Thousands of wildfire evacuees return home in B.C. but ‘unstable’ conditions continue

The current number of wildfire evacuees in B.C. is estimated at 20,300 — down from 45,000 on Friday.

Emergency Management B.C.’s executive director Chris Duffy said the sharp drop is a result of evacuees from Cache Creek, Princeton, 100 Mile House and Lac La Hache returning to their homes.

Duffy said that number remains “very fluid,” as there are currently 36 evacuation orders and 40 evacuation alerts in effect across B.C.

There are currently 154 wildfires burning across the province, including 19 new fires that started on Sunday.

Thunderstorms in forecast

Navi Saini with the B.C. Wildfire Service said that while many fires have stabilized, the forecast continues to be unpredictable.

“[Tuesday] is expected to be hot, and unfortunately we are expecting to see unstable conditions again on Wednesday in the form of thunderstorms,” she said.

Saini said that no major soaking rain for is expected for at least four to five days.

Heavy winds in the Salmon Arm, Revelstoke and Vernon regions on Sunday caused power outages affecting 430 residents in the Loon Lake and Spokane Lake areas but did not result in significant growth for existing wildfires. 

Duffy said he is unsure when Williams Lake residents will be able to return home but hopes to have good news for the 10,000 affected residents by “early to mid-week.”

Advice for those returning home

Duffy advised evacuees returning to their homes to follow directions about which routes are safe to travel and avoid taking shortcuts.

“Bring a few days of essential supplies when you return home — some groceries, water. Be able to take care of yourself for a few days,” he said.

“Obviously, communities are preparing to have full services there but in an abundance of caution have some supplies for yourself.”

He also said all residents should have a safety plan in place and be prepared to evacuate within minutes, should an evacuation order be reissued.

‘Communities know best’: FSIN, feds to reform child care for Sask. First Nations

“By First Nations, for First Nations” may soon be the approach taken for the way child and family services are delivered in Saskatchewan’s First Nations communities.

As a symbol of partnership in an effort to reform child and family services for First Nations in this province, a letter of accord was signed by the federal government and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations on Monday. The Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett and FSIN vice-chief Heather Bear were the signatories.

As a “first step,” the government is giving FSIN $440,000 to begin what Bennett referred to as a “redesign” of child and family services. The money is to help First Nations communities develop long-term, strategic planning that will facilitate a more community-based approach to how child care is delivered in the province.

FSIN/Feds letter of accord 2

The reform aims to bring about a ‘by First Nations, for First Nations’ approach to the delivery of child and family services. (Brandon Harder/CBC)

“Over these years — many, many, years — the federal and provincial government assumed they knew what was best for First Nations children,” said Chief Matthew T. Peigan of Pasqua First Nation.

“This whole process that we’re establishing today is: let First Nations look after their own children.”

“This is a complete turnaround,” Bennett said, noting that a “bottom-up approach” will be part of the redesign.

“Communities know best, and have been doing it for millennia,” she said.

Approach questioned

In an opportunity for the press to ask questions following the signing, the point was brought up that the Yorkton Tribal Council has been criticized for mishandling child-care cases.

“You’re never going to address those problems until you have the valuable resources going into the communities,” Bear said.

“Why do we have to fight to validate that our elders, our culture, our traditions is what’s going to help fix our people?” she asked.

Heather Bear

FSIN vice-chief Heather Bear was a signatory on the letter of accord at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina on July 24, 2017. (Brandon Harder/CBC)

Bennett reaffirmed her position that decisions about the care of First Nations children are better left to their communities.

“It’s the agency-ization of kids in care that has been a real problem, in decisions that get taken when they don’t know the community,” she said.

Peigan argued that when an Indigenous child-care agency makes a mistake it’s scrutinized by the province and the federal government, but when the province makes a mistake there is nothing forcing it to do better.

“I agree that maybe there’s some areas where we’ve erred, but this whole process we’re looking at developing will clean up those areas,” he said.

Matthew Peigan

Chief Matthew T. Peigan of Pasqua First Nation says the process will allow First Nations to look after their own children. (CBC News)

Only the beginning

Bear sees the federal funds as a “down payment.”

