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The weather outside is frightful and it’s about to get worse in many parts of Canada

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There’s no place like home for the holidays, but in large swaths of Canada and the U.S., getting there could be tricky amid a spate of weather warnings.

A storm and extreme cold in Western Canada has grounded hundreds of flights in Vancouver, Victoria and Calgary, and Environment Canada is saying to avoid any travel, if possible, in large portions of Ontario and Quebec as a winter storm approaches.

The Environment Canada warning map is lit up like a Christmas tree, full of reds and yellows. In the United States, the same weather systems are expected to cause power outages and travel chaos.

All told, millions of people in both countries may have their travel or celebration plans affected during the holiday weekend.

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More snow on the way for already hobbled B.C.

Environment Canada says a “significant winter storm” is expected for British Columbia’s south coast on Thursday night, with heavy winds and snow for Vancouver, Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley.

Conditions improved Thursday at Vancouver International Airport, where 100 of 660 flights were cancelled, but there were still warnings of more cancellations, delays and congestion for Friday.

WestJet said Thursday night that it was proactively cancelling all flights arriving and departing Vancouver International Airport beginning at 11:50 p.m. PT until late afternoon Friday. The airline says flights into some of the provinces smaller airports are also cancelled.

The airport was still dealing with a backlog of stranded passengers — and missing luggage — from a storm earlier this week, but says it is on track to lift a two-day cancellation of international arrivals at 5 a.m. Friday. Still, travellers are being encouraged to check with their airlines.

A person holds their head with their mouth agape as they look at a sea of suitcases.
A passenger searches for luggage amid a graveyard of suitcases at Vancouver International Airport on Thursday. (Jennifer Gauthier/Reuters)

B.C. Transit said it would be suspending service in Victoria beginning at 12 a.m. on Friday, while B.C. Ferries also faced disruptions due to the freezing weather.

Matt Leger, who was stranded at the Vancouver airport attempting to get to Tampa, Fla. — and who was still stuck in Seattle on Thursday morning —  told CBC News Network that he wasn’t able to speak to a representative at the airport or by phone.

“I was just sort of left in limbo, not knowing when my next flight will be.”

Eventually he reached someone with the airline, who told him he’d either need to wait until Christmas or fly to Orlando, about a 135-kilometre drive from Tampa.

Other travellers faced similar challenges, including delayed and cancelled flights, and long waits at the airport.

Passengers share disappointment as flights from Vancouver International Airport continuously delayed

 

Thousands of passengers trying to reach their families or a vacation destination for the holidays have been met with repeated delays or flight cancellations as winter weather hobbles Vancouver International Airport.

Vancouver International Airport’s president and CEO, Tamara Vrooman, said lessons have been learned this week.

“It is the worst timing to have this kind of snow event right at the holidays. We apologize. We feel for passengers.

“This is not how we want to spend our time as an airport serving them, but we have made the adjustments. It is improving, and we hope that we’ll be able to get more passengers connected to where they want to go.”

 

Vancouver International Airport’s CEO responds to mass cancellations, days-long delays ahead of Christmas

Vancouver International Airport’s president and CEO, Tamara Vrooman, says delays are still likely through the Christmas weekend as the airport recovers from a snowstorm earlier in the week.

Consider postponing gatherings until Sunday, Ontarians told

In Ontario, the weather agency has placed most of the province under a warning or watch ahead of a major winter storm expected Friday and into the holiday weekend. Several school boards in the province, including the Toronto District School Board, have cancelled school on Friday.

Toronto’s Pearson International Airport is also bracing for the incoming storm. WestJet has cancelled all flights into and out of Pearson beginning at 9:00 a.m. ET on Friday until the end of the day. Resumption of flights will depend on weather conditions Saturday. The cancellations will affect flights in and out of Ottawa, London, Waterloo and Montreal.

Steven Flisfeder, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, said damaging winds, possible flash-freezes and blizzard-like conditions will make for difficult driving.

