Big day coming soon for the Bruce, formerly Saugeen, Peninsula

In the garden with granddaughter Jorden

(February 9th, 2021. This article has been updated regarding third-party — including private property — issues and current Government of Canada policy related to First Nation land claim settlements.)

Not that long ago a people now often referred to in Canada as ‘First Nation’ used to walk freely for ages on the 5.9 acres (2.4 hectares) of land I now call home here in Hope Ness, north of Hope Bay, on the Bruce (Formerly Saugeen) Peninsula.

They’ve been on my mind a lot, those First Nation people who trusted the British Crown enough for a time to fight and crucially help protect Canada from U.S. invasion during the war of 1812; who fought honorably for Canada and the Crown in disproportionately large numbers in two world wars; and who now continue to fight, peacefully and honorably in Canadian courts, for justice.

So, let us non-Aboriginal Canadians, locally and across Canada, first learn and think about things like that before we get all hot and bothered about the prospect of a court decision in favor of the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) in their long-standing, land-and-water claim lawsuit. Because, make no mistake, they have a good case. Final arguments are done, the trial is over, and case has been adjourned as the Justice presiding over the case considers a judgment. That will surely come in 2021, and likely early at that.

Yes, a judgement in SON’s favor could be highly consequential, leading to either court-ordered compensation for 160-plus years of heart-breaking loss and injustice, or a negotiated settlement. Or it could be appealed, perhaps as far as the Supreme Court of Canada. More years could go by. Some of us, myself included, could be gone by then. But be careful what you say to your children and your grandchildren: don’t leave them with a burden of fear and anger to sort through, or not, and the bitter consequences that come from that.

The Saugeen Peninsula was named after the First Nation people whose territory it was long before the controversial signing of Treaty 72 in 1854. As a result of that treaty, most of the peninsula was ‘surrendered’ by the Saugeen First Nations in trust to the Crown and opened up for settlement by non-Aboriginal newcomers. A people whose territory just 18 years earlier had encompassed an area of two million acres, were left with a few small reserves and hunting grounds.

Then, within a few more years, the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation were forced out of their community, called Newash, to make way for the expanding new non-Aboriginal town of Owen Sound. Another reserve at Colpoy’s Bay north of Wiarton was lost, with some people from there going to the new Nawash reserve, at Cape Croker, some going to the Chippewas of Saugeen reserve near Southampton, and others to Christian Island, near Penetanguishene on the other side of Georgian Bay.

The Chippewas of Saugeen reserve is on the Lake Huron shore, near the mouth of the Saugeen River, north to Chief’s Point at the mouth of the Sauble River. The north-south boundary of the Saugeen reserve, and thus the ownership of Sauble Beach, is currently also the subject of a land-claim before an Ontario court.

The two distinct but related First Nations, the Chippewas of Nawash, and the Chippewas of Saugeen, together call themselves the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON). Since the time of ‘contact’ when Europeans began to show up in this part of North America some 400 years ago, they have been called by various names, including Chippewa, Ojibway, Odawa, Pottawatomi. They identify themselves as Anishinaabe. They speak a dialect of the same language spoken by other Anishinaabe people in the Great Lakes area; and they share many cultural traditions, including a deep spiritual connection to their territorial land, and waters.

Under the Saugeen Ojibway Nation name the two First Nations have worked together for decades to successfully re-affirm their Aboriginal rights.

An Ontario Court (Provincial Division) judgement in 1993 was a landmark case. In dismissing provincial overfishing charges against two Nawash fishermen it affirmed the two First Nations’ “priority” right to fish commercially fishery in the waters around the peninsula.

In 1994, frustrated by the lack of progress in land-claim talks Canadian government offcials, SON took the momentous step, unprecedented in Canada, of filing a land-claim lawsuit in Ontario Superior Court.

That action alleges the Crown violated its Fiduciary, or trust, duty in the allegedly improper and deceitful circumstances and events leading up to, and during, the signing of Treaty 72.

Canada was still a British colony in 1854. It became a self-governing Dominion in 1867, and like many other former British colonies remains a Constitutional Monarchy to this day, with Queen Elizabeth II its formal Head of State.

The Canadian Encyclopedia describes the ‘Law of Fiduciary Obligation’ in part as “special relationships … that entail trust and confidence and require that fiduciaries act honestly, in good faith, and strictly in the best interests of the beneficiaries of such relationships

The defendants named in the SON lawsuit are the Crown, in the name of the governments of Canada and Ontario, Bruce County and four local municipalities, Northern Bruce Peninsula, South Bruce Peninsula, Saugeen Shores; and Georgian Bluffs in Grey County.

Grey County itself was previously also named as a defendant in the unique land-claim case. But the county reached a negotiated settlement with SON, announced Sept. 9, 2020 in a joint news release, by agreeing to transfer ownership to SON of a 275-acre county forest.

