Comox Valley climate strike draws thousands to Courtenay march

Comox Valley climate strike draws thousands to Courtenay march

Gavin MacRae photos

Comox Valley climate strike draws thousands to Courtenay march

By Gavin MacRae

Comox Valley residents joined millions of people marching worldwide on Sept. 27 demanding that governments step-up their efforts to tackle the climate emergency.

From Antarctica to the Arctic, Kathmandu to Vancouver, an estimated seven million people have taken part in thousands of demonstrations in the last week, including 800,000 Canadians.

About 3,000 Comox Valley residents rallied at Simms Millennium Park before starting a march through downtown Courtenay, according to Mackai Sharp, a leader of the group Youth Environmental Action, which organized the event.

Jessie Everson from the K’omoks First Nation opened the event by drawing a parallel between the quickly receding Comox glacier and the fate of humanity if the climate crisis is not averted.

“The glacier is a standing testament to the environmental degradation of the Comox Valley, said Everson. “If that glacier is to go, we will go too.”

Youth Environmental Action speaker Sienna Stephens was no less direct: “Learning about climate change and what it really means for my future has completely changed my life,” she said.

“There is no more time to wait around. We must lead by example and show [political leaders] what is expected,” Stephens said. “So please look at your own life and decide where you can make change. Even if it’s hard, be informed about the climate crisis. Start these important conversations with your family and friends. Be aware of who your money is going to each time you make a purchase.”

Protesters then marched a loop around Courtenay’s downtown core and back to Simms Park. Police halted traffic as the blocks-long procession took to the road.

Youth Environmental Action leader Emma Faulkner gave one of the final speeches.

“This is just the beginning of a conversation we are so ready to have,” she said. “History has always been shaped by the power of youth.

Over 200 climate strikes were held across Canada Friday. In Vancouver over 100,000 people attended, in Victoria over 20,000, in Ottawa up to 20,000 and inToronto up to 50,000, according to estimates by Greenpeace. Montreal outdid them all with 500,000 demonstrators – or one in four residents – turning out for the event.
“It’s far exceeded what we expected, everywhere,” said Cam Fenton, campaigner for international climate group, which organized many of the events. “It’s the largest mass climate mobilization in history.”

Swedish teen climate icon Greta Thunberg is largely credited as the inspiration behind the climate strike movement. Thunberg began by striking every Friday, by herself in front of the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm, only 13 months ago.

Young people will live to see the effects of climate change worsen significantly if the burning of fossil fuels is not curtailed. Those effects include more frequent extreme weather events, droughts, fires, sea level rise and reduced food security.

Gavin MacRae is assistant editor of the Watershed Sentinel and a contributor to the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. He can be reached at



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Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

Island Health wants municipalities to monitor water quality at beachs like Comox Lake  /  George Le Masurier photo

Who’s monitoring water quality at Island beaches?

By George Le Masurier

The Vancouver Island Health Authority announced last month that it planned to drop a public health responsibility and dump it onto BC municipalities, but it apparently forgot to inform municipal officials.

The health authority said it has already stopped monitoring water quality at popular public beaches, and that it had told municipalities last summer that the responsibility would shift to them.

Courtenay CAO David Allen says he hasn’t seen anything in writing from Island Health.

“The City of Courtenay has reached out to Island Health to request further information and documentation about this change in their policy,” Allen told Decafnation. “City staff are also in discussions with other regional local governments to identify roles and responsibilities.”

Shelley Ashfield, the Town of Comox’s chief engineer said the Town has not received any directive from VIHA regarding sampling of any public beaches at this time.

Rob Crisfield, manager of operations for the Village of Cumberland told Decafnation with possibly a hint of irony that “The village is not currently monitoring any beaches.”

And there was no response from the Comox Valley Regional District.

Regardless of where the communications went awry, no water quality testing has apparently occurred this summer at popular north Island beaches.

An Island Health officer said some municipalities in the south Island, such as Saanich and the Capital Regional District have taken on the task, while most have not.

Island Health has a long list of north Island beaches that should be monitored. They include beaches at Goose Spit, Kin Beach, Kitty Coleman, Kye Bay, Tribune Bay, Little Tribune Bay and Whaling Station Bay on Hornby Island, Miracle Beach, Point Holmes, Puntledge Park and Puntledge River swimming areas and Saratoga Beach.

Island Health says that environmental Health Officers have reviewed water quality results from samples at popular beach areas every summer and posted advisories where swimming was not recommended.

