaning who you are getting close to, hugging, kissing and yes having sex with. Monkeypox passes onto others through contact with clothing, fabric items, intimate touching etc. Do you remember the old 6-9 feet rule(2-3 meters)? That will work. Monkeypox spreads through the contact period. Sexual contact too, even if you are using protection like a condom(good for you if you’re trying to ward off STDs). Know the activities of family members, and keep in mind that your family and communities overall health is dependent upon what we all do. If there is a person who goes to bars, sporting activities and the like, who gets into large groups of people where there is a chance of infection? I guess what I am trying to say is that a person who walks into a very dark alley late at night should not be surprised if a bad thing could happen to them. Victim shaming? No way. Being realistic and using commonsense to plan my activities. Take yourself away from places and persons who could possibly infect you.

4. Educate yourself, family and friends. Knowledge will help you stay away from the viral crouching tigers out there, waiting to pounce upon you. True medical professionals can and will help you, educate and direct you towards a healthy outcome. So-called fake news needs to be ignored.

These last two years have been difficult for sure. I know of 17 individuals who have died because of Covid-19, several people who have been struggling with various STDs for years, and no one who has been infected by Monkeypox. All the illnesses that surround us have one thing in common. The host allows them in, either through ignorance or mishap(unintentionally). So far my family and I have been safe from these viruses. Fingers crossed eh?

Folks, what do you tell your children when they need to cross the street? Look both ways before crossing. Good advice folks. Observe your surroundings and think carefully before you act.

Steven Kaszab
Bradford, Ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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Did I make a mistake by not investing in a house? – CBC.ca

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This First Person column is the experience of Lise Watson who lives in Toronto. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQ

My family and I live down the hall from my 90-year-old mother in a co-op building in the heart of Toronto. She’s fiercely independent, and even after my dad died, she insisted on living alone. 

So instead of trying to find her a new home close to me, I packed up my bags and moved into her building. 

The co-op has been our home for over 20 years. We live in an attractive, well-maintained red brick building. We are blessed with two lovely rooftop gardens, a central location close to all amenities and public transit, and a membership that cares deeply about social justice and environmental sustainability. We know and care about all of our neighbours and have a diverse membership of seniors, young children, and differently abled people. Everyone is welcome.

Most importantly, our home is affordable.

A rainbow forms in the distance over green spaces from an apartment overlooking the city.
The view from Lise Watson’s apartment in downtown Toronto. (Lise Watson)

As members all pitch in and work together to maintain our building, the co-op can keep rent levels lower than market rates. 

We pay $1,160 monthly for a two-bedroom apartment, and that means we can continue living in a city which is becoming increasingly expensive. Just across the street, a two-bedroom apartment that is not in a co-op building is renting for almost $2,500 per month with heat and hydro on top. And that’s the norm. 

I’m grateful to live where I do, but the long-term future for co-ops like ours is uncertain. Established in the 1980s, our co-op is in need of new kitchens, bathrooms and heat pumps. 

While my co-op has savings for capital projects such as this for now, it’s built on leased property and its future isn’t secure. I’m also constantly reminded of the pressures that many co-ops face in the media. Many are struggling with repair costs; some have been forced to raise rents to factor these expenses into their housing charges. Others need to go to banks to secure new financing or are applying for government assistance

If my co-op is unable to maintain its sustainable rent, my family will be forced to look outside the city for affordable housing. 

Two women smile at the camera. One of them holds a glass.
Lise Watson, right, and her mom have a close relationship. (Lise Watson)

I am 65 years old. I’m proud and happy with all that I have accomplished in my life, but in these troubled economic and social times, I have some doubts about my life decisions and investments.   

Growing up, I never wanted to be a homeowner. 

My father was the son of a fish and chip shop owner in northern England. He immigrated to Canada with high hopes and dreams in the 1950s. Dad was a self-taught copywriter and layout man. He met and fell in love with my mom at a Toronto ad agency. My parents scrimped and saved to buy a newly built home in Oakville, Ont., in the mid-1960s. It was a dream come true for them at the time. 