A key point in the case is the promise made in 1836 by Crown representatives to convince the Saugeen to sign a treaty surrendering 1.5 million acres of their territory south of the peninsula. They said the Crown could not control the encroachment of squatters into that large part of Saugeen territory. However, they promised to keep squatters out of the peninsula “forever.” But just 18 years later, during high-pressure talks leading to the signing of Treaty 72, different Crown representatives again told the Saugeen there was nothing they could do to stop squatters encroaching on the peninsula.

Yet, after the treaty was signed, at 1 a.m. the morning of Oct. 14, 1854, Laurence Oliphant, the Superintendent of Indian Affairs under then Governor-General of Canada, Lord Elgin, sent a message to Grey County Sheriff, George Schneider. It ordered him to “summarily” eject any squatters intruding on “the property of the Crown” in the newly surrendered peninsula.

In 2004 a claim for Aboriginal title to the waters surrounding SON’s traditional territory in Georgian Bay and Lake Huron was added to the lawsuit.

The case has been divided into two phases: first phase, determining the merits of the case; the second, consideration of compensation.

The lawsuit claims a total of $90 billion in damages. In legal parlance that’s known as a “placeholder,” John Bainbridge, a lawyer with land claim experience, wrote in the Bruce Peninsula Press in August, 2019. “Any litigant who fails to put in a figure for compensation in their Statement of Claim will get zero dollars if they win the lawsuit. If the SON establish that they have a valid claim, a negotiation will begin to determine an accurate figure for compensation that will probably fall far short of $90 billion,” Bainbridge wrote. He noted “the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is one of the biggest so far in Canada and the compensation they received was $1.4 billion.”

I have thought all along that compensation arising from the SON lawsuit would have to be largely in the form of territory. SON is seeking ownership interest in Crown lands, currently owned in the name of Ontario and Canada, including the Bruce Peninsula National Park.

From the beginning of the lawsuit SON has made the point that private property bought and paid for by ‘third parties’ in good faith is not at risk. Bainbridge confirmed that: “As a matter of principle no Aboriginal land claims in Canada will affect private property acquired ‘in good faith.’ All claims seek title to crown land only – either federal or provincial. This is why road allowances, Parks and the lakebed are subject to the claim.”

A current Government of Canada website page, about the federally sanctioned process for resolving First Nation claims , outlines the government policy regarding private property rights when land is involved in settling ‘Specific Claims:’ “It is important to note that Canada’s policy on specific claims protects the current ownership and rights of private land owners. Private property is not taken away from anyone to settle specific claims. Nor is anyone asked to sell their land unwillingly. If land changes hands after a settlement, this can only happen on a willing-buyer/willing-seller basis,” it says under the heading,’ An Overview of Specific Claim Settlements Involving Land.’

I note that policy is discussed as part of the in-house, claim-settlement process preferred by the government, rather than lawsuit litigation, the approach taken by SON, but discouraged by the government. Similarly, in a separate court action, the Saugeen First Nation chose litigation in its claim that the SFN reserve boundary was mistakenly draw after the 1854 treaty; and, therefore, all of the beach at Sauble Beach is rightfully reserve territory. Several private property owners were named as defendants when the lawsuit was filed in 1995. The Government of Canada was also named as a defendant, but now supports the SFN action which is still before an Ontario Superior Court. The SON lawsuit is a separate action. I contacted the federal ministry of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs’ media office in hopes of clarifying the government’s policy as it relates to litigation-lawsuit claims, including the SFN Sauble Beach case. But ministry officials declined to comment on that matter.

Under the terms of Treaty 72 surrendered land was to be surveyed into 100-acre farm lots, to be sold to settlers, and the money thus acquired put into trust funds for the benefit of the First Nations. But no thought was given to road allowances, given over to municipalities by the Crown without payment.

Full disclosure here: I have as much reason as any non-Aboriginal property owner on the peninsula to be interested in the outcome of the SON lawsuit for a couple of reasons:

First, I live on what’s now part of one of those original, 100-acre lots mentioned above. My copy of the original Crown patent says it was sold April 10, 1880 to John Heath for $100.

Second, I’m surrounded on all sides by the provincially owned Hope Bay Forest Nature Reserve. I’d be a fool not to think it might be included in any compensation settling the SON lawsuit. Does that worry me? Not much.

But I do have some concerns, about how an outcome of the lawsuit in favor of SON, and a subsequent compensation settlement, will be received in the non-Aboriginal community. That’s especially if people feel like they’ve been blind-sided because they’ve been left in the dark for 25 years without any information from government defendants.

Most of what is publicly known about the status of the case has come directly or indirectly from SON as they keep their people informed via online newsletters, and updates also posted on the website of the law firm, Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend LLP (OKT), handling the SON case.

Haven’t we been here before? Shouldn’t we here in the Owen Sound, Bruce Peninsula area know better by now? Shouldn’t we have been demanding more information, on the assumption there were surely some things that could be made public, so we could start thinking about what might be coming?