But, a VIHA spokesperson said, they were transferring the task of taking samples and providing oversight to municipalities as all the other BC health authorities have done. Island Health will pay the cost of analysis and courier fees to testing laboratories and will continue to post the results and advisories on their website.

Water quality tests for indicator bacteria identify whether fecal contamination exists and to what degree. A “no swimming” advisory would be posted if the average of several samples exceeds 200 E. coli or 35 Enterococci, or a single sample exceeds 400 E. Coli or 70 Enterococci per sample.




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Comox passes $250,000 lawsuit over to global insurance firm

Comox passes $250,000 lawsuit over to global insurance firm

Ken McDonald, where Golf Creek flows through his property  /  Decafnation file photo

Comox passes $250,000 lawsuit over to global insurance firm

By Pat Carl

The Town of Comox has handed off Norine and Ken McDonald’s $250,000 lawsuit to one of the world’s largest independent providers of claims management solutions, Crawford and Company.

The Municipal Insurance Agent of BC was handling the town’s case, scheduled for the BC Supreme Court, but earlier this year moved their liability insurance to AON Canada. Now, it’s been passed on to Crawford and Company, which may be best known for handling liability claims with regard to the 2000 E.coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ontario. As of 2018, some of those liability claims are still pending.

Meanwhile, the McDonalds’ stress level builds as the two-year battle over the pollution and excessive stormwater flow in Golf Creek, which runs through their property and has eroded chunks of it.

The McDonalds have decided to take up arms against the Town of Comox because, as McDonald says, “We can’t un-know what we know” about Golf Creek.

They know that Golf Creek, which now, in late summer, is a trickle, will become a torrent during the winter rainy season because it flows through pipes laid by the Town that reach from the Comox Golf Course to Comox Bay. The creek flows under the Comox Mall and the Berwick Retirement Community, and resurfaces again as it passes through seven riparian properties privately owned by Comox residents, including the McDonalds.

When they purchased their home, they knew about the erosion problem caused by stormwater run-off that swells Golf Creek.

The little bit of Golf Creek that remains natural disappears into large stormwater pipes and a torrent of flow during rain storms

“There’s only about three metres, about 10 feet, between our back door and the sheer drop down to Golf Creek” and it’s eroding more with each heavy winter rain event, he says.

Nevertheless, since the town laid the pipes that turned a peaceful meandering creek into a powerful rush of water swelled by 23 separate municipal stormwater pipes, the McDonalds thought the town should pay some of the cost they incurred when they shored up the portion of their property next to Golf Creek.

The town disagreed. The McDonalds took up arms by taking the town to small claims court.

The erosion is one thing. But the pollution in the creek is another.

Once filled with fish and shellfish, Golf Creek is now dead and, in fact, deadly. The McDonalds had the creek waters professionally tested and the tests interpreted by a biochemist who found “high concentrations of nine metal ions, including mercury and copper…an extremely high fecal coliform count,” which translates into “E. coli counts exceeding provincial maximums by 500 percent.”

This information, and the fact, they say, that Comox staff and Town Council have refused to discuss their small claims court filing, drove the McDonalds to upgrade their small claims court filing to an actual suit against the Town for an amount that equals the loss in value of their property affected by Golf Creek.

But what drives the McDonalds to face off against the deep taxpayer pockets of the town is more complicated than personal property loss. According to Ken, “We are speaking for other creatures who can’t speak and for the next generations.”

The Town commissioned numerous reports, one dating back 26 years, suggesting ways to mitigate Golf Creek’s flow rates and volume and to help settle contaminants, all of which were ignored by the town. One report suggested the construction of a retention pond above Comox Golf Club.

“Just dig a hole,” McDonald says, his frustration bubbling to the surface.

The Town has missed other opportunities, he says. For example, the recent rehabilitation of the Comox Mall and the expansion of the Berwick. He wonders why the town didn’t recommend working with developers to daylight portions of Golf Creek, as has been done with Bowker Creek, which runs through portions of Saanich, Victoria, and Oak Bay.

“Why doesn’t Comox vote to suspend legal action and have a conversation with us about how to settle our claim?” McDonald said.

The McDonalds claim they want to talk with council and even asked for a postponement of a trial date to do so. The judge hearing the case agreed, even though the town opposed the postponement and, to date, has not met with the McDonalds.

“Who makes decisions like this?” McDonald said. He wonders who is advising council to steer clear of the McDonalds even though talking with them may be the best way to resolve their suit as well as the issue of Golf Creek and stormwater run-off?