“We’re just getting kick-started here. We’re looking forward to other commitments,” she said.

“It’s not near what we need to complete the job, but it’s an acknowledgement.”

The redesign has been a long time coming, Bear said, noting that the FSIN’s Health and Social Development Secretariat has been working on a plan for the past decade, which they’ll now be “dusting off.”

Recommendations will be presented to the chiefs in assembly come August, she said.

Trans Mountain pipeline gets Indigenous-led oversight committee

Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion has a new Indigenous-led oversight committee, backed by the federal government, to monitor the controversial project’s construction which is slated to begin in September.

The Indigenous Advisory and Monitoring Committee includes 13 Indigenous members, representing bands from Alberta to the B.C. coast, and six federal representatives including the National Energy Board, Indigenous leaders announced today.

“We wanted to have this committee in place so that we would not be left outside the gate looking in,” said committee member and Chief Ernie Crey of the Cheam First Nation in B.C.’s Fraser Valley.

“It will begin its work and it needs to start straight away.”

It should not be seen as a stamp of approval for the project, said Crey.

The Trans Mountain expansion, which was approved by the Trudeau government last November, would nearly triple the existing capacity on Kinder Morgan’s 1,150-kilometre pipeline that runs from the Edmonton area to Burnaby, B.C., to 890,000 barrels a day and increase tanker traffic on the B.C. coast.

Ottawa has pledged $64.7-million over five years to support the work of the committee.

What you need to know about the Trans Mountain pipeline3:53

Uncertain fate of pipeline

The election of an NDP government in B.C. — which opposes the project — and several court challenges have put the fate of the $7.4-billion pipeline in question, though the company said last week construction would still start in September.

Despite those uncertainties, Crey said Indigenous communities have not wanted to wait to seek their seat at the table.

“We had to plan what it is that we want to do, with a clear idea in mind that it’s likely to be constructed.”    

In a release, the National Energy Board said it looks forward to working with Indigenous communities “to advance our shared goals of environmental protection and safety.”

Kinder Morgan was not immediately available to comment.

With files from CBC News

Senator Murray Sinclair, chair of TRC, named as Thunder Bay police board investigator

The Ontario Civilian Police Commission (OCPC) announced Monday that it has appointed retired judge and current Senator, the Honourable Murray Sinclair as the independent investigator addressing the commission’s concerns over the state of civilian police oversight and public confidence in the delivery of police services in Thunder Bay.

Sinclair brings a wealth of experience to the task, including serving as the co-chair Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba, which studied the relationship between Indigenous People and the Justice system in Manitoba and presiding as the chair of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

In that role, Sinclair participated in hundreds of hearings across Canada, culminating in the final report of the TRC, which was delivered in 2015.

The OCPC stated in a written release Monday that Sinclair will be investigating the commission’s concerns around:

  •  “The Thunder Bay Police Services Board’s (“the Board”) ability to address matters raised by Indigenous leaders relating to a recent series of deaths of Indigenous youth and the quality of the investigations into these deaths conducted by the Thunder Bay Police Service (the “Service”)
  • “Board representatives stating that the public’s concerns about systemic racism existing within the Service and the quality of the Service’s investigations are without basis”
  • “the recent criminal charges that were laid against the Thunder Bay Police Service’s (the “Service”) Chief of Police, who was charged with breach of trust and obstruction of justice” 

To ensure public confidence in the delivery of police service in Thunder Bay, the OCPC stated that it has initiated an investigation into the board and its compliance with a variety of sections of the Police Services Act (PSA) including:

  1. The Board’s performance in carrying out its responsibilities to ensure the provision of “adequate and effective” police services in Thunder Bay
  2. The Board’s role in determining “objectives and priorities with respect to police services” in Thunder Bay
  3. The Board’s role in establishing policies for the effective management of the Service
  4. The Board’s role in ensuring that police services provided in Thunder Bay are provided in accordance with the following principles: 
  • the need to ensure the safety and security of all persons and property in Ontario
  • the importance of safeguarding the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Human Rights Code.
  • the need for co-operation between the providers of police services and the communities they serve. – The importance of respect for victims of crime and understanding of their needs 
  • the need for sensitivity to the pluralistic, multiracial and multicultural character of Ontario society.
  • the need to ensure that police forces are representative of the communities they serve.

