Watershed Sentinel: Canadian hemp fibre finally poised for market acceptance

Watershed Sentinel: Canadian hemp fibre finally poised for market acceptance

Photo of hemp marine rigging by Patrice Dufour from FreeImages

By Gavin MacRae

On a summer backpacking trip through the Amazon 20 years ago, Michael Demone witnessed the destruction of deforestation first-hand. Determined to do something and brimming with youthful optimism, he returned home and opened one of Canada’s first hemp shops.

“It wasn’t a headshop. There were no bongs,” he says. “It was beautiful fabrics, and bicycle chain lubricant, and tree-free papers.”

Back then, hemp was a boutique industry. Demone had trouble sourcing products, and with the shelves near empty, the store eventually closed.

Two decades later, a lot has changed: cannabis is legal, hemp farming has been decriminalized in the United States, and entrepreneurs are clamouring for a grubstake in the “green gold rush” of the Cannabidiol (CBD) market.

But these developments are forerunners to what promises to be the most important advance involving the cannabis sativa plant: hemp for fibre.

 

Hemp to replace cotton

Hemp fibre can, in large part, replace cotton, with big environmental benefits.

Versus US cotton, the ecological footprint of hemp is one-third to a half smaller, depending on how the hemp is cultivated and processed, according to a 2010 analysis by the Stockholm Environment Institute. Even organic cotton has a higher ecological footprint, per ton of fibre, than conventionally cultivated hemp.

“Currently, cotton is king,” says Andrew Riseman, an associate professor at the UBC Faculty of Land and Food Systems. “But cotton takes an enormous amount of water, pesticides, and energy to produce and then to refine, and it doesn’t have the durability or the advantageous characteristics that hemp would have.”

Hemp fibre can also be used to make low-carbon building materials and bio-composites, and can substitute for wood fibre in pulp and paper production.

In Canada we can grow some of the best, longest fibre, specifically in northern Alberta, with long daylight hours

Hemp, or more properly industrial hemp, is easy to confuse with cannabis, because on paper it’s the same plant. In practice, hemp and cannabis look and are grown differently. And hemp won’t get you high – it has only trace amounts of THC, the psychoactive compound found in cannabis. Hemp is bred to produce high fibre yield, high seed yield, or a dual-purpose compromise between the traits.

Until recently, nearly all hemp grown in Canada was grown for food. To farm hemp for fibre, a hurdle remained.

It was “classic chicken and egg,” says Jan Slaski, a long time hemp researcher with InnoTech Alberta, an arm of the Alberta Innovates provincial research institute. Farmers were reluctant to grow hemp without a steady market for fibre, and markets and processing infrastructure couldn’t develop without hemp product.

Hemp yarn photo by S. Schleicher from FreeImages

It’s only in the last few years that the hemp industry has weakened this market catch-22, Slaski says, and now, “It’s a different ballgame.”

A hundred kilometres east of Edmonton, Slaski and his team run a hemp research and processing facility in Vegreville, Alberta, to develop applications for hemp “from seed to final product.” Strong demand now has the facility working extended hours processing hemp for fibre.

Not far from Vegreville, in Bruderheim, Alberta, Canadian Rockies Hemp Corporation is building a similar “decortication” facility to process hemp fibre grown by contracted farmers in the area. The facility will remove the lignin and pectin from the fibre to produce the short, consistent fibres sought for textiles, bio-composites and paper.

With these high value fibres, “cotton can be replaced, a lot of synthetic products can be replaced, tree products can be replaced.” says Aaron Barr, Canadian Rockies Hemp’s CEO. “There’s a lot of different market opportunities, but the key is advancing the technology.”

Countries such as China, Ukraine, Poland, and the Netherlands have a long head start on Canada in the hemp trade, says Barr, but he’s not worried – longer summer daylight at northern latitudes can add four feet of extra growth to hemp plants by summers’ end.

“In Canada we can grow some of the best, longest fibre, specifically in northern Alberta, with long daylight hours. It gives us literally one of the best geographical advantages in the world. CBD, THC, those type of flowering plants will do better in the south. We are fit for fibre.”

As the technology and processing muscle advances, entrepreneurs are taking formerly-cottage-industry hemp applications to commercial scale.

 

Biocomposites & building materials

Take hempcrete, a mixture of hemp biomass and lime used as a building material since ancient times. In modern construction, hempcrete can substitute for concrete in many applications.