Contacted for comment on this story, neither Mayor Russ Arnott or Town CAO Richard Kanigan responded.

But many municipalities receive advice from the Municipal Insurance Association of BC (MIABC), which provided the Town’s liability insurance up until January 1, 2019.

Up until that time, Comox has had very little incentive to settle claims against it. In fact, because of its membership in the MIABC, it has been disincentivized to settle claims, even ones as small and as reasonable as the McDonalds’ original small claims court filing.

The MIABC rewards municipalities that have few liability claims through its Experience Rating Program. This translates into $190,000 in premium subsidies being applied to Comox’s MIABC liability insurance rate.

Additionally, the MIABC delivers training to member municipalities that directs town staff on how to handle liability claims, which basically counsels staff to not engage with claimants. That training also makes clear that elected councillors should not communicate with claimants.

“It’s very undemocratic the way no one is listening to us,” McDonald said.

If the McDonalds’ suit is heard by a judge and if the suit is decided in the McDonalds’ favour, then a legal precedent is set which could allow other claimants in other BC municipalities to seek reimbursement for their properties and could force municipalities to rehabilitate creeks that they’ve covered over and polluted.

McDonald said he wonders why the Town, the insurance provider and defense counsel want to litigate rather than settle out of court.

Pat Carl, a Comox residents, is a contributor for the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She can be reached at



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From the Sentinel: How the small village of Cumberland returned a forest to the people

From the Sentinel: How the small village of Cumberland returned a forest to the people

Perseverance Creek  /  George Le Masurier photo

From the Sentinel: How the small village of Cumberland returned a forest to the people

By Guest Writer

The 150-year legacy of the E&N Railway Land Grant still echoes across southeastern Vancouver Island. This transfer of over 2 million acres of unceded Indigenous land to coal baron Robert Dunsmuir is the origin of many land use conflicts on Vancouver Island. But it is also the back story for one community’s journey to restore the commons.

The Cumberland Community Forest Society (CCFS) has been purchasing and protecting privately owned forests scheduled for logging near the Village of Cumberland since 2000. Guided by the belief that this forest is now worth more to the community as an intact forested watershed than as timber, the CCFS is supported by individuals, families, and businesses from across the Comox Valley and beyond. Purchased lands are protected in perpetuity for the conservation of biological diversity and watershed protection by a Section 219 conservation covenant (Land Act).

It was a project that no one thought would succeed back in 2000. How could plant sales and trivia nights buy back forest from a massive multinational timber company? How could a village of 2600 people meet a price tag set by a Goliath company and return a forest to the people? But the project caught the imagination of the community. It offered a tangible, doable solution to a very difficult problem: community control of the land base around us. Innovative community fundraising and generous local donors who took a risk on a wild idea made the impossible possible. With successful purchases in 2005 and 2016 totalling over 110 hectares (270 acres) for over $2,000,000, the society is closing in on another major purchase in the next year of 91.3 hectares (226 acres) in the Perseverance Creek watershed.

Perseverance Creek

The Perseverance Creek watershed flows into Comox Lake, which supplies drinking water to 45,000 people in Comox and Courtenay via the Comox Lake Drinking Water System. The upcoming purchase effort is part of a plan that will ultimately protect the entire riparian corridor of Perseverance Creek from Allen Lake to Comox Lake. The initiative is called Project Perseverance.

Because of the watershed-scale protection this project offers, Project Perseverance is drawing the attention of the wider Comox Valley. It has the potential to make a meaningful impact on the significant management challenges that exist in the Comox Lake Watershed. The CCFS, Village of Cumberland, and community partners are stitching together a fragmented landscape into one of connected and protected lands set aside for drinking water protection, habitat connectivity, climate resilience, and quality of life.

Drinking water protection IS climate resilience. Project Perseverance will help protect and restore local watershed systems to mitigate impacts to drinking water from increasing winter weather events, retain water and slow water release during drought conditions, and provide ecosystem services for the region through supporting the quality and sustainability of drinking water resources.

The project also benefits at-risk ecosystems. The Perseverance Watershed is an important link in an extensive habitat corridor that connects mountains and lakes to the Salish Sea. The area is part of an interconnected system of forests, salmon-bearing creeks, wetlands, and riparian areas and is home to at risk species including little brown myotis and Townsend’s big-eared bats, Roosevelt elk, Western screech-owl, and Red-legged frogs.

