U.S. border officers were told to target Iranian-born travellers, officer alleges in email

U.S. border officers were told to target Iranian-born travellers, officer alleges in email

U.S. border officers working at multiple Canada-U.S. border crossings were instructed to target and interrogate Iranian-born travellers in early January, said a U.S. border officer in an email obtained by CBC News. 

The allegation follows reports that up to 200 people of Iranian descent — many of them Canadian or U.S. citizens — were detained and questioned for hours at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Wash., during the weekend of Jan. 4. 

On Friday, Jan. 3, the U.S. assassinated Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani, intensifying tensions between the two countries. 

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) told CBC News that the “current threat environment” prompted it to implement an “enhanced posture” at the border. However, it denied detaining Iranian-born travellers and said the delays at the Peace Arch crossing were related to staffing issues during a busy holiday weekend. 

The U.S. border officer challenges CBP’s claims in an email he sent to Blaine-based immigration lawyer, Len Saunders.

Saunders believes the officer reached out to him because the lawyer has been openly critical of how CBP allegedly treated Iranian-born travellers. 

Saunders confirmed the U.S. officer’s identity and said that he works on the front lines. He asked that CBC News keep the officer’s name confidential, because the person fears repercussions from his employer. 

To further protect the officer’s identity, CBC isn’t directly quoting from the page-long email. 

In it, the officer told Saunders that CBP’s Seattle Field Office — which covers the Canada-U.S. border from Washington State to Minnesota — directed border officers to ask Iranian-born travellers counterterrorism questions. 

The officer claimed that the sole reason Iranian travellers were detained and questioned that weekend was due to their ethnicity. He alleged that the operation was unethical and possibly unconstitutional.

Blaine Wash.-based Immigration lawyer Len Saunders said U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s treatment of Iranian-born travellers was unconstitutional.

In his email, the officer also told Saunders that after the detainment of Iranian-born travellers made national news on Jan. 5, the operation was suspended.

CBP declined to comment on the content of the email without reviewing it first. To protect the officer’s identity, CBC declined to send it.

Saunders said he also recently spoke with another U.S. border officer who worked the weekend of Jan. 4 at a Washington State border crossing different from the Peace Arch. Saunders said the officer confirmed the Seattle Field Office had directed frontline staff to target Iranian-born travellers. 

“It confirms my suspicion that this was not just happening at Peach Arch,” said Saunders. He also said that the officers’ claims confirm his beliefs about how Iranian-born travellers were treated at the border. 

“They violated American constitutional rights by interrogating them and detaining them,” alleges Saunders. “What’s next? Where does it stop?” 

‘This is not OK’

Although there are allegations that travellers with ties to Iran were targeted at multiple U.S. border crossings, Saunders believes the focus has been on the Peace Arch because a big group of Iranian-Americans travelled through that crossing Jan. 4, on their way home from a concert in Vancouver. 

“It was because there was a large group that it got attention. That was just by chance,” he said. “I’m sure there’s a lot more cases we don’t know about.”

Sam Sadr lives in North Vancouver and has had Canadian citizenship for two years. He says his trip to the border was his first and last attempt to go to the U.S. (Mike Zimmer/CBC)

Not all Iranian-born travellers held at the Peace Arch in Blaine were returning home from a concert. 

Iranian-born Canadian citizen, Sam Sadr of North Vancouver said he and three relatives were heading to Seattle when they were detained at the crossing for more than eight hours on Jan. 4. 

“Why us?” said Sadr who was visiting the U.S. for the first time. He said he counted more than 120 people of Iranian heritage being held for questioning that day.

“As soon as they released me, I told the officer, ‘This is called discrimination.'” 

Negah Hekmati, an Iranian-born U.S. Citizen, said she and her family were held for questioning at the Peace Arch crossing for five hours during the early hours of Sunday. (CBS)

Negah Hekmati, an Iranian-born U.S. Citizen, was returning home with her husband and two children after a ski weekend in Canada. She said her family was held for questioning at the Peace Arch crossing for five hours during the early hours of Sunday. 

“They had our car keys, they had our passports,” she said during a news conference on Jan. 6. “I am here today because of my kids. They shouldn’t experience such things. They are U.S. citizens and this is not OK.”

To get to the bottom of what happened, 70 U.S. congress members sent a letter to CBP on Jan. 6, demanding answers.

“We are deeply concerned about the experiences of those impacted this past weekend and the potential that this may be the start of a new policy at our borders and airports illegally targeting those of Iranian descent,” stated the letter. 

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties is now investigating the matter

CBP declined to comment on the investigation. “As a matter of policy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection does not comment on pending litigation,” spokesperson Mike Niezgoda said in an email.

Homeland Security didn’t respond to CBC’s request for comment. 





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As U.S. threatens retaliation over digital taxes, Canada waits for OECD talks

As U.S. threatens retaliation over digital taxes, Canada waits for OECD talks

As the U.S. continues to threaten other countries with retaliation if they proceed with a digital services tax, Canada’s trade minister says the question of how to ensure profitable search engines, social media platforms and online retailers pay their fair share can only be tackled on a multilateral basis.

