Judith Lavoie

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Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. Lavoie covered environment and First Nations stories for the Victoria Times Colonist for more than 20 years and is now working as a freelancer. She previously worked on newspapers in New Brunswick, Cyprus, England and the Middle East. Lavoie has won four Webster awards and has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award and a Michener Award.

Hunter-Funded Wildlife Agency Quietly Announced Before B.C. Election

Steve Thomson, former minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations

A plan to form a new, independent wildlife management agency in B.C., which would relieve the provincial government from managing contentious wildlife issues such as grizzly, wolf and caribou populations, is generating anxiety among some conservation groups who fear the structure of the new program could prioritize the interests of hunters over wildlife.

The proposal for the new agency, first announced in March, was scant on details, but Steve Thomson, then minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations, set a fall start-up date and set aside $200,000 for consultations with conservation and hunting groups.

Government is afraid to manage wolves, for example, or afraid to manage grizzly bears in some cases because of the politics of that,” then energy and mines minister Bill Bennett, an avid hunter and supporter of the controversial grizzly bear trophy hunt, told an East Kootenay radio station.

Hopefully an agency that is separate from government can make decisions that are in the best long-term interest of wildlife and just forget about the politics and do what is best for the animals,” Bennett said.

Civil Suit Alleges B.C. Blacklisting Forestry Consultant Who Warned of Timber Overcutting, Faulty Data

Forestry has been a passion and a career for Martin Watts for 25 years, but, since attempting to point out problems with B.C.’s process for setting logging rates, his forestry consulting business has nosedived and Watts is claiming in a civil suit that he was blacklisted by the provincial government.

My business doesn’t really exist any more except on paper. It has caused a lot of hardship. I am funding this case through my retirement savings,” Watts said in an interview with DeSmog Canada.

However, the battle is worthwhile because it is vital that the public be made aware of inaccuracies in the Timber Supply Review Process, which is used by the Chief Forester to determine the Annual Allowable Cut — a calculation of how much of the forest can be cut each year, said Watts.

Corrupted data and unvalidated computer models are being used to estimate how much timber is in B.C.’s forests and, since budget and staff cuts started in 2002, many of the inventories are 20 years old, according to critics.

Unmonitored Mining Pollutes Fraser River, Threatens Salmon Runs: Report

Fraser River

Hundreds of placer mines, which have never undergone environmental assessments, are operating in the Fraser River watershed with minimal government oversight despite mounting evidence that the operations pollute water and harm salmon, a report by the Fair Mining Collaborative has found.

Placer mining involves digging up gravel adjacent to streams and rivers and washing it to extract the gold or other minerals in the sediment. In addition to mines that use excavation equipment, there are thousands of hand-mining operations, many of which do not have permits, the report found.

The report, commissioned by First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM), calls for a moratorium on claim staking and work permits until the process is reformed and adequate safeguards are put in place, with First Nations given a partnership role in coming up with rules and regulations.

I go around our territory and see all the destruction in the back country. It’s criminal if you ask me,” Bev Sellars, FNWARM chair and former chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation, said in an interview.

B.C. Rejects Request for Inquiry into Mining Practices

energy and mines minister bill bennett

Widespread criticism of B.C.’s mining rules is undeserved according to Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett, who has turned down a recommendation from the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre for a judicial inquiry into mining regulation.

Given the significant changes this government has made to how mining is undertaken and overseen in British Columbia, including changes to law and policy, additional resources to improve permitting processes and significantly strengthened compliance and enforcement, Government categorically disagrees that a Commission of Public Enquiry (sic) into the Province’s mining industry serves the taxpayers of B.C. Such a process would be demonstrably redundant,” Bennett wrote in a letter to the ELC.

The response has exasperated Calvin Sandborn, ELC legal director, who said the rejection is likely to cost B.C. taxpayers dearly because of immense costs of mine reclamation where environmental damage has been caused by poor government oversight and minimal enforcement of the polluter-pay principle.

Tweet: “You can pay for an awful lot of public inquiries if you avoid just 1 disaster.” http://bit.ly/2oV8Jsr #bcpoli #cdnpoli #Alaska #bcelxn17You can pay for an awful lot of public inquiries if you avoid just one disaster,” said Sandborn, who points to how previous public inquiries have improved regulatory systems and helped restore public confidence.

B.C. Government Scientists Say Staff Cutbacks, Outsourcing and Political Interference Threaten Public Health and Safety

Contracting out scientific work to non-government professionals, while cutting back on ministry scientists and experts, is threatening the B.C. government’s ability to make decisions based on sound science, says a highly-critical report released Thursday by the Ottawa-based group Evidence for Democracy.

The report, based on a survey distributed to 1,159 B.C. government scientists in 10 ministries, found that almost half of the 403 who responded to 64 questions believe that Tweet: ½ of 1,159 BC gov’t scientists believe political interference compromises their laws, policies & scientific evidence http://bit.ly/2o1CfbKpolitical interference is compromising their ministry’s ability to develop laws, policies and programs based on scientific evidence and that decisions are often not consistent with the best available scientific information.

Tweet: Since @BCLiberals elected in ‘01, BC public service has been reduced to the smallest per capita in Canada http://bit.ly/2o1CfbK #bcpoliSince the Liberal government was elected in 2001, B.C.’s public service has been reduced to the smallest per capita in Canada and departments with science-based mandates have lost 25 per cent of staff scientists and licensed expert positions, according to the survey, which was partially funded by the Professional Employees Association.