In that regard, I’ve been thinking a lot about Nawash fisherman who turned into my driveway one day in the summer of 2014.

He looked to be in his mid-30s. He had freshly-caught Georgian Bay whitefish in his well-used pick-up to sell. Did I want some? Yes, I said.

We chatted for a while as he wrapped up the filets. I saw he had a long scar on one side of his face, from what must have been a seriously deep, sharp cut. I hesitated for a moment, but had to ask, was he one of the young, Aboriginal men assaulted one night in the summer of 1995 in downtown Owen Sound in one of series of violent incidents that happened when some in the local, non-Aboriginal community reacted angrily to the 1993 court decision regarding SON’s right to fish commercially in local waters and the subsequent emergence of an Aboriginal fishery?

Yes, he was, he said.

I have written about him before, in a post for my blog, Finding Hope Ness. I’ll quote from it here:

“Left with that scar for the rest of his life, the result of a racist attack, it would have been understandable if he was still also carrying a lot of anger and resentment toward his attackers, and perhaps even the non-Aboriginal community whose racist spawn they were. But on the contrary, he had moved on. Life, he told me, was too precious and good to waste on that kind of spirit-destroying thing.”

About a week later I was at a packed public meeting at the Sauble Beach Community Centre. The mostly non-Aboriginal, local crowd was there to hear about an important development in the nearby Saugeen First Nation’s long-standing claim that the north section of the popular beach should rightfully be in Saugeen reserve territory, and not part of the amalgamated Town of the South Bruce Peninsula. The government of Canada was prepared to correct the mistake, giving Saugeen ownership of the entire beach, the crowd was told. They were also told the First Nation was willing to enter into a co-management agreement with the town to manage the beach as part of a negotiated settlement.

None of that went over well. The immediate and overwhelming response was outrage and disbelief at the very idea, so much so that the negotiated settlement went nowhere. The court case remains unresolved, but currently awaiting the outcome of a Saugeen motion calling for a summary judgement. Such a motion is an option provided for civil cases in Ontario when one of the parties believes there is “no genuine issue for a trial,” according to the Ministry of the Attorney-General. The onus is on that party to prove the point. The government of Canada supports the Saugeen motion. South Bruce Peninsula council opposes it and is supported by the provincial government.

I warned more than six years ago, after the Sauble Beach debacle, that there was a need to develop a better, more respectful and thoughtful way of responding to local First Nation land claims because there were more and bigger ones to come.

I was referring to the SON land-and-water claim lawsuit, now awaiting a judgement, coming to a peninsula near you, any day now.

On a hopeful note, the public statement announcing the negotiated settlement worked out between Grey County and SON last September suggest some fresh, conciliatory breezes are starting to stir:

“This settlement provides some closure to a long-standing claim, but I hope it can also be the beginning of more conversation, more understanding and a stronger relationship between Grey County, SON and the Anishinaabe people,” said Grey County Warden Paul McQueen.

“This agreement is an important step forward in a long history of our communities working towards righting a wrong,” said Chief Lester Anoquot of Chippewas of Saugeen First Nation. “We are happy and hopeful that we are taking this step with our neighbours towards building a better understanding and a stronger future alongside one another.”

In 2018, well before the trial began in April, 2019, the Saugeen Ojibway Nation indicated a willingness to begin talks leading to a comprehensive, negotiated settlement. But the governments of Canada and Ontario refused. They both separately cited SON’s original 1994 decision to take the claim to court, rather than use the government-sanctioned process, as their reason. I fear that could yet prove to be a costly, missed opportunity.

Sauble Beach and the challenge of Reconciliation

sauble1

Sauble Beach is a major summer tourist destination in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. It stretches for 11 kilometres along the Lake Huron’s eastern shoreline south of the Sauble River.

The tourism economy has stimulated the growth of a resort and year-round community of the same name bigger than some towns in the area of southern Ontario often referred to as Grey-Bruce, after the two counties it includes. Much of the community of Sauble Beach is in the Town of South Bruce Peninsula.

Municipal officials are planning to excavate a portion of sand dunes and expand the parking area along the west side of Lakeshore Blvd. beside and running parallel to the beach. They regard it as a relatively small, road improvement project aimed at making the parking situation safer.

They might have foreseen the extent to which the project would raise concerns from environmentalist. So, for that reason alone, municipal staff and council appear to have fallen into a trap of their own making. They should have known better by now. This week the project was put on hold likely until the spring after an environmental law group threatened to get a court injunction if the project went ahead.

But — and not to downplay the importance of mother nature — there is an even bigger underlying issue: who owns, or in the parlance of governance, who really has jurisdiction over the north section of the beach still being managed by the municipality?

That issue was deserving of more public attention because it is reaching a critical legal point in a lengthy court action.