If you plan to travel for holiday get-togethers, aim to arrive before the worst of the storm or try to postpone gatherings to Sunday, he said.

Until then, “take this time ahead of the storm to prepare for the conditions that will be coming,” Flisfeder said. “It’s always best to be prepared, so that you don’t have to scramble when the storm actually approaches.”

A graphic timeline shows the progression of a snow storm that's expected to hit the Greater Toronto Area.
Environment Canada posted to Twitter this breakdown of the storm forecast for the Greater Toronto Area. (Environment Canada/Twitter)

In Toronto, Hamilton and Ottawa, the agency is calling for up to 15 centimetres of snow by Friday and possible 90 km/h wind gusts. In other parts of southern Ontario, overnight rain combined with plummeting temperatures into Friday could result in flash-freezing conditions.

Starting Friday, Environment Canada says a “crippling blizzard” could hit parts of southwestern Ontario, including Niagara Region and Owen Sound, bringing wind gusts up to 120 km/h and 15 to 30 centimetres of snow by Sunday. Niagara Region also issued a flood alert for Lake Erie.

In Quebec, people are being told to prepare emergency kits that can help sustain them for up to 72 hours without power, with a mix of heavy snow, rain and strong winds expected from Thursday night in much of the province.

Meteorologist Jean-Philippe Begin says Quebecers should prepare for the possibility of blackouts “for prolonged periods.”

C-c-c-cold elsewhere

In other parts of Canada, the hits just keep on coming:

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a special weather statement says a winter storm is expected on Saturday.

Prince Edward Island will face heavy rain and strong wind gusts beginning Friday afternoon. The weather could disrupt travel plans on Friday evening and Christmas Eve morning, with power outages also possible.

Officials are urging Nova Scotians to plan ahead for the holiday weekend, with a storm expected to hit western parts of the province on Friday afternoon, moving through to Cape Breton by Saturday morning.

In New Brunswick, snow, heavy rain, ice pellets, strong winds and a possible storm surge are expected Friday afternoon.

Most regions of southern Manitoba and the province’s far north are under extreme cold warnings for Thursday evening, with wind chill values expected to approach –40 C in Winnipeg.

In Alberta, heavy snowfall, blowing winds and freezing rain are expected from Saturday evening into Sunday morning, before the province thaws out next week.

Extreme cold warnings were also in effect for Yukon and parts of the N.W.T. and Saskatchewan.

Few escape options

Drivers were urged to stay off the roads during bad weather, but if people have to head out, they should take extra precautions, including planning ahead and ensuring they have good snow tires, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) says.

Motorists should also keep an emergency roadside kit in their vehicle, as well as some sand or salt, and ensure their phone is fully charged, says Julie Beun, CAA’s director of communications for eastern and northern Ontario.

A person in a coat and jeans walks along a cleared path through piles of snow. There are picnic tables covered in snow, with yellow caution tape separating them from the person.
Snow piles up in downtown Vancouver on Thursday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Any snowbirds who were hoping to outrun winter this Christmas are also out of luck. In much of the U.S., the Christmas weekend could be the coldest in decades. There are wind chill warnings in 30 states.

The sub-zero temperatures affecting Canada are also expected to stretch deep into the U.S.; places with names like Inland Citrus, Fla., and Sweetwater, Texas, are being warned of freezing temperatures.

The U.S. National Weather Service is warning that the winter storm will bring “potentially crippling impacts” to the central and eastern U.S., with record-breaking cold and “life-threatening wind chill” over the Great Plains and the eastern half of the country on Friday.

The storm hitting the Upper Midwest, Great Lakes and Interior Northeast regions will “lead to dangerous, to at times impossible, land and air travel leading up to the holiday weekend,” a statement from the service said.

‘Once in a generation’ storm cripples Christmas travel across the U.S.

A powerful winter storm is making its way through the U.S. and Canada, bringing with it severe snow and freezing temperatures. The storm has already disrupted travel for many ahead of the holidays.