France is preparing to target internet companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook with a three per cent tax on the revenues from their digital business in that country. Canada may eventually follow France’s lead — but for now, it’s not prepared to go it alone.

Speaking while in transit to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland Wednesday, Small Business Minister Mary Ng said her government is looking at this issue in terms of what’s in the best interests of Canadian businesses.

“I do think it’s important to tackle this on a multilateral basis,” she said. “You do need to work through those processes.”

Taxing multinational tech firms was part of the Liberals’ re-election platform, which committed to “work to achieve the standard set by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to ensure that international digital corporations whose products are consumed in Canada collect and remit the same level of sales taxation as Canadian digital corporations.”

The proposal would tax the proceeds of online advertising and user data sales for digital firms with global revenues of more than $1 billion and Canadian revenues of more than $40 million. The Liberal platform projected $540 million in new revenue in 2020-21 from “making multinational tech giants pay their fair share.”

But Canada may not be able to proceed with its plans and start banking that kind of income this spring. Taxing multinational tech firms is easier said than done.

U.S. warned Canada not to proceed

Digital businesses models cross borders: a company may be headquartered and taxed in one country while it profits from its business activities in many others.

That’s why the 36 member countries of the OECD are trying to reach an international agreement on how to tax digital companies by mid-2020. Governments share a common concern: multinationals setting up in low-tax jurisdictions and avoiding taxes in others.

Ng told CBC News Wednesday that Canada needs to continue to work though this process.

Last fall, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was among American industry groups urging the Trump administration to oppose Canada’s adoption of a French-style digital tax.

American digital companies believe they could be subject to “double taxation,” where they end up paying tax on the same revenue in both countries — something the tax treaty in place between the U.S. and Canada is supposed to prevent.

The U.S. groups warned that the Liberal proposal could undermine American investments in the Canadian tech sector and be inconsistent with Canada’s international trade commitments.

World Trade Organization rules, as well as trade agreements like the recently renegotiated North American free trade deal, are supposed to prevent discrimination between foreign and domestic companies in areas like tax policy. Countries aren’t allowed to create arbitrary rules to game the system in favour of their own corporations.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose party also proposed taxing digital firms in the last election, said “it makes no sense at all” that an international foreign company could make money in Canada and not pay any taxes.

Speaking during a break in caucus meetings Wednesday in preparation for the return of the House of Commons next week, Singh said that when working class people are paying their fair share, it’s wrong for multinationals to do otherwise. He brushed aside the risk of retaliation.

“I don’t think that we should live in fear of Mr. Trump. I don’t think we should make decisions based on fear,” he said. “Particularly when our decisions are the right thing to do.”

French tax now on hold

Talks Wednesday in Davos brought a temporary truce to a heated trade dispute over France’s tax, which targets companies that have global revenues of over 750 million euros ($1.09 billion Canadian) and French revenue of over 25 million euros ($36 million Canadian).

The thresholds are meant to offer French start-up companies room to grow.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said he’d agreed to postpone collection of the tax until December — after the next U.S. election cycle — in return for a commitment from U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to hold off on the retaliatory sanctions President Donald Trump threatened to impose on French exports like champagne and cheese.

Other European countries, including Austria, Italy, Spain and Britain, are considering similar taxes.

Sajid Javid, the British Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance minister), told a panel in Davos Wednesday his country plans to proceed with its two per cent tax in April as a “temporary tax” until there is an international agreement on how to proceed.

Mnuchin then told the same panel discussion that the pair needed to have “some private conversations” about this because such a tax would be discriminatory.

“If people want to just arbitrarily put taxes on our digital companies, we will consider arbitrarily putting taxes on their car companies,” Mnuchin said.

More talks between Le Maire, Mnuchin and the head of the OECD, José Ángel Gurría, are expected Thursday.

Gurría urged the countries to take the “time and the space” necessary to reach a deal and avoid bilateral confrontations.



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Cash-strapped rural Alberta ‘can’t wring money’ from struggling oil and gas firms, premier says

Cash-strapped rural Alberta 'can't wring money' from struggling oil and gas firms, premier says

Premier Jason Kenney urged rural municipalities to work with the province to help struggling oil and gas companies Tuesday, adding they can’t get “money from a stone.”

He made the comments following a survey that said the oil and gas sector owes $173 million in unpaid taxes to rural municipalities — more than double since a similar report was done last spring.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Kenney said the sector has seen a few bankruptcies in the past year while other companies are barely hanging on.

“You can’t wring money from a stone,” Kenney said, suggesting that could be the case for a number of smaller natural gas producers who are having trouble right now.

“The best solution, in our view, is to create a future for those companies that are struggling.

Rural Municipalities Alberta (RMA) distributed a survey of its members Monday that showed the amount of unpaid taxes from oil and gas companies had grown by 114 per cent since a similar survey last March.

Years of low oil prices have left many small producers in dire straits but rural communities say those unpaid taxes are leaving significant holes in their budgets.

A decommissioned pumpjack is shown at a well head on an oil and gas installation near Cremona, Alta, in 2018. Rural Municipalities Alberta (RMA) distributed a survey of its members Monday that showed the amount of unpaid taxes from oil and gas companies had grown by 114 per cent since a similar survey last March. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The RMA said legislative gaps make it difficult to recover lost taxes from energy companies. When an oil and gas company goes bust, municipalities rank below regulators as creditors, the association said.