Indeed, the Saugeen First Nation, which has long included the southern half of Sauble Beach in its territory, regards the outcome as a foregone conclusion: “The lands in question are part of Saugeen First Nation, and while that is not accepted by the South Bruce Peninsula Town Council, it is simply fact. Saugeen and the Government of Canada agree on this and will be taking the Town to court to settle,” Saugeen First Nation Chief Lester Anoquot said this week in a joint public statement issued by the Saugeen First Nation and the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) Environment Office.

Canada is going through an ongoing period of ‘truth and reconciliation’ with First Nation, or Aboriginal, people who live within the country’s boundaries. Between 2004 and 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in connection with a series of cases that the Crown had a ‘Duty to Consult’ where First Nation constitutional or treaty rights stood to be adversely affected.

Canada is a sovereign country, but still technically a constitutional monarchy under the British Crown. Senior Canadian national and provincial governments are regarded as Crown representatives with a responsibility to uphold the ‘honour’ of the Crown regarding the Duty to Consult.

The details of delegating that legal requirement to municipalities and other ‘third parties’ is still a work in progress, though some local municipalities have already implemented such a policy, including Bruce County, which includes the Town of South Bruce Peninsula.

The Saugeen First Nation has claimed ownership of the north half of Sauble Beach for 30 years. The claim maintains the north-south boundary line of the First Nation reserve was mistakenly drawn after the land was surveyed following the signing of the 1854 treaty involving the Bruce, formerly Saugeen, Peninsula. At the time, Canada was still a British colony.

In August, 2014, Canadian government officials told a packed public meeting at the Sauble Beach Community Centre that the federal government supported the Saugeen claim. They proposed a negotiated settlement that would give the First Nation ownership of the entire beach, but with a co-management agreement with the non-Aboriginal community. That elicited an angry, defiant response from the mostly non-Aboriginal crowd and the idea was soon abandoned. The incumbent town council took a lot of public heat in Sauble Beach and was voted out of office in that fall’s municipal election.

In August, 2019 the Saugeen First Nation brought a motion before Ontario Superior Court for a ‘summary judgement’ regarding its Sauble Beach claim.

Motions for summary judgment are brought when one side believes its case is overwhelmingly strong. But if it fails, a regular trial process, as advocated for by South Bruce Peninsula since 2015, would still be left to resolve the dispute.

The First Nation is supported in that action by the Canadian government. The Town of South Bruce Peninsula opposes the motion, and is supported by the Ontario government, South Bruce Peninsula mayor, Janice Jackson, said in an interview.

SON and the Saugeen First Nation strongly maintain it should be consulted by the Town regarding the Lakeshore Blvd. project before any work is done. Municipal and Saugeen representatives met on-site in late November and early December after the First Nation raised concerns about the lack of consultation and offered a “reasonable consultation process” proposal, the First Nation and SON said in the Dec. 8, 2020 joint statement.

That followed the results of a special town council meeting Dec. 7 when council voted to carry on with the project, without consulting with the First Nation. In an interview the town’s mayor, Janice Jackson, said there was no informal agreement with the First Nation for consultation before that vote. “It was always going to be up to council,” she said.

On her Mayor’s Facebook page following the council decision, Jackson spoke of the town’s actions to gain approval from other agencies before there was any contact with the First Nation: “After lengthy collaboration with the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks (MECP) and the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, we were given the green light to move forward. We didn’t expect the Saugeen Ojibway Nation (SON) to demand consultation, as we have never previously consulted them on roadside work on Lakeshore Boulevard,” Jackson said in the Dec. 8 Facebook post.

Jackson said the First Nations have “cited the land claim as the reason we must consult.” She added, “our legal team strongly advised us to carry on with this project as we have no legal obligation to consult and that doing so would be precedent-setting and potentially cause harm to our land claim litigation.”

“We proposed a reasonable process to work towards consent on this project,” Chief Anoquot said, “and, without even reviewing the consultation plan, the town has unanimously decided to go ahead without our consent, without any consultation and without an opportunity for our staff to analyze the information and make informed recommendations that would resolve the issues at hand (parking and safety) and minimize to the greatest extend possible, any impacts to the environment,”

In all the circumstances, including long past, and recent history, the town should have consulted with its First Nation neighbor in a respectful, good-neighbour manner. It could have been done ‘without prejudice,’ a legal term that could have prevented the consultation from being used against the town in the ongoing litigation.

I am confident the Saugeen First Nation leadership would have honored the spirit of such wording, no matter what the lawyers might say.

And where was the Ontario government regarding its obligation to honor its Duty to Consult, and/or advise the municipality?

The Lakeshore Road Blvd project is not just small-scale, road-maintenance, not when such important, underlying issues affecting the peaceful future of the country are at stake. Every possible gesture of reconciliation is precious.

Imagine the difference it could make.

Phone security for Canadians: taking too long

They keep coming, day after day, those calls from scammers and spoofers looking to steal our money, identity, or otherwise cause you and I and millions of other Canadians anxiety, hardship, and grief.