Just Biofiber of Airdrie, Alberta, manufactures a construction system of hempcrete blocks that are load bearing, insulating, fire resistant, fast to build with, and that, Just Biofiber says, embody more carbon than is released in their manufacture.

“Instead of cutting down trees we can grow a crop in our fields in 90 days, and build houses that are better quality homes with it,” says Barr. “Healthier homes that last longer. There are unbelievable advantages to it.”

InnoTech’s Vegreville facility supplies fibre to BioComposites Group in Drayton Valley, Alberta. The company produces a diverse array of hemp products, from fibre mats for erosion control and horticultural use to hemp-based bio-composite sheets that can be moulded to form complex shapes such as interior car parts.

Many moulded products now made from oil or natural gas feedstocks such as polypropylene, polyethylene, and glass-reinforced thermoplastics, are candidates for replacement, says BioComposites Group.

The hemp composites are lighter than the products they replace and fully biodegradable when used with organic resins.

Slaski’s first research into hemp was as a fibre source for an Alberta pulp mill. The mill had run out of forest, Lorax style, within a reasonable hauling distance. The research was scrapped, says Slaski, after a new CEO decided the company “was not comfortable dealing with non-woody crops.”

The missed opportunity left Slaski with tantalizing statistics.

“It is safe to assume that hemp can produce about four to five times more fibre per hectare than forest,” Slaski says. “On average, boreal forest produces one-to-two tons per hectare of biomass per year, while fibre-type varieties of hemp produce eight-to-ten tons per hectare.”

That’s with one crop. In warmer climates, two crops a year can be grown.

Apparently, a Maryland, USA company is comfortable with non-woody crops. Fibonacci LLC is investing US$5.8 million in a factory in Kentucky to produce a wood substitute from hemp stalks, according to the trade journal Woodworking Network. The company says their product is 20 per cent harder than red oak, and plans to market it for use in flooring and furniture.

All this is happening with the current state of technology. With further research into genetics and agricultural practices, more applications and products will emerge.

“I think prohibition set us back about a century,” says Riseman. “[Hemp] was the plant that did everything, the workhorse plant. And now we have all these tools that we’ve applied to corn and wheat and cotton, and you see the yield increases and how much more efficient and productive we have become…. [Hemp’s] been bred for low THC or long fibres, no one’s talked about what else we could breed for.”

Hemp is truly versatile, but over-zealous advocates have attributed near super-botanical abilities to the plant. Experts caution that wild claims online about hemp, such as it having “over 50,000 uses,” are “fantastic,” “ridiculous,” and “bro science.”

“One misconception is that hemp doesn’t require fertilizer, water, is pest resistant, is just a miracle crop,” says Slaski. “I would say, yes, hemp can survive on marginal land – survive – but if you want to grow a crop that you want to get paid for, you have to provide inputs, because there are no miracles in hemp.”

We have an opportunity to build an industry of value, with values

After some 80 years of prohibition, hemp cultivation was legalized federally in the United States in late 2018. As one observer put it, “it’s basically the starting gun” for US hemp farming.

The end of US hemp prohibition should be a rising tide that benefits both countries by lifting hemp to its rightful place among other mainstay crops.

Because of this, and despite a 20-year lead in decriminalizing hemp, Canada must position itself as a world leader in hemp fibre to stay in the driver’s seat, Slaski says.

“The US is a larger country, with more money to invest in the opportunity. They will be a serious competitor to our hemp industry.”

Read more at the Watershed Sentinel: Fibreshed: a movement for full-circle local fibre production finds its roots on Vancouver Island

Michael Demone has long since traded his backpacking duds for business attire. He now leads the Canadian Working Group on Industrial Hemp, which he describes as “part advocacy group, part support system” for developing new hemp products.

For Demone, the quickly evolving promise of hemp fibre is “like the Renaissance” and he believes “round two” could herald more than environmental benefits.

“To get philosophical, I think we have an opportunity to build an industry of value, with values. And that means including talks about labour, about Indigenous voices, about women in manufacturing, all of these things, it’s just ready to blow. We need responsible people who will say ‘look, we want to make some money, we want to advance this industry, there are some really significant environmental benefits.’ It’s going to take investment and it’s going to take businesses willing to take some risks.”