Al Kemmere, president of the RMA, told CBC News Tuesday he will meet with the provincial minister of municipal affairs next month to discuss the situation.

Asked about the premier’s comments, Kemmere agreed there needs to be discussion about solutions, but cautioned rural municipalities only have so much flexibility under the Municipal Government Act.

“We are also in a very limited scope of what we can do, too, because [while] other levels of government can … build a deficit into their budget, we cannot,” Kemmere said.

“That limits us again on what we can do and how we can find solutions. We either balance a budget every year or we are in contempt of our own act.”

Kenney said rural municipalities have the legal ability to take action when taxes go unpaid.

But Kemmere maintained they don’t have that authority other than through the civil courts — something he said could be “really messy” and puts risk on taxpayers.

On Tuesday, Kenney was asked how the province would find a balance between the rural municipalities and the industry. He said he didn’t view them as competing priorities but competing realities. 

“On the one part, the municipalities need the revenue and they have every right to assess it and and to seek to collect it — they have the legal right to collect it,” Kenney said. 

“But for companies that are on the verge of bankruptcy, they have no cash and very little in the way of assets. There’s not a lot to go after.

“So I would just say with the municipalities, you know, work with us to try to create the best conditions to turn that economic situation around.

The industry is seeking reforms to how taxes are assessed on oil and gas companies.

Properties are assessed by the provincial government, which evaluates them on replacement cost and not on market value, Ben Brunnen, vice president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, said Monday.

What we’re seeing is a need to update the way our assets are valued inside municipalities,” he told CBC News.

“If we do that, we’ll find a way for companies to then … perhaps invest more because the economics are better over the long term and our industry will come out stronger.”

On Monday, Ponoka County Reeve Paul McLauchlin said about 40 per cent of unpaid taxes are from severely distressed companies in an industry hard and widely hit by lower resource prices. The rest of the shortfall is from companies that continue to operate but don’t pay.

“My personal opinion is that this is a tax revolt,” McLauchlin told Canadian Press. “They are using this as a lever to decrease their assessment and change those costs.”

A group concerned about the unpaid taxes, the Alberta Liabilities Disclosure Project, is planning a protest outside the McDougall Centre in downtown Calgary on Wednesday.



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Air bag woes force Honda, Toyota to recall 6M vehicles

Air bag woes force Honda, Toyota to recall 6M vehicles

Two different air bag glitches have forced Toyota and Honda to recall over six million vehicles worldwide, and both problems present different dangers to motorists.

The Toyota recall affects about 3.4 million vehicles globally and is being done because the air bags may not inflate in a crash. The cars have air bag control computers made by ZF-TRW that are vulnerable to electrical interference and may not signal the bags to inflate.

The problem could affect as many as 12.3 million vehicles in the U.S. made by six companies. It’s possible that as many as eight people were killed when air bags didn’t inflate. U.S. safety regulators are investigating.

Honda’s recall covers about 2.7 million vehicles in the U.S. and Canada with Takata air bag inflators. But they’re a different version than the ones blamed for 25 deaths worldwide. Still, it’s possible the air bags could blow apart a metal canister and hurl shrapnel at drivers and passengers.

Both recalls were announced on Tuesday.

In a statement, Toyota said the computer may not have adequate protection against electrical noise that can happen in crashes, such as when the vehicle runs under a different vehicle. The problem can cause incomplete opening of the air bags, or they may not open at all. Devices that prepare seat belts for a collision also may not work.

In most cases Toyota dealers will install a noise filter between the air bag control computer and a wiring harness. But in some vehicles dealers will inspect the computer to determine if it needs the filter. Owners will be notified by mid-March.

The recall covers certain 2011-19 Corollas, the 2011 to 2013 Matrix, the 2012 through 2018 Avalon and the 2013 to 2018 Avalon Hybrid in the U.S.

Toyota wouldn’t say if it will offer loaner cars to people who fear their air bags might not protect them. A spokeswoman suggested that owners call its customer hotline to discuss their issue at (800) 333-4331.

In March of 2017, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating problems with ZF-TRW air bag computers. The probe was expanded in April of last year to 12.3 million vehicles made by Toyota, Honda, Kia, Hyundai, Mitsubishi and Fiat Chrysler from the 2010 through 2019 model years.

Toyota joins Hyundai, Kia and Fiat Chrysler in issuing recalls for the problem. Four deaths that may have been caused by the problem were reported in Hyundai-Kia vehicles and three in Fiat Chrysler automobiles. The investigation was upgraded after investigators found two serious crashes involving 2018 and 2019 Toyota Corollas in which the air bags did not inflate. One person was killed. Toyota said it’s cooperating in the probe, which is continuing.

NHTSA is evaluation how susceptible the air bag control units are to electrical signals as well as other factors that could stop air bags from inflating. In documents, the agency said that it didn’t find any other cases of electrical interference in Hyundai, Kia or Fiat Chrysler vehicles that used the ZF-TRW system but were not recalled.