Overwhelmingly, the scientists felt that their ministries had insufficient resources to fulfil their mandates and that means they don’t have the ability to produce the expert reports that they used to,” said Katie Gibbs, one of the report’s authors.

Comparing Mine Management in B.C. and Alaska is Embarrassing (and Explains Why Alaskans Are So Mad)

Tulsequah Chief Mine. CSMPhoto

Alaskans tired of living under the threat of B.C.’s poorly regulated mines are taking the matter to the state’s House Fisheries Committee in an effort to escalate an international response to ongoing issues such as the slow leakage of acidic waste from the deserted Tulsequah Chief Mine in northwest B.C. into the watershed of one of the richest salmon runs in the B.C./Alaska transboundary region.

On Thursday the committee will assess a resolution sponsored by several House Representatives “urging the United States government to continue to work with the government of Canada to investigate the long-term, region-wide downstream effects of proposed and existing industrial development and to develop measures to ensure that state resources are not harmed by upstream development in B.C.”

Although Tulsequah is a catalyst, concerns go deeper as B.C. is handing out permits for a clutch of proposed new mines close to the Alaskan border, including the KSM mine, the largest open-pit gold and copper mine in North America.

British Columbians Saddled With $40 Million Clean-Up Bill as Imperial Metals Escapes Criminal Charges

Mount Polley Mine Disaster

British Columbian taxpayers will be on the hook for $40 million to clean up the worst mining spill in Canadian history and the company responsible has once again escaped criminal charges after a private prosecution was dismissed this week. 

In August 2014 the 40-metre-high tailings dam at the Mount Polley mine near Williams Lake collapsed, sending 25-million cubic metres of contaminated sludge and mine waste sweeping into lakes and rivers — but no charges have been laid and no fines have been levied against Imperial Metals, the parent company of Mount Polley Mining Corp.

Since 2005, Mount Polley Mining Corp and Imperial Metals Corp have donated $195,010 to British Columbia’s ruling B.C. Liberal party.

Canada Risks International Embarrassment Over Mismanagement of World Heritage Site: UNESCO

Wood Buffalo National Park salt flats

Canada’s largest World Heritage Site is under threat from unfettered oilsands development and hydro dams on the Peace River — where the B.C. government is now planning to build the massive Site C dam — says a hard-hitting report by a United Nations agency.

While contaminants from the oilsands are affecting water and air quality, water flows through Wood Buffalo National Park are being strangled by dams, according to the highly critical report by the UNESCO World Heritage Centre and International Union for Conservation of Nature

The report warns that, if there is not a “major and timely” response to its recommendations the organization will recommend that Wood Buffalo National Park be included in the list of World Heritage in Danger, a list usually reserved for sites in war-torn countries or those facing other disasters.

The park, made up of 4.5 million hectares of boreal plains in northern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories, has been affected by decades of massive industrial development along the Peace and Athabasca Rivers, along with poor management and lack of overall consideration of the effect of projects, it says.

The scale, pace and complexity of industrial development along the critical corridors of the Peace and Athabasca Rivers is exceptional and does not appear to be subject to adequate analysis to underpin informed decision-making and the development of matching policy, governance and management responses,” says the executive summary, which adds that the park is also subject to the additional stress of climate change.

Public Inquiry Formally Requested to Investigate B.C.’s Shoddy Mining Rules

The ramshackle regulatory system governing B.C.’s mining industry is profoundly dysfunctional and the public has lost confidence in the province’s ability to protect the environment and communities from poor mining activities, says a new report from the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre.

The wide-ranging report, released Wednesday, was commissioned for the Fair Mining Collaborative — a non-profit group that helps First Nations communities assess mining activities — and recommends that the provincial government establish a Commission of Public Inquiry to investigate B.C.’s regulation of the mining industry.

A judicial inquiry is needed because mining is a multi-billion dollar industry that can create jobs and great wealth, but can also create “catastrophic and long-lasting threats to entire watersheds and to critical public assets such as fish, clean water, wildlife and public health,” according to the report, which is signed by ELC legal director Calvin Sandborn and law student Kirsty Broadhead.

B.C.'s Biggest Wind Farm Just Came Online — But Future of Wind in Province Bleak

B.C.'s Biggest Wind Farm Just Came Online — But Future of Wind in Province Bleak

On wind-swept ridgelines, surrounded by pine-beetle ravaged forests, the massive turbines at B.C.’s largest wind power project have started turning.

The Meikle Wind project, built by Pattern Development, will increase wind power capacity in the province by more than one third — to almost 674 megawatts — and will be able to generate energy for up to 54,000 homes, according to Mike Garland, Pattern CEO.

The wind farm, 33 kilometres north of Tumbler Ridge, has a 25-year power purchase agreement with BC Hydro and benefits to the province include an expected $70-million in payments for property taxes, Crown lease payments, wind participation rent and community benefits over 25 years.

The wind farm uses the latest technology, with blade tips reaching as high as 170 metres, and the ability to individually control each turbine to capture maximum energy from the wind.

It’s another step forward in the evolution of wind technology,” said Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association.

Wind farms are now truly power plants.”

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