Gavin MacRae is the Watershed Sentinel’s assistant editor. The Sentinel is a publishing partner of Decafnation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CANADIAN HEMP REMOVED FROM DEA AUTHORITY

The passing of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (2018 Farm Bill, Section 10113) removed hemp and hemp seeds from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) schedule of Controlled Substances. This action removed hemp and hemp seeds from DEA authority for products containing THC levels not greater than 0.3 percent. Therefore, DEA no longer has authority to require hemp seed permits for import purposes. Read more

— Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance

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More Environment | Latest Feature
Town of Comox now faces $250,000 Supreme Court lawsuit over pollution

Town of Comox now faces $250,000 Supreme Court lawsuit over pollution

One of the few remaining daylight sections of Golf Creek at the Comox Golf Course  /  George Le Masurier

By George Le Masurier

What started as a simple request three years ago for the Town of Comox to help defray a homeowner’s expense to remediate a creek bank has since uncovered a litany of town-related problems and, as of last week, turned into a BC Supreme Court case valued at nearly a quarter-million dollars.

As reported by Decafnation in January, Norine and Ken McDonald launched a BC Small Claims Court action in June of 2016 to recover some of the $30,000 they spent to shore up a portion of Golf Creek that flows through their Jane Place property.

They took the legal action after discovering the erosion was caused by excessive municipal stormwater flowing into the creek, and because the town refused to take responsibility for the damage.

For three years, the McDonalds and the Town of Comox have been locked in a legal battle to settle the matter. The McDonalds have requested meetings to negotiate a resolution, and have been turned down. The town has responded by trying to have the case dismissed, and were denied in court.

FURTHER READING: Stormwater: it’s killing our water

But in the process of preparing their case against the town, the McDonalds have learned that Golf Creek is not only plagued by high volumes of stormwater flowing into the creek, but that the water is highly polluted with heavy metals and fecal coliform counts up to 230 times higher than the provincial water quality standards. E Coli counts have exceeded provincial maximums by 500 percent.

For the McDonalds, the toxic water in their backyard created a new financial problem.

According to section 5-13 of the rules of the Real Estate Council of BC (enforced under the BC Real Estate Act), a homeowner must disclose a material latent defect that renders the property “dangerous or potentially dangerous to the occupants” or “a defect that would involve great expense to remedy.”

“Now that we are aware of the pollution problem, we are obligated to disclose that problem to any prospective future buyer as well,” Ken McDonald told Decafnation. “That disclosure will certainly impact property value.”

So the McDonalds recently asked the court to amend the compensation they are seeking to nearly $250,000, the value of the portion of their property affected by the Creek (about 29 percent), and to move their case to the BC Supreme Court.

On Friday, May 31, Civil Court Judge Hutcheson granted the McDonald’s request.

This ruling escalates the financial risk for Town of Comox taxpayers.

In a letter to the town and to the attention of Mayor Russ Arnott, the McDonalds lawyer wrote that “… other property owners and occupants in the Town of Comox may have suffered similar damages, and are considering the potential for a class action lawsuit to hold the town accountable….”

McDonald also believes the case might have province-wide significance for other property owners near urban streams.

 

Background

The McDonalds’ house at the end of the Jane Place cul de sac was originally built by John and Christine Robertsen in 1991. The Robertsens commissioned BBT Hardy Engineering to do a geotechnical study to determine the feasibility of building on property that included the Golf Creek ravine, and were issued a building permit and final occupancy permit by the town even though no erosion control measures were undertaken, as recommended in the study.

In 1992, the town commissioned a study by KPA Engineering that recommended four erosion control options — including a detention pond on the Comox Golf Course — to protect properties along Golf Creek. None were implemented, according to documents supplied by Ken McDonald.

Ken McDonald stands in front of his $30,000 geotextile wall to prevent further erosion from Golf Creek. The Town of Comox’s refusal to help him pay for the remediation has turned into a nearly $250,000 BC Supreme Court lawsuit

Seven years later, a 1999 a KPA Engineering study gave Golf Creek the highest environmental sensitivity rating in their investigation and recommended remedial action and water quality monitoring. Neither were implemented, accord to McDonald’s documents.

From 1991 to 2005, Town of Comox population grew by 70 percent, increasing stormwater flows into Golf Creek.

In 2005, the Robertsens communicated concerns about increased erosion of their property, and the town denied responsibility. The Robertsens then paid for a second geotechnical study — this one by Lewkowich Engineering — that repeated the need for “some preventative measures.” None were implemented.