The commission stated that it will ensure this investigation does not interfere or duplicate the systemic review currently being conducted by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) or any other ongoing coroner and police investigations. However, whenever practical, it will cooperate with other organizations carrying out related investigations.

Sinclair’s interim report will be completed by October 31, 2017, with a final report expected by March 31, 2018.

The reports will be made available to the public and provided to the police service and its board, the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, and Indigenous communities.

The OCPC is an independent, quasijudicial agency. Its investigation is not punitive and not directed to any specific conduct issues.

More Calgarians can’t afford food despite summer programs for kids, experts say

Michelle Banks feels no shame in admitting she uses the Calgary Food Bank to get through what’s been a stressful and worrying couple of years.

Banks and her three young children are considered “food insecure” — a growing problem in this city that has yet to show any sign of letting up.

Being food insecure means that you don’t have adequate access to food because of financial constraints.

While non-profit groups, private businesses and volunteers scramble to feed hungry Calgarians, experts warn that food banks and free lunch programs are not the solution.

What’s needed, they say, is a basic income guarantee to help eliminate the growing number of people living in poverty.

Pilot program delivers food to low income Calgarians

Children at a Boys and Girls summer camp in southeast Calgary line up to get lunch. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

“It’s been tough for us,” said the mother of three. “We have been low on food so we’ve had to use the food bank and stuff like that.”

Banks picked up a few bags of food at a Boys and Girls Club of Calgary summer camp that her children are attending in southeast Calgary.  

The hampers are being distributed over the summer months. Many of the 30 children who attend the camp are also given sandwiches, snacks and fresh fruit.

It’s part of a pilot program to reach hungry kids during the summer when school is out and they don’t have access to community lunch programs.

It’s called Food Finder YYC, and it’s being run by a number of organizations, including Brown Bagging for Calgary’s Kids, an organization that provides lunch to 3,200 children every day during the school year.

Ryan Lumsden and Evan Olsen

Ryan Lumsden, left, and Evan Olsen with Made Foods prepare lunches for a summer program that delivers food to young Calgarians in need. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

“This just broke our hearts, to think that these kids we are feeding during the school year … have nothing to eat [during the summer],” said Tanya Koshowski, the agency’s executive director.

Children and families in need simply text “food” to a certain number and they’ll be provided with information about how to qualify and where to pick up the food.

“This isn’t for entitlement or laziness or taking advantage of something,” Koshowski said. “It’s about families or kids that are in need.”

Tanya Koshowski

Tanya Koshowski, executive director of Brown Bagging for Calgary Kids, is spearheading a summer pilot program to deliver lunches to children in need. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

According to the Canadian Community Health Survey, 11.4 per cent of all households in Alberta — approximately 169,000 — experienced some level of food insecurity in 2014, and that’s when Alberta’s economy was booming and jobs were plentiful. Since then, the economy has tanked and has posted two straight years of recession.

Hard times, job losses

Another agency that helps feed hungry Calgarians is the Community Kitchen Program, and it’s seeing an increase in demand. It’s hoping to feed 15,000 kids this summer. 

Lana Avery, one of the staff members at the Community Kitchen Program, says at one of the lunch delivery locations a boy told her he was grateful for the food because he hadn’t eaten in three days.

“It broke my heart,” Avery said.

Lana Avery

Lana Avery, one of 12 employees at Community Kitchen Program of Calgary, says she was heartbroken after a young boy told her he hadn’t eaten in three days. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

The problem is hunger and poverty

The Community Kitchen program also distributes food hampers to 130 locations across the city. The baskets are sold to families at a reduced cost. The organization is looking to expand the number of pickup depots because of demand.

“People are going through hard times, loss of jobs, not being able to feed their children. They’re just everyday citizens like you and me, and they’ve fallen on hard times,” said Sundae Nordin, the non-profit’s CEO. 

Although some indicators show Alberta’s economy is on the rebound, her agency hasn’t seen it translate to fewer clients.