The adjacency of Project Perseverance to existing protected areas also makes it a valuable conservation priority. Concurrent regional efforts to protect lands around Comox Lake, Maple Lake, in the Morrison Headwaters, and down the Puntledge River to the Courtenay Estuary make this project a significant contribution to a landscape-scale conservation vision in the region.

Massive fund-raising

The Cumberland Community Forest Society takes a creative approach to land protection. They weave their conservation efforts into local and regional art, heritage, science, and sport initiatives. They partner with major trail races, run citizen research projects and community science pubs, facilitate children’s theatre programs, and engage with regional conservation collaborations. They approach land conservation as a challenge and a celebration and attract supporters through making the seemingly impossible, possible. The idea of restoring the commons resonates. The theme of collective responsibility offers meaning and connection for residents and visitors alike.

Over the years, the forests around Cumberland have given a great deal to our community. The Village of Cumberland was built on logging and mining and the Cumberland Forest was a base for both. Today the community is rapidly evolving and changing, like so many Salish Sea communities. These growing pains are assuaged by an incredible spirit of community that revolves around the forest landscape. It holds long-time residents to this place and welcomes new folks to join a community that cares about the natural world around them.

The Project Perseverance fundraising campaign recently hit the 50% mark on a $2.6 million purchase. With full matching funds in place the CCFS is working hard to close on this deal and reaching out to donors and funders across BC and Canada. Their robust monthly donor program provides a foundation of other fundraising efforts, with donors from across BC. To find out how you can be part of this conservation community, visit

Project Perseverance is in the traditional territory of the K’ómoks Nation. The CCFS gives thanks and appreciation to be guests on this land. Gilakas’la / čɛčɛ haθɛč.

Meaghan Cursons is executive director of the Cumberland Community Forest Society. She wrote this article for the Watershed Sentinel, a publishing partner of Decafnation.










Unfortunately, by 2012 nearly all mature second growth forests in the eastern Comox Valley had been logged. Conservation Biologists argue that there is an urgent need to protect younger second-growth forests (60-80 years old) as “old-growth recruitment areas” in our rain-shadow zone. This is exactly what the Cumberland Community Forest Society is doing.

— Cumberland Forest Society website



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Take a hike, see devastation in the Comox Lake watershed

Take a hike, see devastation in the Comox Lake watershed

A cut block on a hillside in the Comox Lake watershed  /  Pat Carl photos

Take a hike, see devastation in the Comox Lake watershed

By Pat Carl

When I first moved permanently to the Comox Valley, I met a man who knew the Valley well and many of its paths and trails, those well known and those obscure. He took people on hikes during which he shared his knowledge of the area. I often think of the gift he gave me and others.

One time, a group of us took a hike with him that started at the dam near Comox Lake and ended at Nymph Falls. As I recall, the area during that season was a beautiful and rich emerald green and smelled of softwood pine needles and sap. That was some 15 years ago.

I returned to the dam and lake last weekend with four others. All of us are members of Save Our Forests – Comox Valley, SOFT – CV for short. We were interested in seeing firsthand the extent of the timber harvest currently being conducted by TimberWest throughout the Comox Lake watershed, which is the source of drinking water for most of the Comox Valley.

We traveled some 15 kilometres around Comox Lake and up logging roads along the Cruickshank River, one of the many rivers and streams that feeds into the Lake.

Theoretically, we were prepared for the clear-cutting, but seeing it for ourselves brought home the amount of devastation. Cut block after cut block dotted the sides of steep hills and mountains and came within a hair’s breadth of the Cruickshank. We wondered aloud how TimberWest, with a straight face, could claim, as its website does, to be stewards of its lands that “respect cultural, economic and environmental values.”

I was also struck by the amount of waste that TimberWest’s “stewardship” creates. Weathered and newly created piles of slash waiting to be burned, thick wire ropes lying in the dirt alongside twisted and abandoned metal culverts, logging roads like bleeding veins cutting through the harvested areas, treeless exposed understory with its loose rocks and soil just waiting for a strong winter rain to send it down into the Cruickshank unimpeded, and trees, like the twisted rust-red arbutus beauties, caught up in the clear-cutting onslaught.

What beauty remains in the area is created by the hardwood trees which TimberWest doesn’t consider economically harvest-worthy. The dappling sunshine drifting through what little canopy remains brought to mind what it must have been like before TimberWest became the area’s owner with free rein to log right on top of the watershed that drains into Comox Lake, the source of Courtenay/Comox’s drinking water.