A 2013 assessment by McElhanney Engineering raised concerns about increased stormwater volumes and recommended the town “mitigate the impacts of discharging stormwater into sensitive receiving environments.” The town did not implement the recommendations in the McElhanney report, according to McDonald.

When the Robertsens decided to sell their house in 2014, they commissioned a third geotechnical study, which reaffirmed the need for creek bank remediation.

After purchasing the house, the McDonalds hired a contractor to do the creek bank remediation, and were told by the town that erosion damage was entirely their own responsibility.

McDonald says he did not realize Golf Creek was no longer a natural waterway until June 2016 when a downstream neighbor mentioned his erosion problems and the old engineering reports indicating the creek was a key component of the town’s stormwater management system. The neighbor told McDonald that the town had installed a five meter-long rock wall along his creek bank.

So the McDonalds started a BC Small Claims Court action to recover some of the cost of remediating their own section of the creek.

Two years into that legal action, McDonald had the water quality in the creek tested. The test results showed fecal coliform levels nearing that of raw sewage and concentrations of heavy metals, including mercury, that exceeded provincial guidelines.

In many cases, the level of contaminants exceeded government guidelines by more than 1,000 percent.

Last month, McDonald had the creek’s water retested. While the fecal coliform tested down to 150 times provincial standards, the results showed the more dangerous E Coli levels at 2,000 Fecal Coliform Units per 100 ml. BC and Health Canada guidelines put the maximum safe level for human recreational contact with E Coli in a single sample at 400 FCU/100 ml.

E Coli in Golf Creek registered 500 percent over the BC maximum.

McDonald said the provincial environment ministry has also recently tested the creek’s water, but has not yet released their results.

 

Attempts to meet with Town Council

McDonald says that litigation is not his preferred approach to resolving the issue, but that repeated attempts to meet with town staff and the mayor and council have been rebuffed by the town.

Prior to last fall’s municipal election, McDonald filed an application to the court requesting postponement of a trial date so that he could present his case to the new mayor and council. The town opposed the postponement, but it was granted. No meeting has taken place.

In October, before the election, McDonald asked candidate Russ Arnott if council would entertain a meeting. Arnott declined in an email message.

“I did bring it up with Richard (Kanigan, the town’s Chief Administrative Officer) and was advised it was in the hands of their insurance people and that it best not to engage at this particular time,” Arnott replied to McDonald via email.

McDonald said two subsequent informal encounters with Arnott met with the same response.

 

What’s next

The McDonalds are now in the process of preparing their case for the Supreme Court.

“Our object is to solve a major environmental problem that has destroyed the fresh water streams in Comox and is contaminating our marine environment,” McDonald told Decafnation. “There are practical solutions to the problem. What is needed is an administration and a council that acknowledges that there is a problem and is willing to change their stormwater management practices.”

Decafnation briefed Comox Mayor Russ Arnott and CAO Richard Kanigan on the content of this story prior to publication, but neither responded to an invitation to comment or provide additional information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS FECAL COLIFORM?

FECAL COLIFORM — Microscopic organisms that live in the intestines of warm-blooded animals. They also live in the waste material, or feces, excreted from the intestinal tract. Although not necessarily agents of disease, fecal coliform bacteria may indicate the presence of disease-carrying organisms, which live in the same environment as the fecal coliform bacteria. Swimming in waters with high levels of fecal coliform bacteria increases the chance of developing illness (fever, nausea or stomach cramps) from pathogens entering the body through the mouth, nose, ears, or cuts in the skin. Diseases and illnesses that can be contracted in water with high fecal coliform counts include typhoid fever, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery and ear infections. Read more here and here

 

 

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More Environment | Latest Feature | Stormwater

Stormwater systems shift slowly toward green infrastructure

Stormwater management plans in the Comox Valley have historically treated rainwater as waste, something to be collected and disposed of quickly, usually into previously clean streams or directly into the ocean. Clearly a new approach is needed.

Golf Creek: A case study in stormwater planning gone wrong

The second in a series about stormwater begins the Tale of Three Creeks: Golf, Brooklyn and Morrison. Golf Creek is dead, Brooklyn Creek is threatened and Morrison Creek is thriving, with an effort to protect its pristine and intact headwaters

Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover

Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

After three residents died as an indirect result of a norovirus outbreak at Comox Valley Seniors Village earlier this year, a group of family members of the facility’s residents demanded an investigation and better oversight of the facility by Island Health.