Sundae Nordin

Sundae Nordin, CEO of Community Kitchen Program of Calgary, says her agency has seen a definite increase in demand for its services. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

“We are seeing an increase, definitely,” Nordin said. “The problem is hunger and poverty in our city.”

Food banks, lunch programs not the solution 

Food banks and children’s feeding programs are not the solution, according to Lynn McIntyre, professor emerita of in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary. 

“That is absolutely not a solution. Income is a solution,” McIntyre said. 

She says food banks have risen from being a temporary measure in the 1980s to becoming institutionalized, and have made people think they are part of the solution.

“It really distracts people from understanding what the root cause is,” McIntyre said.

Basic income guarantee 

Yvonne Stanford, with the Calgary-based Basic Income Action Group, has been advocating for a basic income guarantee for years. 

She says boosting wages to either Calgary’s living wage, now estimated at $18.15 per hour, or a percentage of the low income cut off could help reduce poverty and ultimately food insecurity.

Yvonne Stanford

Yvonne Stanford is with the group Basic Income Action Group, which advocates for a basic, minimum income to help reduce poverty and food insecurity. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

“From a human rights perspective, every one of us will benefit from a more equal society,” Stanford said.

Food insecurity linked to health problems

People experiencing food insecurity are more likely to have any number of chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hyper-tension, mental health disorders, migraines, back problems and asthma, according to a director in nutrition services with Alberta Health Services.

“Even at the marginal level … your risk of having poor health and poor health outcomes is considerably higher,” said Sheila Tyminski.   

Sheila Tyminski

Sheila Tyminski is a registered dietitian and a director in nutrition services with Alberta Health Services. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Tyminski says research from Ontario shows health care costs for people who experience marginal to severe food insecurity is 23 per cent to 121 per cent higher compared to people who are considered food secure.

  • Marginal food insecurity: Ongoing worry about running out of food and/or limited food selection due to a lack of money.
  • Moderate food insecurity: Forced to compromise the quality and/or quantity of food due to a lack of money.
  • Severe food insecurity: Missed meals, reduced food intake and, at the most extreme, no food for an entire day or longer.

“In the last number of years, we haven’t seen any improvement in the rate of household food insecurity. One in six children in Alberta live in a household that experiences food insecurity, and that more than one in 10 households in Alberta experience food insecurity, that’s enormous, that’s very significant,” Tyminski said.

Children enjoy lunch program provided to Calgarians in need

Children enjoy a lunch that was provided by Food Finder YYC, a pilot program that aims to reach low-income neighbourhoods during the summer months. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Koshowski says that while she agrees that food banks and children’s food programs shouldn’t be considered a long-term solution to hunger and poverty, she remains committed to helping those in need.

“We do believe that if kids are in need for food that it does take a village to raise a child. So the community has the resources and the capacity and the desire to actually want to care for kids,” Koshowski said.

Michelle Banks and her children

Michelle Banks, pictured here with her children, Ciara, Kolton and Hayden, says she’s gone to the food bank to help feed her family. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Michelle Banks is grateful.

“It’s very important it’s there, especially if you’re lacking in food. In some way, you’re always covered because there’s people who are kind and generous out there to help other people and families,” said Banks.

Man tied to $1K reward for recordings of Muslim students praying now faces hate crime charge

Peel police have charged Kevin J. Johnston of Mississauga, Ont., with promoting hatred against an identifiable group in connection with a YouTube video offering a $1,000 reward for recordings of Muslim students during prayer.

Johnston’s arrest on Monday comes as the “result of a lengthy investigation,” according to a Peel police release. 

Police said they have charged the 45-year-old with one count of wilful promotion of hatred as per the Criminal Code of Canada after receiving consent from the Ontario attorney general’s office.

The charge follows “numerous incidents reported to police” involving Johnston, police said, and “concerns over information published on various social media sites.”

Sought footage of students ‘spewing hate speech’

Earlier this year, Johnston, known for his far-right Freedom Report website, posted a YouTube video offering a $1,000 reward for recordings of Muslim students at Peel region schools “spewing hate speech during Friday prayers.”