And you wonder why a new water treatment facility is planned for the Comox Valley, costing $126 million to construct and then an estimated $86 yearly operating cost to be shouldered by each Courtenay and Comox household for the next 25 years.

Want to see the devastation yourself? You’ll need to drive a 4×4 vehicle to naviagate the logging roads. And you will need to check TimberWest’s website for current accessibility restrictions. It’s their privately-owned land, after all.

But it’s our watershed and our drinking water.

Pat Carl is a frequent contributor to Decafnation and a participant in the Comox Valley Civic Journalism Project. She can be reached at





High quality drinking water is produced by a healthy, properly functioning ecosystem. Clean water is the outcome of watershed-scale and riparian processes that capture, store and release water while simultaneously reducing or removing suspended sediments, bacteria, viruses, parasites and excess nutrients.

Protecting our drinking water requires two important steps: treating the water and protecting the source. The area of land that drains into Comox Lake is approximately 461 square kilometres, and the majority is privately owned. Much of the area is also K’ómoks First Nation (KFN) traditional territories. Balancing interests such as private ownership, traditional use, active logging, recreation, and hydroelectric power generation, while providing drinking water and sustaining critical fish and wildlife habitat, is a long-term endeavour.

Comox Valley Regional District website


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Comox Valley adds voices to the demand for a federal climate debate

Comox Valley adds voices to the demand for a federal climate debate

Gavin MacRae photo, courtresy of the Watershed Sentinel

Comox Valley adds voices to the demand for a federal climate debate

By Gavin MacRae

Some 30 rallies held Wednesday across Canada – outside CBC studios, offices and in the streets – aim to pressure the public broadcaster to host a debate between federal party leaders on the climate crisis ahead of the coming election.

For the Comox Valley’s part, around 60 people gathered at Marina Park in Comox for a rally organized by Comox Valley Nurses for Health and the Environment.

“As our public broadcaster, the CBC has a moral obligation to make sure that every single person in Canada knows which of our leaders have a real plan to tackle the climate crisis,” read the Facebook event page for the rally.

Speakers included Alex Nataros, a family doctor in Comox; Nalan Goosen, leader of Youth Environment Action; Celia Laval with the Comox Valley Unitarian Fellowship Justice Committee; Mark de Bruijn, nominee for the Green Party candidate for North Island – Powell River; and Rachel Blaney, NDP MP for North Island – Powell River.

In covering climate change, “Canadian media and the CBC need to up their game,” Laval said, summing up the sentiments of the speakers.

Because the climate crisis and ecological collapse are possibly the biggest issues humanity has ever faced, Laval said, “This is not just an election issue, this is the election issue…. We demand CBC hold a debate of the federal leaders.”

Nataros said concerned voters can call or write the CBC or use the hashtag #changethedebate on social media.

Scrutiny of Canadian media’s coverage of the climate crisis – CBC’s in particular – has grown in recent months after the UK paper The Guardian became the first to update their journalist’s style guide to replace the term “climate change” with “climate crisis” or “climate emergency.”

“‘Climate change’ is no longer considered to accurately reflect the seriousness of the situation,” reads the updated guide.

An open letter published on May 28 in The Tyee, by Mount Royal journalism professor Sean Holman, further pressed Canadian media. In it, Holman wrote that media in Canada have repeatedly failed to “apply basic journalism principles to the climate change crisis confronting us.”

An example given by Holman is when on May 6, news of the birth of a royal baby eclipsed the release of a major UN report warning of critical worldwide declines in biodiversity.

After analyzing climate coverage in a database of 569 English language Canadian newspapers and CBC and CTV newscasts, Holman found mainstream media reporting “too often does not reflect the scope and severity” of the climate crisis.

To correct course, Holman’s letter outlined a five-point plan for media to better prioritize, cover, localize and contextualize climate reporting.

Eventually the CBC clarified their position: their journalists have latitude to “sometimes” use the terms “climate crisis” and “climate emergency,” but they will retain “climate change” as the default term. The CBC’s director of journalistic standards described the new terms as having “a whiff of advocacy to them,” garnering criticism on social media.

The discussion appears to have driven change. The CBC launched an “ambitious and comprehensive” climate series they say will appear on television, radio, online and on CBC Kids News, “because Canada’s youth care deeply about this issue.” The Toronto Star also recently published an in depth series detailing impacts of the climate crisis in Canada as well as solutions.

Gavin MacRae is the assistant editor of the Watershed Sentinel magazine, which is a publishing partner of Decafnation. You can also see this story at, or click their icon above


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