The Honda recall, also announced Friday, covers certain Honda and Acura vehicles from the 1996 to 2003 model years. Honda vehicles included are the 1998 to 2000 Accord Coupe and Sedan, the 1996 to 2000 Civic coupe and sedan, the 1997 to 2001 CR-V, the 1998 to 2001 Odyssey and the 1997 and 1998 EV Plus.

Acura vehicles covered are the 1997 and 1998 2.2CL, the 1997 to 1999 3.0CL, the 1998 and 1999 2.3CL, the 2001 and 2002 3.2CL, the 2001 and 2002 MDX, the 1998 to 2003 3.5RL, and the 1999 to 2001 3.2TL.

The front driver’s inflators being recalled are part of a recall announced by Takata in November covering at least 1.4 million vehicles from five automakers. Honda said it’s recalling a larger number of vehicles to make sure it gets all of the bad inflators.

In this case, the inflators don’t contain ammonium nitrate, which is blamed for previous Takata problems that have killed 25 people and injured hundreds worldwide.

But three of the newly recalled inflators exploded and hurled shrapnel, two in Japan and one in Texas that injured a driver, Honda said in a statement. The company said in all three cases, the inflators were exposed to excessive moisture. In Texas, the car had a salvage title with a date that coincided with a major flood, while the two cases in Japan were in salvage yards where the windows are typically left open, the company said.

“Honda believes that the risk of improper air bag deployment in its vehicles remains very low at this time, but we cannot absolutely guarantee the performance of any recalled part,” the company said in a statement.

Owners will be notified in mid-March, but replacement parts won’t be available for another year, Honda said.

Asked about loaner cars, a Honda spokesman said customer concerns will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Customers can call Honda at (888) 234-2138 with questions.



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Ontario Securities Commission chair and CEO Maureen Jensen to step down

Ontario Securities Commission chair and CEO Maureen Jensen to step down

The Ontario Securities Commission says Maureen Jensen will resign as chair and chief executive of the provincial regulator, effective April 15.

The first woman to be named chair and CEO of the commission, Jensen was appointed in 2016 and reappointed to a three-year extension in 2017.

Jensen joined the OSC as its executive director in 2011.

Before joining the provincial securities regulator, she had been senior vice-president of surveillance and compliance at the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada.

Jensen had also been the CEO of Market Regulation Services Inc. and a director of the Toronto Stock Exchange.

In a statement, Ontario Finance Minister Rod Phillips said current OSC vice-chair Grant Vingoe will succeed Jensen as acting chair until a permanent candidate is found.



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Some layoffs at MEC but more permanent staff to be hired, CEO says in restructuring plan

Some layoffs at MEC but more permanent staff to be hired, CEO says in restructuring plan

Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC) is laying off some of its 2,400 employees — but offering permanent positions to many of its casual workers — as it restructures in a bid to restore its financial health.

The outdoor retailer, which lost more than $11 million in the past fiscal year, is aiming to cut costs, and change what it stocks and how it staffs, according to an online statement from CEO Phil Arrata.

The statement was released after the company’s 22 stores across Canada were shut down on Sunday afternoon for a nationwide all-staff meeting, according to employees at several outlets. Store managers read a statement outlining the new direction Arrata plans to take MEC.

In some stores that meant a handful of layoffs. MEC declined to confirm a total number.

The co-op has too much inventory that’s not moving, according to CEO Phil Arrata. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

But in his statement, Arrata said the co-op would move away from using casual employees and hire more permanent staff to cut down on staff and sharpen customer service.

More than 950 casual staff will be given full- or part-time jobs, with benefits, Arrata said. 

“While MEC is not profit-driven in the same way as the retailers we compete against, we still must be profitable to ensure we deliver great service to our members,” Arrata said, citing the retailer’s co-op model, in an open letter to staff posted online Jan. 20.

MEC also plans to sublet its $28-million head office on Great Northern Way in Vancouver.

More MEC staff will be hired full- and part-time instead of working on a casual basis, according to a new statement by the CEO. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

MEC has been struggling and recently went through arbitration after workers at its Vancouver and Victoria stores became the first in its network to unionize. Employees were seeking better wages and working conditions.

Arrata, the former chief financial officer at Best Buy Canada, joined MEC in the summer of 2019 and said he was given the mandate to infuse the chain with more profitability.

“I think we could take on the competition. I think we could do better,” he told CBC in a recent interview.

MEC reported an $11.5-million net loss on $462.4 million in sales in 2018/19.

The outdoor retailer is facing increasing competition from online giants such as Amazon and Walmart, as well as Canadian Tire, Sport Chek and the French sporting goods chain Decathlon, which has outlets in Quebec and Ontario..

The MEC in Toronto relocated this year, and the MEC in Vancouver is also moving to a new location, in Olympic Village. (Don Pittis/CBC)



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Oil and gas industry must do more to address climate change, report says

Oil and gas industry must do more to address climate change, report says

The oil and gas industry needs to increase its efforts to address climate change or risk becoming socially unacceptable and unprofitable, according to a new report from the International Energy Agency.

“No energy company will be unaffected by clean energy transitions,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s executive director, in a statement Monday.