I’ve been increasingly bothered by scammer phone calls since I became a senior. Most days I get at least one, sometimes two or more. My caller ID display now often shows a three-digit prefix indicating a local call, making it more likely people will pick up and answer. I fell for that a few days ago: without giving myself a moment to think, I answered the call on my cell phone. Big mistake? I still don’t know for sure.

But one thing I am quite sure of, based on my own instincts, it was a scam/spoofer call of some sort, and it was trying to exploit the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The robocall message said, “This is a test. Stay home. Stay home and stay safe.” That was all.

I was immediately suspicious. I did not think for one moment the local public health unit or the Ontario government were calling to check if I was following Covid-19-related protective guidelines, including to stay home.

But I had no idea what harm I might have done by simply answering the call, except perhaps to confirm I was indeed at home. And then I made what may have been my biggest mistake: I tried to call the number back and got the recorded message, “the number you have dialed is not in service, please hang up and try again.”

And that just led to more anxiety. Was that what it was about? By calling back had I facilitated the takeover of my cell phone and laptop computer via a ‘spoofing’ bug implanted in the phone. I had a ‘smart phone’ briefly for a few weeks last month. But I stopped using it to access the internet via a ‘hotspot’ and went back to a simple cell phone. Still, the not-knowing fed growing anxiety.

I called Rogers, my cell-phone provider, to ask if they could block such nuisance/scamming calls. A pleasant enough chat agent told me there was nothing Rogers could do. I asked the agent to pass on my concerns to higher ups about the need for Rogers to find a way block such calls. “People are being victimized,” I said.

I visited the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) website. I saw a prominent notice saying they were having “ongoing technical issues and you may experience difficulties reporting online or reaching the CAFC by phone. We are currently working to resolve the issue.” Good heavens, I wondered, have they been hacked. I did manage to get through by phone, but finally gave up waiting. So far, my search for reassuring information wasn’t finding any.

Therein lies a big problem: a lot of us of a certain age especially are in the proverbial dark, and nowhere near as computer-savvy as our children and grandchildren. And so, we are vulnerable, and need understandable information to help us navigate the new and fast-changing world in which we live. That perplexing fraudulent call I got has led me to the realization that, not just seniors, but the Canadian public in general are being badly let down in the regard.

I decided to take my search to Canada’s national regulatory agency, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to find out what they’re doing about the problem of fraudulent nuisance calls. And that’s where it really got interesting, and revealing:

Yes, the CRTC website is a treasure-trove of information if you know how to dig for it. That’s where my journalism experience came in handy as I discovered the Commission, and Canada’s telecommunication service providers (TSPs) have been spinning their wheels for more than a decade on the fraudulent call file. I was amazed at the number of times the CRTC has threatened the TSPs with “further action” as time after time the Commission extended deadlines for the providers to do something, anything. Most recently, that has included implementing a system called STIR/SHAKEN developed by experts in the U.S. and the U.K for blocking fraudulent calls.

On Sept. 15, 2020, the CRTC for the second time extended the implementation date for TSPs to begin using STIR/SHAKEN. That was after the Commission received a letter from Rogers Communications Canada Inc. on June 29, 2020, requesting a postponement of the launch date from Sept. 30, 2020, to June 30, 2021.

The CRTC had publicly announced the Sept. 30, 2020 date on Dec. 9, 2019 with a news release that had a tone of finality and accomplishment about it. “Nuisance calls are a major irritant for many Canadians. We are committed to addressing this issue and are working with the industry and our partners to better protect consumers. The new STIR/SHAKEN framework will enable Canadians to know, before they answer the phone, whether a call is legitimate or whether it should be treated with suspicion,” said Ian Scott, the Commissions chairman and CEO.

But in its June 29, 2020 letter Rogers cited several reasons, according to a CRTC documentary record (2019-402-2). They included “the re-allocation of resources during the COVID-19 crisis, the need to renegotiate contracts with vendors and contractors and to reacquire financial capital for STIR/SHAKEN implementation after the disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis; and the fact STIR/SHAKEN implementation in the (U.S.) is June 30, 2021, the CRTC document says.

It continues, “Quebecor Media Inc., on behalf of Videotron Ltd. (Videotron), and Shaw Communications Inc. (Shaw) filed letters supporting RCCI’s request, substantially invoking the same reasons.” It adds, “Although it also supported RCCI’s request for an extension, the Independent Telecommunications Providers Association (ITPA) submitted that the Commission should consider whether nine months is sufficient for all TSPs – especially small ones, such as ITPA members – to be able to implement STIR/SHAKEN.”

The CRTC itself cites numerous ongoing technical and other issues in its lengthy ‘determination’ before deciding “In light of all the above” to approve Rogers’ request to extend the deadline for the implementation of STIR/SHAKEN to the new, “no later than,” June 30, 2021 implementation date. The commission then adds, “The extension will apply to all TSPs.”