A black and white photo of a man and woman holding champagne glasses.
Lise Watson’s parents got married in 1954. (Submitted by Lise Watson)

Farmer’s fields, ravines, and forests surrounded our family home. After finding local cows one day trampling our neighbour’s patio, my parents realized that good fencing was a necessity. I still vividly remember my dad digging post holes himself with a crowbar and it seemed to take forever. 

Their budget was severely stretched. My parents couldn’t lay down grass in our backyard until a few years later, so we kids trailed into the house with red clay muck on our shoes regularly, much to my mom’s dismay. As children we spent hours each summer climbing trees and jumping into piles of yellowed grass and leaves, checking out the tadpoles and frogs in the creeks, and picking and eating sour apples from abandoned orchards. 

It sounds idyllic now, but it lacked a sense of community. There was little infrastructure, no school, churches, community organizations, public transit, or even nearby grocery stores for many years.

There was a sense of isolation and it was emotionally detrimental to a city gal like my mom who became a homemaker after her marriage. We were a one-car family and my dad drove to Hamilton every day for work. We were bussed several miles to school each day. 

A smiling woman with long hair stands on the stairs.
Lise Watson, age 22, grew up in Oakville, Ont. (Submitted by Lise Watson)

I wanted a different kind of life. I dreamed of going to university and travelling. So I struck out on my own after high school and funded my own part-time university education at the University of Toronto at the downtown campus. The city was an oasis for me, and I never left except to travel. 

My quest to find a vibrant and welcoming community led me to Toronto’s African music scene, and later to West Africa where I married my husband. Six years ago, I brought him and his son to Canada. I have happily supported them as they adjusted to a vastly different culture and now make remarkable contributions to our community. For decades, I have complemented my career in university student service by volunteering at music festivals and a community radio station and in 1997, I started my own community arts publication.

I have had a rich and rewarding life.  But the financial consequences are beginning to take a toll as Toronto becomes unaffordable.

A woman cuts a cake while a man and child look on.
Lise Watson, right, got married in Gambia in 2013. In this wedding photo, Watson cuts a cake with her husband and his son from a previous relationship. (Submitted by Lise Watson)

Today I wonder if I made the right decision by investing in education and life experiences rather than housing security and material possessions. I admit that I have been privileged to make this kind of a choice. Home ownership was low on my priority list. If I had a safe, clean home, that was good enough for me. I never dreamed that some day affordable housing would become scarce. 

Some of my oldest friends made different decisions than me. They focused on home ownership, paying off the mortgage and raising families. Today they are retired, sit in their gardens — some even have pools —  and enjoy the grandkids and travel to all-inclusive Caribbean resorts. They appear relatively content and clearly not worried about housing security. 

I envy the peace of mind they have but still contend that this was not the life for me. I know I did the right thing for me — and my mom — at the time. But now I fear for our housing future.


Do you have a similar experience to this First Person column? We want to hear from you. Write to us at firstperson@cbc.ca.

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Why does Cruelty Happen? #1 of a three part series (what is, animals rights today, Building Life’s process)

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Cruelty

” The fidelity of a dog is a precious gift demanding no less binding moral responsibilities than the friendship of a human being”(Konrad Lorenz)

For many of us, the above statement expresses our tender and emotional attachment to our pets, domesticated creatures that at times become members of the family. The West has placed “pets” onto a platform, a pedestal that separates them from the so-called “wildlife” many of us hear about but do not experience. With a sound approach, we will need to explore why cruelty is imposed upon others, whether they be humans or animals.

Scientists have ventured to acknowledge that most animals show no visible forms of cruelty towards their offspring or prey. The same goes for most of your neighbours too. Most people of sound mind show no or little tendencies towards cruelty. What does cruelty mean? Webster’s Dictionary says it is ” the callous indifference towards or pleasure in causing pain and suffering of others”.