The IEA is an independent non-governmental organization that advises countries and industry on sustainable energy.

The world is demanding energy services and emissions reductions at the same time, the report says. Social pressures on the industry are rising, it notes, highlighting growing opposition to new infrastructure projects in certain areas and fracking bans.

“Every part of the industry needs to consider how to respond. Doing nothing is simply not an option.”

Some companies have taken steps to address climate change, but the report says the industry as a whole could do more.

Reducing environmental footprint

The diverse industry requires a variety of approaches based on the particular circumstances of individual companies, according to the report, which was produced in co-operation with the World Economic Forum and will be presented at the organization’s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, on Tuesday.

The “immediate task” for the industry is to reduce its operational environmental footprint, Birol said.

Approximately 15 per cent of the world’s energy-related greenhouse gas emissions come from getting oil and gas out of the ground and to consumers, the report says.

A large part of these emissions can be brought down relatively quickly and easily.– Fatih Birol, executive director, International Energy Association

“A large part of these emissions can be brought down relatively quickly and easily,” said Birol.

The most important and cost-effective measure would be to reduce methane leaks to the atmosphere, the report says. Other measures include integrating renewables and low-carbon electricity into new upstream and liquefied natural gas (LNG) developments.

The report argues the industry and its resources and skills “will be critical” in helping some key capital-intensive clean energy technologies, like low-carbon hydrogen and biofuels, reach maturity. It says that scaling up such technologies and lowering their cost requires qualities the industry has, such as large-scale engineering and project management capabilities.

“Without the industry’s input, these technologies may simply not achieve the scale needed for them to move the dial on emissions,” Birol said.

On average, oil and gas companies invest about one per cent of their total capital spending in non-core areas — with the greatest amount in solar photovoltaics (PV) and wind. Leading companies spend about five per cent, according to the report, which says “a much more significant change” in capital spending allocation is needed to accelerate energy transitions.

The energy sector can transform without the help of the oil and gas industry, the report reads, but that is a more difficult and expensive path.

“Regardless of which pathway the world follows, climate impacts will become more visible and severe over the coming years, increasing the pressure on all elements of society to find solutions. These solutions cannot be found within today’s oil and gas paradigm.”



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Goodbye gas furnaces? Why electrification is the future of home heating

Goodbye gas furnaces? Why electrification is the future of home heating

It’s a stereotype, but it’s true — Canada’s winters are cold. And many of us stay toasty by burning fossil fuels such as natural gas in our furnaces or the boilers that feed our radiators.

In an effort to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and meet targets to reduce global warming, the U.K. has proposed banning fossil fuel-based heating in new homes by 2025. Cities in the states of California, Washington and Massachusetts are also trying to phase out natural gas.

If your home is hooked up to a district heating system, where a utility supplies heat directly, you may be able to tap into a variety of greener energy sources

But if your home relies on its own individual heating system, as most do, what are the alternatives to fossil fuels and will they work in the colder parts of this country?

Here’s a closer look.

How much does heating buildings contribute to CO2 emissions?

About 45 per cent of Canada’s emissions come from burning fossil fuels to make energy, including heat and electricity — quite a bit more than transportation (28 per cent), the Prairie Climate Centre reports. Of that, about half is from houses, shops, schools and other private and public buildings. The other half is from industry.

Nearly 70 per cent of the energy used in the residential sector comes from fossil fuels, a 2014 study estimated. Forced air furnaces and hot water or steam boilers with radiators, which most often burn fossil fuels such as natural gas, make up a majority of the primary heating systems in Canada, Statistics Canada reports.

How important is it to decarbonize heating?

“Very important,” said Fin MacDonald, program manager of the Zero Carbon Building program at the Canada Green Building Council, a non-profit that advocates for and certifies green buildings. In provinces such as B.C., Ontario and Quebec whose power grids don’t produce a lot of emissions, fossil fuel combustion from buildings represents the biggest source of carbon dioxide, he said.

That’s certainly the case in Vancouver, where more than half the greenhouse gas emissions come from buildings, said Brady Faught, green buildings engineer with the city.

While people may be concerned about a car idling for 10 minutes, Faught says “your house is basically idling all day.”

And it’s not just the gas it’s burning that’s the problem. Natural gas or methane — a greenhouse gas that traps heat far more effectively than carbon dioxide, causing much more global warming per molecule — also leaks from the entire distribution system used to deliver gas to people’s homes and furnaces, Faught said.

Using natural gas for heating generates emissions not just from burning it, but also from leaks through the system. (Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

How can emissions from home heating be reduced or eliminated?

Buildings heated with fossil fuels can cut some of their emissions by reducing the need for heating through things like better insulation and reusing “waste” heat.

But in order to make a big difference, the green building industry is looking to electrify heating.

“The only fuel that we can truly make 100 per cent carbon neutral is electricity,” MacDonald said.

That’s why the City of Vancouver is trying to come up with regulations and incentives for homeowners to electrify their home heating.

“The ultimate goal is zero emissions,” said Faught, whose job is to develop policies to encourage green retrofits for single-family homes in Vancouver.