That of course included Bell Canada. Coincidentally, on June 9, 2020 the CRTC had approved an application from Bell and its affiliates to block certain  fraudulent and scam voice calls on a 90-day trial basis. The Commission agreed with Bell to keep some aspects of details of their methodology confidential, to guard against disclosing information that could be useful to scammers and spoofers.

The results of the Bell Canada trial-run, “pilot project” were “impressive,” a CRTC spokesperson told me in an email response to a request for more information.

“In its first 61 days, the system blocked more than 200 million fraudulent calls, said Anne Brodeur. “Bell has since filed an application to make this initiative a permanent solution—and we are assessing that application. If those early returns are any indication, this type of approach, which relies on using emerging technologies, could be an impressive new tool in Canada’s arsenal.”

Brodeur also referred to STIR/SHAKEN, describing it as “a protocol designed to restore trust in caller ID. It will allow TSPs to verify that the caller ID displayed on a phone is authentic and pass that information along to the call recipient permitting them to choose to answer the call or not,” she said, noting the current June 30, 2021 implementation date.

So, it can be done, and there is hope.

Meanwhile, however, Canadians continue to be victimized. So far this year, according to the CRTC, as of Oct. 31 there have been 42,984 reports of fraud, with 19,641 victims losing $79.5 million. The number of victims in 2019 was 19,922, and their losses, $104 million. And those are the just the scams that get reported.

Brodeur said “the growing numbers of fraudulent and scam calls continues to represent a significant threat to Canadians and we can assure you this issue is something that the Commission takes very seriously and, as indicated, is actively addressing using several different approaches.”

Yes, the shear volume of the CRTC documentary record shows a lot of time, energy and discussion has happened over the years. But more than a decade, and still counting, is far too long for Canadian agencies and telecommunication providers to come up with solutions that protect Canadians from high-tech telecommunication predators.

The old telephone system, and its first line of phone security.

The bugs are winning the Bt fight

Twenty years ago, when I was still a staff reporter at the local, daily newspaper, I interviewed a professor of agriculture at the University of Guelph. At the end of the interview about a certain issue of interest to local farmers, I mentioned I was also a small-scale market gardener who tried to use organic methods. They included the use of bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) to control the caterpillar stage of certain lepidopteran (moth and butterflies) insects that feed on corn, potatoes, tomatoes and other crops. I told her I had recently learned U.S. government Environmental Protection (EPA) regulators had approved the genetic engineering of Bt with corn and wondered what she thought.

I will never forget her comment in response to my question: “Nature abhors a vacuum,” she said, adding “sooner or later” the bugs will develop resistance.

Over the years since then as the use of Bt hybrid corn, and other Bt genetically modified crop seeds, has steadily and greatly increased in the U.S. especially, and in Canada and 16 countries, I have wondered when what she said would happen.

I got the answer a few days ago when I found the latest issue of the Ontario farm-information newspaper, Farmtario, in my mailbox: it has already started to happen — a couple of years ago, in fact; and government regulators in the U.S. and Canada are now considering regulatory changes in hopes of stopping or slowing down the advance of Bt-resistant super bugs. The use of ‘super’ there is my choice of word, because as far as I’m concerned that’s what it amounts to if Bt is no longer useful as an organic solution.

The Farmtario article was perhaps not strictly speaking ‘breaking news’ and therefore worthy of front-page coverage, other than a teaser that referred to an article on Page 10 about ‘The challenge with Bt.’

And it was written in a way that would make it difficult for non-farmer consumers to understand what it’s about. I’m not saying that’s deliberate. And after all, Farmtario is aimed at farmers, so presumably there’s apparently an assumption they know what the jargon like “Bt hybrid corn” means. But, it’s not a hybrid in the traditional sense of cross-breeding different species of the same type of plant to create a new hybrid variety. That’s been done for thousands of years, not 20. “Bt hybrid corn” is misnomer camouflage to hide what it really is: Bt Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) corn.

The “challenge” referred to by the Farmtario article is rooted in the fact more than 90 percent of corn grown in the U.S. is ‘Bt hybrid.’ The same is true of Bt hybrid cotton. Evidence of growing resistance to Bt ‘traits’ has been reported in recent years and recently confirmed, according to an EPA discussion paper regarding proposed changes to regulations now being considered. They include “compliance assurance” from growers and annual reporting.

The EPA says changes are needed to bring the growth of resistant insect pests under control; otherwise, “if resistance continue to proliferate, Bt corn and cotton could be lost to farmers as tools to address pest problems.”

Meanwhile, similar concerns have been raised in Canada, since the first resistance to Bt corn, involving a European corn borer infestation was confirmed in Nova Scotia last year. “This is the first report in the world of the European corn borer (ECB) developing resistance to a genetically engineered trait used to confer insect resistance. It is also the first report in Canada of any insect pest developing resistance to a genetically engineered trait. The development of resistance in other insect pests targeted by Bt (Bacillus thuringiensis) traits in corn has been observed in the U.S., South Africa and Brazil,” the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN) reported in June, 2019.