Michigan State Police prepared to deploy additional troopers to help motorists. And along Interstate 90 in northern Indiana, crews worked to clear as much as 30 centimetres of snow. About 150 members of the National Guard have been deployed to help snow-bound Indiana travellers.

More than 4,400 flights within, into or out of the U.S. had been cancelled for Thursday and Friday, according to the tracking site FlightAware, while Amtrak cancelled dozens of passenger trains through Christmas, disrupting holiday travel for tens of thousands of people.

Another 8,450 flights were delayed Thursday.

A man in a balaclava with sunglasses resting on the top of his head is pictured from the chest up. His frost-covered balaclava is slightly askew and his breath is visible.
Charles Zajicek uses a power sweeper to clear snow off the sidewalk on Thursday in downtown Minneapolis. Temperatures plunged far and fast as a winter storm formed ahead of Christmas weekend. (Alex Kormann/Star Tribune/The Associated Press)

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Hailed as green energy source, northern Quebec lithium project divides Cree

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NEMASKA, QUE. — Type the word “Nemaska” into a search engine and most results refer to Nemaska Lithium, the company that sought bankruptcy protection in 2019 before being partly bought out by the Quebec government’s investment agency. The episode resulted in tens of thousands of small investors losing significant savings.

However, Nemaska is above all a Cree community in the heart of the boreal forest, more than 1,500 kilometres from Montreal. They share their territory with a wide variety of species, and caribou herds have long visited the area, drawn by its abundance of lichen.

These fragile ecosystems are home to a multitude of threatened species that will soon have to deal with new visitors: starting in 2025, approximately 15 heavy trucks a day will roar through these ancestral hunting grounds carrying the thousands of tonnes of ore that Nemaska Lithium plans to mine.

According to the promoters, the region contains some of the world’s largest deposits of spodumene, a rock from which lithium — key to the energy transition and the electrification of transport networks — is extracted.

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Nemaska Lithium describes itself as a corporation that “intends to facilitate access to green energy, for the benefit of humanity.”

The Whabouchi open pit mine will be located about 30 kilometres from the village of Nemaska, in the watershed of the Rupert River, considered one of Quebec’s ecological gems.

“If the water becomes contaminated by the mine, I don’t see how we can limit the damage to the food chain,” says Thomas Jolly, who was chief of Nemaska from 2015 to 2019, stressing the importance of fishing to his community.

Nemaska means “Place of Plentiful Fish,” and that is what led the Cree to build their community here in 1979 after a proposed Hydro-Québec dam project threatened to flood their ancestral village. (In the end, the Crown corporation chose to build its reservoirs elsewhere, and the flooding of Old Nemaska never occurred.)

“At the time, the Department of Indian Affairs wanted to impose another site on us, but it was partly a swamp … so we chose to settle here instead, where it’s dry, in a place where there is everything we need to hunt and fish,” Jolly said in an interview in Nemaska.

Various other Hydro-Québec projects have led to an increase in mercury levels in lakes and rivers near Nemaska, to the point where for some bodies of water, public health authorities recommend eating no more than two fish of certain species per month.

According to public health data, one of the waterways with the highest mercury levels is the Nemiscau River, which is also set to receive mine effluent from Nemaska Lithium.

“How much more contamination can these streams handle?” Jolly wonders.

He explains that history has taught him to be wary of the studies carried out by the mining company on the environmental impacts of lithium extraction. “Hydro-Québec said they didn’t know (the mercury contamination) would happen,” he says. “Come on!”

The construction of the mine will cause the elimination of a lake and a stream in addition to modifying several other bodies of water. In total, the negative effects on fish and fish habitat are estimated at 54,600 square metres, according to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, and Nemaska Lithium is working to implement a compensation plan for this loss of habitat.

The federal government’s approval of the mine comes with dozens of conditions, including protecting water quality. In an interview with The Canadian Press, Vincent Perron, the director of environment and stakeholder relations at Nemaska Lithium, says the company has “a very comprehensive and rigorous water quality monitoring program.”