In provinces with an electrical grid based mostly on hydro, nuclear or other non-fossil fuel energy sources, such as Ontario, Quebec and B.C., replacing a gas-burning furnace with an electrical heating system can nearly eliminate a home’s emissions.

In some provinces, such as Alberta and Saskatchewan, power is largely generated by burning fossil fuels. For now, homeowners who want to cut heating emissions need to go beyond electrification and also install green power generation, such as solar panels.

What are some of the options for heating your home electrically?

  • Baseboard heaters are the most common option in use across Canada. They’re powered by electrical resistance heating, just like your toaster and oven. Electric forced air furnaces, electric convection heaters and electric radiant floors also use electrical resistance heating.

  • Heat pumps are far more efficient, because they simply move heat into your home, rather than generating heat. There are two kinds:

    • Air source heat pumps, which draw heat from the air. (Yes, it can work even when it is very cold outside, just as your freezer can use its heat pump to cool itself to -18 C in a 20 C kitchen.) 

    • Ground source heat pumps, which draw heat from the ground and are sometimes referred to as geoexchange or geothermal heat pumps. However, MacDonald says the industry is trying to move away from calling it geothermal, as it gets confused with geothermal power generation.

What are the pros and cons of baseboard heaters and other electrical resistance heaters?

Baseboard heaters are popular because they’re very cheap and easy to install.

However, those and other kinds of electrical resistance heaters are very inefficient.

“They’re like just having a toaster running in your house all day … resulting in high electric bills,” said Faught.

For those reasons, baseboard heaters are often popular in rental units where landlords install them and tenants pay the cost of electricity.

This home in Edmonton is ‘net zero energy,’ meaning it produces as much energy as it consumes using solar panels on its roof. It also doesn’t generate emissions from heating, as it relies on an air source heat pump for heat and hot water. (Cooper & O’Hara/Builtgreen Canada)

That said, it’s possible to bring the cost down in a small home by making the building more airtight and better insulated.

David Turnbull, a former homebuilder and current manager of Enerspec Energy Consulting, said his company built a townhome complex in Edmonton where units were relatively small and so well-insulated that “you could almost heat the house with two hair dryers.” In that case, baseboard heating made financial sense.

When does installing a heat pump make sense?

Heat pumps are way more efficient than electrical resistance heating. Both MacDonald and Faught say it’s possible to get 300 per cent efficiency from a heat pump — that is, you can get three kilowatts of heat for every kilowatt of electricity you put in. They’re especially efficient in spring and fall.  

However, MacDonald says heat pumps tend to produce a lower temperature heat than burning fossil fuels, and therefore don’t heat a building as quickly.

That means a building needs to be airtight and well insulated to keep the heat from escaping and reduce the “heating load” before you should consider this as an option — and even more so the further north you go.

This is the basement of a demonstration net zero home in Ottawa. Instead of a furnace, it has a cold climate heat pump and a drain water heat recovery system. (Gordon King Photography)

Faught says air source heat pumps can heat an airtight, well-insulated home to a comfortable temperature until it gets to about -10 C outside. In places with colder winters than that, supplementing with baseboard heaters may be necessary.

One big advantage of heat pumps is that they don’t just heat homes, the can also cool them.

In fact, air conditioners are technically heat pumps. The difference with the heat pumps capable of heating homes is they can run in reverse.

What’s the difference between air source and ground source heat pumps?

Air source heat pumps are cheaper and easier to install, but less efficient and more expensive to run. That’s because the ground temperature tends to remain stable all year round — containing more heat in the winter and more “coolness” in the summer than the air.

However, ground source heat pumps tend to be a lot more expensive — and require more space — to install because it’s necessary to dig deep to access stable underground temperatures.

Ania Kania-Richmond stands with her husband and children in front of their certified ‘passive house’ in the EchoHaven development in northwest Calgary. The house has no furnace. It is heated with passive solar energy, supplemented by electric radiators when needed. (Dave Will/CBC)

That can be particularly costly in places where the ground is bedrock, said Turnbull. It’s more economical if you’re building on clay or sand, he said, and especially if you’re digging anyway — for a parkade, for example.

What about solar?

Solar power is useful for generating green energy to run devices like heat pumps in provinces with a fossil fuel-based electricity grid.

However, there’s also solar thermal energy, where heat is collected directly rather than by generating electricity.

The Drake Landing Solar Community in Okotoks, Alta., is a district energy project that uses solar thermal heating with underground storage. (Mike Ridewood/Natural Resources Canada)

MacDonald said that tends to be more expensive than other options and requires lots of space for the solar panels. Because most of the heat is collected in summer, it also needs to be stored somewhere.

“If you have a pool, perfect,” he said. If you have a ground source heat pump, in theory you can also store the heat in its underground heat exchange loop.

Turnbull and Faught both think solar technology is not quite ready for heating individual homes in Canada (although solar thermal heating with storage has been successfully tested for district heating in Okotoks, Alta.).

What are governments doing about this?

In Canada, the federal government is holding public consultations on proposed changes to the National Building Code and its National Energy Code for Buildings. Some jurisdictions such as Vancouver are also coming up with their own regulations and incentives to encourage electrification, especially in new homes.