Now, two months later, and with no evidence of corrective action by the Chinese corporation that owns the facility, the same Comox Valley family members have asked Island Health to assume its full operational responsibility.

“It is our strong belief that the prolonged, ongoing challenges to bring this facility within compliance are indicative of a larger endemic problem … regarding this facility,” the family members said in a May 20 letter to Tim Orr, the director of residential services for Island Health.

The family members say there have been seven new contraventions of compliance to Residential Care Regulations between March 7 and May 3, all of which occurred since an investigation by Island Health licensing agents in March that resulted in a ‘high risk’ rating for the facility.

That review was triggered by a March 13 letter to Orr from the family members alleging that Seniors Village mishandled containment of the virus and that it may have been caused by food handling and a failure to ensure staff had required immunizations.

And there are currently 12 current contraventions, according to the Island Health Licensing Officer’s May 3 report. And there have been 22 incidents of regulatory non-compliance recorded since 2018.

The family members believe the most serious regulatory non-compliance occurred during the norovirus outbreak, while the top senior management positions remained vacant. A failure to clean the facility violated health and safety regulations, which was compounded by allegedly falsifying records to show the cleaning had been done.

The Comox Valley Seniors Village opened in 2009 by the Canadian company Retirement Concepts, but the problems began to surface in 2017 after it was sold to Anbang, a Chinese insurance company. Anbang purchased 31 Canadian long-term care facilities through its Canadian holding company, Cedar Tree, including seven on Vancouver Island and 24 others in BC, AB and QC.

Cedar Tree, in turn, contracts out management of Comox Valley Seniors Village, and other Anbang holdings, to a management company called Pacific Reach, owned by the former owner of Retirement Concepts.

What’s gone wrong

Problems identified or alleged by family members include unauthorized restraint, falsified records, building filth left uncleaned, incorrect feeding and failing to meet the contracted number of hours of care per resident among their complaints.

The family members believe that Seniors Village receives full payment from Island Health based on 3.11 hours of care per resident, but actually provides only 2.63 hours.

Island Health told Decafnation that “licensees are held accountable to meet all contractual obligations, including resident care hours.” And that Seniors Village has developed a corrective action plan, which Island Health “is monitoring weekly, including the licensee’s compliance to the Act and the Residential Care Regulations.”

Adequate staffing has been an consistent problem at the Seniors Village. The facility operated for six months without any senior management, neither a general manager or a director of care.

The facility has a difficult time keeping staff partly because it pays about $2 to $4 per hour less than other Valley facilities, such as Glacier View Lodge and The Views at St. Joseph. Seniors Village staff went on strike last fall for better working conditions and compensations.

But there are other problems that have caused many workers to quit.

Recently, the facility introduced unpopular shift changes. It essentially fired all its employees and made them reapply for their shifts, although workers were allowed to keep their seniority.

One concept in the shift reorganization, which the company has since reconsidered, would have required workers to rotate among the various wards every five weeks. But that was unacceptable to family members of residents in the dementia ward, where consistency and specialized training is necessary.

Deadly norovirus outbreak

Between Jan. 28 and Feb. 25, the norovirus spread rampantly throughout the facility. The family members believe the outbreak lasted longer than necessary because Seniors Village personnel — without a manager, dietician or care director — did not follow Island Health’s rigorous cleaning procedure.

“Past contraventions show the facility has a history of not having policies and procedures in place and the properly trained staff to executive them,” the family members wrote to Orr on March 13.

Two residents of the dementia wing died from pneumonia after noro infection and another died after refusing food after contracting the virus. Residents with “mobile dementia” often touch floors because they see things there.

According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, people become infected with norovirus through direct contact with infected people, touching surfaces contaminated with norovirus or by drinking water or eating food that has been contaminated, usually by food handlers who have the virus and don’t wash their hands properly.

“Further evidence supporting our concerns that the facility did not follow the required cleaning procedure is that we have determined that the only carpet cleaning during the 29-day outbreak was not steam cleaning as required, but vacuuming, which is specifically contraindicated in Island Health’s procedure,” the family members wrote to Orr on March 13.

The family of one dementia resident who died during the outbreak was permitted access to collect his personal belongings unaware that the required cleaning protocol had not been followed.

“It is unconscionable to us that Island Health would not have immediately stepped into direct this facility’s handling of the outbreak and provide additional resources given the known issues with this facility,” the family members wrote on March 13.