Why do scoundrels, villains, reprobates, knaves, rogues and bullies hurt others? If cruelty happens all over the place, in your neighbourhood, community and even your family what causes it?

Situation: A number of chaps see a mild-mannered dog, and proceeded to taunt, kick and torture the creature. They had no reason to harm the animal, and yet they did so with relish. The dog was no threat, just minding its own business and these men assaulted the animal. Crazy actions right? Unsolicited violence. Violence for its own sake.

Cruelty and violence are partnered in this mental health issue. To hit someone is one thing, but to cruelly beat someone, is totally different. How can someone look into the eyes of a dog, a child, a woman or an innocent animal and basically terrorize it? Fear, emotions, personal loss, an adrenaline rush, superiority complex and so much more are involved. The men who tortured the dog are mentally ill and need assistance immediately. If allowed to get away with it, they may evolve to a different kind of victimization. Medical professionals may say that cruelty is a response to some personal past or present negative experience. Perhaps. Cruelty to animals is one way that a person can express his/her multi-psychological needs.

1. People can get a high(adrenaline rush) from inflicting pain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that gives your brain the ability to think and plan. Too little or too much can lead to vast mental health issues. Cruel people are affected by dopamine levels.

2. In our pursuit to become, humanity has produced some people who require power and reinforce this need by harming, torturing and scaring others. A victim-prey mentality develops. It starts in a person’s youth, often experimenting through animal harm and torture. If you know of a child that harms animals let the authorities know. Do something about it.

There are many myths out there prescribing reasons for cruelty. Dehumanization is one. Cruel people often dehumanize others and many medical professionals believe that simply pointing out that victimizers are not evil, but just like others. Reeducate and reform. Another myth is that those who are evil victimizers are psychopaths, sadists driven to experience other people’s pain. Complicated. A white Supremacist knows that blacks and Jews are human beings. Their fright hinges on their belief that one race is trying to replace another. They cannot tell the public this, so they dehumanize their perceived victims. Ever hear someone call a Police Officer a “PIG”? Dehumanization at its best don’t you think?

Some British Psychologists and Sociologists believe that Cruelty is born out of a normal and natural appreciation of the humanity of others, which then connects with certain important appetites we have, like an appetite to punish someone you believe did you wrong. People who are cruel are just like us, but under the right conditions, anyone can do horrible things. Feelings and needs to be noticed, and appreciated and if that cannot happen then bring on fear and violence. One way or another some people need to be noticed. People can be manipulated by others, individuals, crowds or even movements-governments, to do terrible things.

Why are animals tortured, harmed and killed horribly? Many societies in the past viewed animals as possessions of humanity. Things to be used. A cultural thing. I knew a fellow who owned a farm. His dog went mad, so it was uncontrollable. This man killed the dog in a most horrible way. Many people watched the event with hardly a protest voiced. I called the Cops. Various portions of the society you live in may have different ways of viewing animals. whether they in fact have rights. No matter how you view this, the victimization, torture and assault upon an animal just to cause fear and pain is wrong. To do so shows us a person who is mentally ill, and in need of mental health assistance immediately.

Did you know that 88% of American Serial Killers started off their careers as young people who tortured animals? But let’s forget about serial killers. Know that ordinary people, like your neighbours, family members or those who you work with can become mentally ill, or so enraged by something that they may lose it, and commit what should not happen, violence upon another.

Modern-day societies have shown a reluctance in getting involved in animal rights, allowing individuals the freedom to treat animals as they see fit. Only through exerted pressure from the public will these governmental authorities protect animals, most of the time after they have been assaulted.

According to Buddha “The root of suffering is desire”. The cause of suffering is desires, so could we choose to transform our unhealthy social desires into desires that create, nourish life and respect the other?

Steven Kaszab
bradford, ontario
skaszab@yahoo.ca

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