The video sparked concern among Muslim families and led the Peel District School Board, which serves Mississauga, and the Peel Region communities of Brampton and Caledon, to issue a memo to its administrators, reminding them that personal recording devices can only be used in schools for educational purposes, as directed by staff.

Johnston had a court appearance in Brampton on Monday.

‘We were incredibly lucky’: Irish rower crossing Atlantic recounts capsizing, rescue

A rower plucked from his overturned boat about 250 kilometres off the coast of Ireland says he and his partner are “incredibly lucky” to have been rescued.

Brian Conville of Dublin and Joseph Gagnon of Saint-Jean-Port-Joli, Que., left St. John’s on June 13 in a bright green boat packed with supplies, with the goal of being the first two-person crew to row across the Atlantic Ocean, west to east, from St. John’s to France.

An unfriendly ocean and nagging injuries forced them to shorten their trip, and they aimed for the Irish coast instead — but the Atlantic wouldn’t allow for that either.

Around 5 a.m. Irish time Friday, when they were about 250 kilometres from Ireland, rough seas flipped their boat and flooded the cabin, leaving the pair clinging to the hull for hours until they were found by the Irish coast guard — a rescue they didn’t know was coming.

‘[The beacon] activated itself when it went into the water, and that’s what saved our lives, to be honest.’ – Brian Conville

“We realized that we were incredibly lucky, because when the boat turned over, our EPIRB [emergency position-indicating radio beacon], which is the beacon that you would generally press if you’re in distress, I must have knocked it when the boat turned over. It got a knock somehow,” Conville told CBC News on Saturday.

“It was quite violent when the boat turned over. I was thrown from side to side. I was tied on enough; that’s the only reason I stayed with the boat. But the EPIRB disappeared, so it activated itself when it went into the water, and that’s what saved our lives, to be honest. Without the EPIRB, we wouldn’t be here today. We’d still be on the boat.”

Rowers Joseph Gagnon and Brian Conville

Gagnon, 20, and Conville, 25, left St. John’s on June 13. (Mark Cumby/CBC)

Conville was rowing at the time. Gagnon was sleeping in the cabin, and didn’t have enough time to grab his protective thermal suit before the boat flipped.

Didn’t know coast guard was looking for them

The men spent several hours on the hull of the overturned boat, waiting for the seas to calm so they could retrieve their life raft from the flooded, overturned cabin, and figure out what to do next.

“We were formulating plans when we were sitting on the boat, to work out how to make communications to land,” said Conville.

“The big thing for us at the time was to get the life raft, so we’d have a safe base.”

By 2 p.m., the seas had calmed enough for the men to try to get any gear they could from the boat. “But at that point, we heard a noise in the background, like an engine, and it turned out to be a helicopter.”

‘Bittersweet’ to come so close to goal

That helicopter was about a mile and a half away, sweeping the ocean, looking for the stranded men, who were then hauled up to the helicopter using a winch and taken to County Kerry in Ireland, where they spent Friday night recovering in a hospital in Tralee.

Conville said he’s not sure whether they will try again. The priority right now is recovering and spending time with their families. He said he’s not thinking too much about having come so close to their goal of reaching Ireland

“It’s kind of a bittersweet thing, to be honest,” he said. “In our opinion, we still rowed across the Atlantic. If it’s between two to two-and-a-half thousand miles, it’s a fairly impressive feat. We’ve got onto the continental shelf of Europe.”

“But we don’t do it for the records,” he said. “We do it for the challenge, the personal challenge.”

Ottawa-born actress Vanessa Morgan to star in hit Netflix series Riverdale

Canadians are going to see a familiar face when they tune into season two of the hit Netflix series Riverdale this fall. 

Ottawa native Vanessa Morgan has been cast as Toni Topaz, a new character Morgan says will “bring some trouble” for characters on the show that is loosely based on Archie comic books. 

‘When I found out I got it I was jumping up and down.’ – Vanessa Morgan

Morgan, 25, said she originally auditioned for the show’s first season more than a year ago, but didn’t get a part. The show’s creator, Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, invited her back for another audition for the pink-haired comic book character named Toni.