The city’s climate emergency response report  proposes that by 2025, all new and replacement heating and hot water systems should be zero emissions. 

“Having a fully electric house without a gas line is the direction we want to go,” Faught said.

Turnbull says governments need to plan to phase out fossil fuels in home heating.

“It’s an inevitability that we are going to get off them.”



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Inside the anti-vaccination movement: CBC’s Marketplace consumer cheat sheet

Inside the anti-vaccination movement: CBC's Marketplace consumer cheat sheet

Miss something this week? Don’t panic. CBC’s Marketplace rounds up the consumer and health news you need.

Want this in your inbox? Get the Marketplace newsletter every Friday.

We go deep inside the anti-vaccination movement

Marketplace producers travelled to Washington, D.C., to speak with members of the anti-vaccination movement. Misinformation spread by the movement has been successful in convincing some people to turn away from vaccinations. But with epidemics breaking out worldwide, vaccine hesitancy is considered one of the biggest health threats of our time. Our hidden cameras show anti-vaxxers sharing strategies for spreading their message on platforms like Facebook, and a confrontation with one of the movement’s leaders.

Del Bigtree, an anti-vaccination activist, speaks before a crowd of anti-vaxxers at a VIP event in Washington, D.C. Bigtree is a controversial documentarian and one of the movement’s biggest figures. (CBC)

Experts say there’s no need to worry about vaccine safety

There’s nothing dangerous about vaccines, despite the anti-vaccination movement’s campaign to convince people otherwise. Meggan Larson, a mother of three, learned this the hard way when her unvaccinated children contracted the whooping cough. Now, she’s urging other vaccine-hesitant parents to take action.

Meggan Larson, scarred from her children’s own close call with the whooping cough, is now urging other parents to vaccinate their children. (Bill Arnold/CBC)

Cancer linked to Biocell breast implants no longer ‘rare,’ data suggests

A cancer in women with textured breast implants is more widespread than previously believed, raising questions for patients and physicians about continuing to describe it as “rare.” As of Dec. 20, 2019, Health Canada said it had received 106 reports describing “breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma,” including both confirmed and suspected cases. That’s double the number of confirmed cases the regulator said it had received before last May.

In 2018, Marketplace went undercover to find out if plastic surgeons were downplaying the risk of breast implants.

Canada faces shortage of heartburn drug Pepcid after Zantac recall

The common heartburn medication Pepcid is in short supply across Canada, and experts say it’s a direct result of the recent international recall of Zantac. Zantac was recalled in the U.S. and Canada in October after a potentially cancer-causing chemical was found at low levels in the drug. Barry Power, a spokesperson for the Canadian Pharmacists Association, said he has spoken with pharmacists across the country who have been told Pepcid is on back order until March.

Pepcid currently hard to come by in Canada due to a ‘domino shortage.’ Zantac, which treats heartburn, was recently recalled in the U.S. and Canada, creating a demand for Pepcid, which is a similar medication. (CBC)

What else is going on?

Juul to stop selling most flavoured vaping pods in Canada. Vaping company to halt production of mango, vanilla, fruit and cucumber varieties

McDonald’s still rejects reusable mugs — but promises change following customer outrageFast-food chain anticipates a national pro-reusable-mug policy by the end of February.

These fashion design profs are turning your unwanted clothes into bags, scrunchies and narwals. It’s a clever way to make something new and reduce the environmental impact of the textile industry.

‘I felt like it was on fire’: Woman burned by laser hair removal warning others to do their research.  A Toronto woman whose face was burned during a laser hair removal session is warning others to do their research before undergoing the procedure in a largely unregulated industry.

The latest in recalls

Inside the anti-vaccination movement

Marketplace’s Asha Tomlinson confronts anti-vaccination activist Del Bigtree outside of a VIP event in Washington, D.C. Bigtree is a controversial documentarian and one of the movement’s biggest figures. (Bill Arnold/CBC)

This week on Marketplace, we go undercover inside the anti-vaccination movement at a rally and VIP event in Washington, D.C.

Once there, we speak with anti-vaxxers and confront one of the movement’s leaders face to face.

We wanted to know why the movement’s dangerous message continues to spread and why nearly half of Canadians now say they have some concerns about vaccine safety.

With epidemics breaking out worldwide, vaccine hesitancy is considered one of the biggest health threats of our time.

Hearing from anti-vaxxers directly about the tactics they use, you can understand how their messaging might be compelling to people who see it on social media.

But after sifting through mountains of studies and anti-vaccination arguments to get a deeper sense of the misinformation being distributed, our experts maintain there’s nothing harmful about vaccination.

You’ll want to stay tuned for my confrontation with Del Bigtree, a controversial activist and filmmaker, and one of the key figures in the movement.

Tune in to our full investigation and on catch up on past Marketplace episodes on Gem and YouTube.

-Asha Tomlinson and the Marketplace team



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What to expect from Meng Wanzhou’s extradition hearing this week

What to expect from Meng Wanzhou's extradition hearing this week

The eyes of the world will be on Vancouver this week as Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou takes a seat in a B.C. courtroom for the first phase of her extradition hearing.