“This is an important reminder that nature can adapt to and overcome genetically engineered traits,” said CBAN’s Lucy Sharratt.

That’s putting it mildly. Say what you want about the ethics of modern genetic engineering, or modification, but from my point of view, the real tragedy here is the loss of Bt as a bona fide, organic control of the damage European corn borer, corn earworm and corn rootworm can cause.

Bacillus Thuringiensis occurs naturally in soil. It poses no risk for human consumption. It has been used by market-garden farmers and gardeners for many years. I have used a liquid concentrate sold under the name BTK for 30 years with excellent results. I have found it is indispensable, to avoid damage rendering the corn unsaleable and repugnant. But I try in my modest way to take a responsible, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach. That always involves checking for corn borer when the corn plants are about half a metre high, and then unwinding the whorl of a few and carefully looking for the tiny larvae. If none, I don’t spray. With corn earworm, wait until the silk has begun to form before spraying. Wait another two weeks before spraying again. That’s usually enough.

As for the massive, widespread use of Bt GMO corn, and the subsequent appearance of resistant bugs, it should have been obvious what was going to happen when it was approved.

Hopeful Garlic, currents of great mystery in troubled times

My garlic bedded down under a blanket of straw mulch for the winter

All garden crops are hopeful: you prepare the soil carefully, make sure the temperature is warm enough for germination, then plant your seeds or starter plants at a suitable depth with sufficient water. And you hope, with a certain level of confidence that comes from a combination of experience and trying your best to do things right, that in a few weeks or months various crops will grow and flourish. Doing the necessary work through the spring, summer and fall growing season to help nurse the seeds and plants along is also part of what you do to play your role in turning hope into nutritious reality.

But garlic is surely the most hopeful of crops. The care the gardener takes, for market or family, as described above is still as important. That begins with weed control through the summer in that patch of ground where garlic will be planted. In southern Ontario that most normally happens in the fall when the soil has cooled sufficiently.

I’ve heard that one of my neighbors, an excellent gardener, had good results this year planting garlic in early spring when the soil was still cool. A cool soil temperature is regarded as key to encouraging each planted clove to grow and develop a fully formed, multi-clove garlic bulb.

I’ve had good results planting garlic in mid to late October, and even into November: the root system needs some time to get established before winter freeze-up. In the past few years the climate-change instability of the Jet Stream has brought extremely cold arctic air down to North America’s Great Lakes region for many days or weeks at a time, as cold as -30 degrees Celsius, or colder. I worried about that last year, especially because extreme fluctuations in temperature also brought thaws that left the ground where garlic was planted uncovered by a blanket of snow and vulnerable to the next deep freeze. So, this year, I decided to go ‘by the book’ and mulched my 25 rows of planted garlic with straw. And that was despite one knowledgeable old-timer who insisted it wasn’t necessary. I took note of the fact I planted the garlic this year in a location more exposed to the prevailing west winds. And better safe than sorry, I heard 2,000 planted garlic cloves say. I followed their advice.

So, Azores. Georgian Fire, Persian Star, Bogatyr, and ‘my own’ Purple Stripe are, I hope, safely bedded down for what I expect will be a hard, cold or colder, Canadian winter.

I’ve done what I can. The rest is up to them — the garlic, I mean – and whatever impact the fates or spirits may have on their well-being.

Never doubt, my children, there are great mysteries moving through the earth, up into the clouds, the stars above, and beyond, that help to determine, for good or ill, the fate of us all on this little blue-green jewel of a planet in trouble. It’s a delicate matter, but what we do or don’t do, say or don’t say, can shift the fragile balance of fate and the future one way or the other. So, let us hope, by all means.

And then there is this:

Have courage, I tell my hopeful garlic.

You too, have courage, they tell me back.

And yes, I talk to my plants.

A conversation with the sun, revisited

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(Not much has changed since I first published this two years ago in a lot of ways. Old age continues to creep up on me, but I give myself a push and go outside to plant some garlic, or otherwise plant seeds. But I must confess to feeling somewhat less hopeful about the state of the world, driven downward by an increasing level of anger and hatred on social media and other forms of public discourse, and made worse by unprincipled, political opportunism pandering to the worst in human nature. It is, I confess, discouraging, even depressing. I find myself having to turn it all off for a while and increasingly find solace in solitude. And yet I am a social creature, and fundamentally believe each of us in our own way has a responsibility to pay attention, think carefully about what’s happening, and do what we can in a loving way, to help make it better. And then I think it can begin in a modest way, with a simple, personal expression of appreciation for the gift of life, and what the moment we’re in now — the only one we’ve truly got — may bring us: wonder and surprise in so many forms, including an unexpected visitor from nearby or the other side of the world who has a story, their story, to tell. Open your heart to them, I tell myself, and your eyes.)