The family members believe that an Island Health run facility would have done a post-incident investigation to identify the root causes of the norovirus outbreak and recommendations to prevent another occurence.

“Why would it not be a requirement for this facility, given its serious breach of a critical public health protocol?” the family members asked Orr in their most recent May 20 letter.

Can Island Health take over?

Island Health has the authority to take operational control of a facility through the Community Care and Assisted Living Act if they believe has endangered public health.

Island Health says they have appointed an administrator at facilities in the past. They have done so twice in the past 15 years at two separate facilities.

“We take the concerns and complaints from residents and families seriously,” an Island Health spokesperson told Decafnation. “There are a number of regulatory mechanisms to direct corrective action on the part of the operators to ensure the safety of residents.”

The family members think the situation at Seniors Village qualifies.

“Severe and irrevocable consequences are both appropriate and needed given this service provider’s continued critical failures to meet the terms of its contract and the regulatory standards,” they wrote on May 20.

The family members told Orr they have supported Island Health’s need to follow a remedial process, and think it’s now “time to take decisive action.”

“If Island Health is of the view that Comox Valley Seniors Village has not yet reached this point, it begs one of two questions: How much longer? Or How much worse does it need to be?”

Family members of Comox Valley Seniors Village residents or former residents who signed both letters referred to in this article are Delores Broten, Bev Foster, Greta Judd, Sharon Jackson and Doug Malcolm.

This article has been updated to remove a sentence saying Island Health had not responded. Island Health’s responses were included in the original article.

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHAT IS THE NOROVIRUS AND HOW DO YOU GET IT?

Norovirus is a very contagious virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. People of all ages can get infected and sick with norovirus.

Norovirus is sometimes called the stomach flu or stomach bug. However, norovirus illness is not related to the flu which is caused by influenza virus.

People with norovirus illness can shed billions of norovirus particles. And only a few virus particles can make other people sick.

You can get norovirus from:

–Having direct contact with an infected person
–Consuming contaminated food or water
–Touching contaminated surfaces and then putting your unwashed hands in your mouth

The most commonly reported setting for norovirus outbreaks … is healthcare facilities, including long-term care facilities and hospitals. Over half of all norovirus outbreaks reported … occur in long-term care facilities.

The virus can be introduced into healthcare facilities by infected patients, staff, visitors, or contaminated foods. Outbreaks in these settings can sometimes last months. Norovirus illnesses can be more severe, occasionally even deadly, in patients in hospitals or long-term care facilities compared with healthy people.

— Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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More Health Care | Latest Feature

Violations spark demand for Seniors Village takeover

After three residents died as an indirect result of a norovirus outbreak at Comox Valley Seniors Village earlier this year, a group of family members of the facility’s residents demanded an investigation and better oversight of the facility by Island Health

No word yet on the promised new long-term care beds

Photo by George Le Masurier BY GEORGE LE MASURIER s a strike by care workers at two Comox Valley assisted living facilities enters its sixth day, many people are wondering what happened to the 151 additional long-term care beds promised by Island...

Vaccine available for the virus headed our way

Vancouver Island health care professionals say a serious virus will hit the Comox Valley in a few weeks that will threaten the lives of those most vulnerable. Fortunately, they have a vaccine.

Cumberland mayor to shine light on bullying in local politics, nonprofits

Cumberland mayor to shine light on bullying in local politics, nonprofits

George Le Masurier photo

By George Le Masurier

Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird knows what it’s like to be bullied as an adult woman in the Comox Valley. She entered politics in the early 1990s, when the Village Council table was more the province of men than it is today. And she has sat on enough nonprofit boards to experience dictatorial board chairs and intimidating fellow board members.

So she knows that bullying in local politics and nonprofits has nothing to do with the #metoo era, social media or overreaching political correctness.

And the mayor is determined to shine a spotlight on the problem.

Baird has invited 80 local women, and some men, to a second workshop that will feature local citizens talking about their experiences with bullying in politics, nonprofits and business workplaces. More than 40 women attended her first workshop last spring.

“We’re broadening our perspective this time,” she told Decafnation. “And including a focus on nonprofits and other organizations, not just politics.”

Baird and her committee have assembled a panel that includes professionals to help define bullying, how to recognize it and what to do what it happens.

“One of the goals of this workshop is not just to learn how to defend yourself against bullying, but also how to recognize it when it’s happening to someone else,” she said.