The 47-year-old chief financial officer has been living under house arrest since December 2018, when she was released on $10 million bail pending the conclusion of proceedings to determine if she should be sent to the United States to face fraud charges related to allegations that she violated U.S. economic sanctions against Iran.

In a five-day hearing starting Monday, a judge will hear arguments on so-called double criminality.

CBC brings you up to date on the arguments for and against as well as the background of the case.

What is the purpose of this hearing?

A B.C. Supreme Court judge has to decide if the offence American prosecutors have accused Meng of committing would be prosecutable if the alleged conduct had occurred in Canada.

This is a principle known as “double criminality,” and it is at the core of the Extradition Act.

The Act says the conduct doesn’t have to be “named, defined or characterized” the same way on both sides of the border, but it would have to be punishable by jail time in Canada.

For Meng to be extradited, the Crown must prove double criminality.

What is Meng Wanzhou accused of?

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Meng with bank fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit bank fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

The allegations arise from a series of Reuters articles in 2012 and 2013 that claimed Huawei had misrepresented its relationship with Skycom, a firm accused of offering to sell U.S. computer equipment to an Iranian telecommunications company in violation of U.S. economic sanctions.

The fraud charges against Meng relate to an allegation that she lied to banks about Huawei’s relationship with a hidden subsidiary accused of violating U.S. economic sanctions against Iran. (Stefan Wermuth/AFP/Getty Images)

The articles alleged that Skycom — which Huawei described as a local partner in Iran — was in fact controlled by the Chinese telecommunication giant.

In response to concerns raised by banking executives, Meng allegedly met with an HSBC executive in a Hong Kong restaurant on Aug. 22, 2013, to give a PowerPoint presentation denying the relationship.

U.S. prosecutors say HSBC and other banks continued their business relationship with Huawei based on Meng’s assurances — putting themselves at risk of violating U.S. economic sanctions and criminal prosecution.

What is Meng’s position on double criminality?

Meng’s lawyers claim her conduct would not be prosecutable if it had occurred in Canada because Canada did not have the same economic sanctions against Iran at the time Meng’s extradition warrant was sworn.

In a written argument filed in advance of this week’s hearing, they frame the issue this way:

“A walks into a bank in Canada. B works for the bank and asks A whether her company is doing business in Iran. A misrepresents to B that her company is not doing business in Iran. The bank then processes financial transactions in Canada for A’s company related to Iran,” the defence lawyers write.

“The fundamental question is whether A has committed the crime of fraud in Canada. The answer is no. Since Canada does not prohibit A’s company doing business in Iran, there is no risk of deprivation to the bank under Canadian law.”

Meng is living under house arrest in one of her two Vancouver mansions. As part of her bail, she must wear a GPS electronic monitoring bracelet. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

And what’s the opposing argument?

Lawyers for Canada’s attorney general say the alleged offence is fraud — which is a crime in both the U.S. and Canada.

The Crown says the decision the judge has to make gets at the heart of Canadian extradition law, which is “conduct based” as opposed to “offence matching.”

They say the object of the hearing is not to compare specific elements of laws in each country, but to consider the “essence” of the alleged offence.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announces indictments against Meng in relation to allegations that she lied to banks. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

The say the judge may consider American economic sanctions to provide context — but only as a means to understand why the bank might have faced problems by trusting Meng’s word.

“The fact that Canada may have different sanctions against Iran than the United States should not distract the court,” the Crown claims.

“Deceit and risk of loss are at the heart of the conduct.”

So, what are the odds of either side winning?

It’s tough to say.

There are not a lot of similar cases of people facing extradition because of alleged violation of U.S. economic sanctions.

Vancouver lawyer Gary Botting, who has written a book on extradition between Canada and the U.S., says if B.C. Supreme Court Associate Chief Justice Heather Holmes follows recent precedent, she may side with the Crown.

Meng is flanked by security guards as she leaves B.C. Supreme Court in an earlier appearance. She will be back in court for the first formal phase of her extradition hearing on Monday. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Botting says in the last decade, with the blessing of the Supreme Court of Canada, courts have moved away from superimposing a complete set of facts into a Canadian setting to determine double criminality.

“[They’ve said] if there is any kind of aspect of the law — like the lowest common denominator of the law — that is criminal, then it becomes criminal in Canada.”

But Botting says because of the unusual nature of the case and its complicated circumstances, the judge might want to look further back for precedent.

“She’ll say, ‘No this isn’t criminal in Canada.’ How can we arrest somebody who’s done something in Hong Kong to a bank registered in England?” he says.

“What jurisdiction does the United States have or would Canada have? That’s the situation.”

And what happens after this hearing?

If double criminality is not met, the extradition proceedings would be over, although the Crown could appeal.

But if the Crown wins, the next significant court dates for Meng will occur in May as part of the lead-up to a hearing in June to address Meng’s allegations that her rights were violated during her arrest at Vancouver International Airport.

If that hearing goes ahead, Meng will claim that Canadian authorities conspired with American authorities to mount a covert criminal operation against her at the time of her detention and arrest.

She will also seek to have the extradition proceedings tossed out in relation to her claim she is being used as a pawn by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said he would intervene in Meng’s case if doing so would achieve a better trade deal with China.



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