“When I found out I got it I was jumping up and down,” Morgan told CBC News by phone Sunday from Vancouver, where she is currently filming the first episode.

“I called my family and my brother; he watches the show, too. So everyone was just so pumped for me. It’s great being on a show where most of my friends all watch it. Whenever I say Riverdale, everybody knows it.”

Actress grew up in Ottawa’s west end

Morgan is no stranger to the small screen.

She had earlier roles in the MTV series The Shannara Chronicles and in the Teletoon show My Babysitter’s a Vampire. She also starred in the TV series Finding Carter. 

In 2013, she was also a contestant alongside her younger sister in the reality series The Amazing Race Canada. The pair competed against fellow Ottawa resident Jody Mitic — now a city councillor — and his brother, Cory. 

As a kid she grew up in Crystal Bay, a neighbourhood in the Ottawa suburb of Nepean, and went to Colonel By High School. She later graduated from Queen’s University and took up acting and singing. 

Morgan said she feels this new role will open doors to bigger opportunities in her evolving acting career. 

“I think it will have a huge impact,” she said. 

“I’ve been doing this journey in acting and singing since I was six years old and I definitely think this will take me to the next level — in movies. Just getting my name out there, and help [with] the hustle.”

Character’s sexuality to be explored

Vanessa Morgan season two Netflix Riverdale

Vanessa Morgan said she would applaud Riverdale for introducing a bisexual character on the popular Netflix series. (Photo couresy Brendan North)

Riverdale airs on the the CW network in the U.S. and is available for Netflix subscribers in Canada. Morgan said it’s been her goal for years to get on the U.S. network, which has been a launching pad for Canadian actors including Kristin Kreuk and Stephen Amell. 

Since the news of her role was first reported by ET Online over the weekend, there has been much speculation in the media about whether or not Riverdale will have its first bisexual character.

‘I think it’s great to have that type of representation on TV.’ – Vanessa Morgan 

Morgan confirmed she will have Topaz’s token pink hair from the comics, but couldn’t divulge any more details about her character’s sexuality. She did say the show’s creator is interested in exploring Topaz’s sexual identity on the show. 

“I think it’s great to have that type of representation on TV,” she said. 

Morgan said her last three roles have been lesbian characters, so it’s something she would be familiar with. 

“I definitely think this is something that will happen more often. I think television is very important to show all types of people and all the types of love in the world. People being bisexual is a reality. I have friends who are bisexual and it’s nice for them to be able to watch TV and have someone they can relate to.”

First day on set ‘surreal’

While not wanting to give too much away, she said her character is part of the Southside Serpents gang and is a friend of Jughead Jones (Cole Sprouse), who dated Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) in season one. 

“She’s going to bring some trouble and some turmoil,” Morgan said. 

As filming for season two gets underway, Morgan has already had her pinch-me moments on set. 

“My first day on set last week, it was crazy. After following the show, I snapped myself into one of the sets and I was, like, ‘This is a trip,'” she said.

“I was literally watching this on TV and now I’m in the set that I’ve been watching for the past few months. It was a surreal experience.”

Season two of Riverdale airs Oct. 12.

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Baby delivered via C-section after pregnant woman stabbed multiple times in Montreal North

Montreal police are searching for a 37-year-old man after a pregnant woman was stabbed numerous times early Monday morning and her baby was delivered by caesarean section.

The woman is in hospital in stable condition and her baby is in critical condition, according to Const. Manuel Couture.

Several calls came in around 2:30 a.m. ET for an incident on Langelier Boulevard near Tardif Street in the Montreal North neighbourhood.

The woman, who was several months pregnant, was at home with her boyfriend when she was stabbed multiple times in the upper and lower body, Couture said. There was no one else with them at the time, police said.

She was taken to hospital with serious injuries.

The boyfriend, who is the primary suspect, fled before police officers arrived, Couture said.

The boyfriend was driving a 2007 four-door and grey Mazda 3, and police gave this description:

  • North African descent.
  • Brown eyes and black hair.
  • About five-foot-seven and weighs about 140 pounds.
  • Has a scar on his face. 

Investigators will speak with neighbours Monday to try to determine the circumstances surrounding the stabbing.