The last time Baird was bullied herself occurred at a Comox Valley Chamber of Commerce meeting, and the perpetrator was a male elected official.

“No one stopped him,” she said. “His behavior changed the whole atmosphere for everyone, made us all uncomfortable. Very negative.”

Baird said people who don’t stop or call out bullying are accessories to the crime. So she hopes the workshop will help people recognize bullying and find the courage to step in when it’s appropriate.

“I know that would be easier for some people to do than others,” she said. “But I think you would feel good that you did something that needed to be done.”

Bullying in nonprofits

According to a 2014 University of Windsor study more than half of Canadians reported at least one act of workplace harassment every week for the previous six months. A 2014 Angus Reid survey found that 43 percent of women have been sexually harassed on the job. And a Great West Life study reported that 71 percent of Canadian employees report concern over their psychological safety at work.

And nonprofits are not immune.

The Canadian online resource for nonprofits, Charity Village, reports that 78 percent of workplace bullies outrank their targets. And that includes donors or board members who threaten or intimidate nonprofit employees.

Board bullying is common and, according to one article on Charity Village, may be “more prevalent in the nonprofit sector than in the business sector.”

Bullying on nonprofit boards comes in five main forms, according to Charity Village: internal board interactions (such as ostracism and peer pressure), board to staff, board self-dealing (such as pressure to deliver inappropriate favors or benefits), sexual harassment and enabling bullying among staff (such as failing to take action, or willful ignorance of bullying at the staff level).

Bullying in politics

Bullying in politics is not a new concept. Men have historically dominated public office and the pioneering women who dared to enter this domain have almost all experienced some form of bullying.

Baird says she has noticed that political culture is slowly evolving, but holding public office is still harder today for women than for men.

“Some men don’t realize they are doing it, because they’ve been doing it for so long,” she said. “If you’ve been bullied for years, it’s hard to get out of that situation.”

Baird said local politics is a prime hotbed for bullying.

“People think they have the right to say anything they want to, especially during election campaigns. It can be very hurtful,” she said.

As a mayor, Baird tries to avoid using her position in a way that intimidates other council members.

“Every councillor has the right to speak uninterrupted and to voice their opinion,” she said. “The mayor’s job is not to argue or criticize another councillor’s thoughts. We get a better product if we all listen to what other people are saying.”

There have been various and serious allegations of bullying against several different trustees on the Union Bay Improvement District for years.

Men also experience bullying, though perhaps not as frequently as women.

Former BC Liberal Party cabinet minister Bill Bennett called Premier Gordon Campbell a bully who was vocally abusive, sometimes reducing caucus members to tears.

“You have almost a battered wife syndrome inside our caucus today,” Bennett was quoted as saying at the time.

Positive outcomes

Bullying in politics or in nonprofits isn’t something that people feel comfortable talking about, according to Baird. Women, for example, just learn to deal with it.

So the Cumberland mayor hopes her workshop can break through that barrier.

“I want to make it (bullying) visible,” she said. “And when it does happen, not to sit back and allow it to continue, that people will stand up and stop it.”

 

 

WHAT IS BULLYING AND CYBERBULLYING?

Bullying happens when there is an imbalance of power; where someone purposely and repeatedly says or does hurtful things to someone else. Bullying can occur one on one or in a group(s) of people. There are many different forms of bullying:

Physical bullying (using your body or objects to cause harm): includes hitting, punching, kicking, spitting or breaking someone else’s belongings.
Verbal bullying (using words to hurt someone): includes name calling, put-downs, threats and teasing.
Social bullying (using your friends and relationships to hurt someone): includes spreading rumours, gossiping, excluding others from a group or making others look foolish or unintelligent. This form of bullying is most common among girls.

— Children who bully are 37% more likely than children who do not bully to commit criminal offences as adults. (Public Safety)

Cyberbullying involves the use of communication technologies such as the Internet, social networking sites, websites, email, text messaging and instant messaging to repeatedly intimidate or harass others.

Cyberbullying includes:

— Sending mean or threatening emails or text/instant messages.
— Posting embarrassing photos of someone online.
— Creating a website to make fun of others.
— Pretending to be someone by using their name.
— Tricking someone into revealing personal or embarrassing information and sending it to others.
— Cyberbullying affects victims in different ways than traditional bullying. It can follow a victim everywhere 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from school, to the mall and all the way into the comfort of their home – usually safe from traditional forms of bullying.

— Source, RCMP

 

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