Perron explains that Nemaska Lithium, among other things, is committed to verifying every three years “the level of heavy metals in the flesh of fish, starting during the construction of the mine and until the end of a five-year period following its closure.”

He stresses that “a water treatment plant will be installed to treat the excess drainage water before it is released into the Nemiscau River.”

Company documents show that 10 species of mammals with a special status — either threatened, vulnerable or at risk — may frequent the mine area, including the wolverine and the woodland caribou as well as various species of birds, such as the golden eagle.

The Impact Assessment Agency of Canada cited potential “habitat loss and fragmentation” for those species but said the impact would not be significant because of the availability of similar habitat nearby and mitigation measures proposed by the proponent.

For Jolly, regardless of mitigation measures, “it’s obvious” that animals will be negatively affected by the blasting, the extraction and transportation of ore. He wants the mine administrators to consider traditional Indigenous knowledge and not just “book science” in managing the risks.

“You, people from the south, when you talk about animals and plants, you use the word species,” he says, “but we call them educators.”

Nemaska Lithium says it wants its mine project to set a benchmark for environmental responsibility. Powered by renewable electricity from Hydro-Québec, it will be one of “the greenest lithium producers in the world,” says Perron.

The project will have “one of the lowest intensities of production in the world in terms of CO2 equivalent emissions from processing and transportation combined,” he said. “It is nearly three times lower than the global average, and more than six times lower than China.”

However, Jolly stresses that hydro power is not as green as some people make it out to be. The environmental impacts of large dams are considerable, he says, citing examples of entire communities that have had to relocate because of flooding. Hunting grounds were submerged and mercury levels shot up in fish, among other upheavals in the James Bay Cree’s traditional way of life.

The Quebec government has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Nemaska Lithium. Premier François Legault, who wants Quebec to export electric vehicle batteries worldwide and be a leader in 21st-century transportation, considers the company “an important component of the green economy.”

Jolly questions why lithium mined from Cree lands should be a central part of the government’s plan to combat climate change. “Who is responsible (for the climate crisis)?” he asked. “Is it up to us to pay and suffer for what they have done?”

He says the project was approved by the band council without properly consulting the population, a critique echoed by another former chief, George Wapachee. In his book “Going Home”, published last fall, Wapachee writes that the decision to accept the lithium mine “was made without the approval of community members.”

But while many in Nemaska are worried about the mine, it also gives hope to those who see it as an important tool for economic development. At a hearing in 2015, former Chief Matthew Wapachee presented a petition that included about 100 signatures in support of the project.

“Nemaska Lithium should be commended in recognizing and ensuring that this partnership is founded on mutual trust, protection of the environment and respect of Cree rights and traditional way of life,” Matthew Coon Come, who was then grand chief of the Grand Council of the Crees, said in a press release at the time.

Even though some in Nemaska say they were not sufficiently informed about the mine project, Nemaska band council spokesperson Laurence Gagnon maintains that the community was regularly consulted at annual general meetings. The council accepted the project “100 per cent for the economic benefits,” she said in an interview.

She said the village is expected to receive annual royalties. “We are talking about several million dollars over 30 years for the community,” she said. This money “returns to our citizens for better infrastructures, better services.”

Current Chief Clarence Jolly was among the elected officials who in 2014 voted to ratify the agreement with the mine.

Over a period of several months, The Canadian Press made numerous attempts to speak with him to discuss the impacts of the mine and its social acceptance, but he declined all requests. Gagnon explained the chief’s refusal by noting that the lithium mine was “a sensitive subject” that he preferred “not to discuss during an election period.”

The chief offered to provide an interview after the community elections later this month.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.

Stéphane Blais received the support of the Michener Foundation, which awarded him a Michener–Deacon Investigative Journalism fellowship in 2022 to report on the impact of lithium extraction in northern Quebec.

 

Stéphane Blais, The Canadian Press

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Indigenous history class for lawyers justified and more common in Canada: experts

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EDMONTON — As Alberta’s Law Society seeks to defend rules that require members to take a course on Indigenous issues, experts say such measures are common elsewhere in Canada and are well-grounded in legal rationale.