Another cloudy day in late October with the front field to cultivate before it starts to rain, as forecast. I’m out beside Mr. Massey Too, checking his fluid levels before connecting the cultivator, when I get that feeling, you know, like somebody’s looking at me. So, I look up right where that feeling is coming from, just above the treetops of some tall spruce, and there it is, the sun – a faint light in the clouds, so faint that I can look right at it, face to face, as it were.

I get the sense the son wants to tell me something; so, I say, “What? What’s up? What’s on your mind?” Continue reading

The Hawk is watching

I saw it again this morning as the dogs and I came back from our after-breakfast walk. Had it been watching us from above, I wonder only now? We had just turned down into our long driveway and there it was, slowly, silently, with a seemingly effortless motion of its wings flying easily through the light drizzle over the front field just off to our right. It flew ahead of us, heading northwest toward the big maples and beyond toward the forest, out of sight.

I knew right away it was the same great bird, a hawk, I had seen a few days before. That was also during our walk, but just as we were about to step through the back door. Something made me look up, and there it was circling overhead, also at about treetop height.

That was a blustery, variably cloud and sun morning, a strong wind from the west making the still leaf-laden branches roar. The bird was not moving its wings; it didn’t have to: the wind let it soar, its outstretched, perfectly aerodynamic wings sensitive to every nuance of the air.

There was joy in what the bird was doing, and, inadvertently perhaps, or deliberately, showing me. And so, I imagined it might be a sort of dance, slow and elegant, and – what’s the word? – dignified comes to mind now.  I mean no offence at all to the Ravens who made their home-nest in the barn this past spring, none at all: I love them, and hope they stay, helping in their way to keep the old barn standing. They soar too, with an occasional flapping, and a raucous “croak” now and then back and forth in their social, family way.

A recent view here at Cathedral Drive Farm in early September, 2020, the forest trees still laden with leaves. A family of ravens gain entry to the barn through that space below the roof to the right. They were still spending most of their time in the forest when this photo was taken by a friend; but I hope they will nest again next spring in the barn where they have made an impressive, and very big, nest.

But the hawk was silent and alone as it wheeled and soared in the wind, working its way slowly west and carefully searching the land below for anything of interest..

So, now I count the hawk as my friend, and the Ravens too. And the bear I saw cross the trail several hundred yards in front of me this summer, and the other unnamed creatures who make their presence known one way or another in the forest and the tall grass in the nature-reserve. regenerating fields. And even here – where I keep a portion of the land tilled for gardening, but let the milkweed live on its own terms for the sake of the Monarchs when they come back again next year – life thrives.

Next year I will scatter even more buckwheat for the bees and other pollinators that have found a happy refuge far from vast fields of mono-cropping.

And so, I am surrounded in sky and land and live with many friends.

I hope that’s what brings the Hawk here, good feelings rising from below.

Tomorrow morning when the dogs and I go on our morning rock to the touchstone, I will put my hand on it and pray that I will never again in any way betray that trust.

Speak to me of Love

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Speak to me of Love,

And I will tell you a story that never ends.

 

Speak to me of Love,

And I will tell you how it doesn’t matter,

How much you say she has aged,

And her beauty faded.

Not for me, never, I proudly say.

 

Speak to me of Love,

Tell me only that she said my name

Fondly, softly, in remembrance.

 

Speak to me again of love,

One last time, never ending.

 

On the flowering of potatoes, the crimes of tyrants, and your comforting voice

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Rows of flowering potato plants, July 1, 2020. Those are staked tomato plants in the foreground.

The humble potato has its moment of floral glory.

Two types of well-sprouted tubers I planted around the first of May have overcome unseasonably cold temperatures through much of that month, then drought in June, and are now looking quite healthy thank you, despite current drought conditions.

Perhaps in defiance, both are showing pretty, blue flowers. Usually that’s a clue to the colour of the potatoes taking shape in the ground. But not in the case of the four rows on the left where a well-known, red-skinned potato with white flesh is growing. Continue reading

The polar vortex challenge: looking on the bright side this gardening season

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A well-mulched, healthy garlic crop in Hope Ness after a difficult winter and cold spring. A good crop in Ontario, Canada for challenging times. Two rows of peas on the left are coming along slowly in the ‘unseasonably’ cool weather. But they are also hardy.

This spring a lot of people decided for various reasons related to Covid 19 to plant a garden and grow their own food. They may have had some past experience, or not, in which case they likely did a certain amount of preparatory research and planning in hopes of a bountiful outcome.

But I suspect no amount of homework prepared them for the realities of this growing season. So far it has, and continues to be a shock, even for this old gardener. It depends where you are to a large extent. That comment reflects my experience here in southern Ontario near the 45th Parallel halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. By this date, nearing the end of the second week of June, seeds and transplants would normally be safely in the ground and growing nicely. Continue reading