“It is increasingly common that law societies across the country are requiring continuing education in certain particular areas” that include cultural awareness, said Trevor Farrow of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

“The law is continually changing,” said Jeremy Webber of the University of Victoria’s law school.

“The reason for the requirement is to ensure that a lawyer does not continue to practice their area of law as though it were the 1980s.”

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The Law Society of Alberta is to vote Monday on a motion that would suspend the group’s ability to require its members to undertake continuing education. The vote is a response to a petition from 51 lawyers concerned about The Path, a five-part course on Indigenous history and culture that follows one of the calls to action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report.

One signatory to the petition, Glenn Blackett, has called the course “political indoctrination” and compared it to a cancer infecting the roots of Canada’s legal system.

“The vitriol directed at Canadians in The Path seems less likely to promote reconciliation than to promote a distorted perception of history and of the causes of socioeconomic disparity, anger, shame, and enduring Indigenous alienation,” he wrote in the Dorchester Review.

Other signatories have said the course requirement reminds them of their childhood in authoritarian China.

“I understand the concerns around indoctrination and forced speech,” said Farrow.

“I don’t see this as indoctrination. This is continuing education in an area where Canadians have been woefully undereducated. It’s the law society playing part of its role in this larger social project.”

Webber said the complaint’s intent to disallow the society from requiring any continuing education suggests the motivation is elsewhere.

“We’re not talking about indoctrination. We’re talking about an unwillingness to learn.”

British Columbia is one province where the law society requires an Indigenous-themed course.

Other self-regulating professions also require their members to continually upgrade their qualifications.

The Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Alberta requires its members to take a certain number of classes every three years. It doesn’t mandate one class for all members, but gives them a range of choices they must pick from.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta requires ongoing education as well as two mandatory courses related to sexual abuse and misconduct.

Requiring such educational updates is part of the bargain such professions make with society, Farrow said.

“The fundamental obligation is to regulate lawyers in the public interest. It’s in the idea of competence and what is required of a modern lawyer where these things rest.”

Nor is it convincing to claim that some types of legal practice don’t intersect with Indigenous issues, Webber said.

“Indigenous people are present in every area of the economy,” he said. “They exercise real control over lands that are important for resource development.”

Then there’s the outsized involvement of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, of which lawyers are an integral part.

“It’s not a secret,” Farrow said. “What the law society and lawyers are going to do about it needs to be part of the solution and I think that’s where some of this comes in.”

About 400 Alberta lawyers have signed a counter-petition in support of the society’s right to require The Path. The law society’s 24 benchers — a type of board of directors — have also publicly opposed the original petition.

Alberta has about 11,000 lawyers.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.

 

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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Canada sends military aircraft into Haiti’s skies as gang violence escalates

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OTTAWA — Canada has sent one of its military planes to Haiti to help the country cope with escalating violence.

A joint statement today from National Defence Minister Anita Anand and Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly says Canada has deployed a CP-140 Aurora aircraft to help “disrupt the activities of gangs” in Haiti.

Gang violence has become a reality for those living in the Haitian capital of Port-au-Prince since last summer, with hundreds having reportedly been kidnapped and killed.

The UN has also said gangs are restricting access to necessities like health care and water and are also allegedly sexually assaulting women and children.

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Haiti’s political and humanitarian crisis has led to calls for Western countries to intervene, with the Canadian government saying the aircraft deployment comes in direct response to Haiti’s request for help.

The government says the patrol aircraft is currently in Haiti and will remain there “for a number of days” to help with surveillance and intelligence efforts.

The aircraft deployment is the latest step the government has taken to assist Haiti, and not indicative of a military intervention.

Other support measures to date include levying sanctions against individuals it views as responsible for the violence in Haiti.

“The deployment of a Canadian patrol aircraft will strengthen efforts to fight criminal acts of violence and to establish the conditions necessary for a peaceful and prosperous future,” Anand said in Sunday’s statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2023.

 

The Canadian Press

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