Documents offered guidelines, warned of deadly consequences ahead of B.C. heat wave
At least three separate reports warned health officials and local governments about the kind of heat waves that could cost lives in the Lower Mainland, but the analyses and documents appear to have been forgotten when they were needed most.
A CTV News Vancouver investigation has uncovered documents from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control with clear criteria for a “heat health emergency” established in the wake of the region’s last deadly heat wave in 2009. Health officials have not responded to queries about those warnings and others.
The most crucial document dates back to 2012. Authored by a BCCDC doctor and a researcher – both of whom also teach at UBC’s School of Population and Public Health – the document laid out a plan to prevent the kind of death toll they’d seen in the summer of 2009.
In “A Data-driven Approach to Setting Trigger Temperatures for Heat Health Emergencies,” Sarah Henderson and Dr. Tom Kosatsky recommended triggering a “heat health emergency” for Greater Vancouver when the temperature at Vancouver International Airport is forecast for 29 degrees or higher for two days or longer, and 34 degrees or higher at Abbotsford International Airport.
The forecast on Friday, June 25, called for highs of 31 to 34 degrees in Vancouver from Saturday to Monday, with 36 to 40 degrees forecast inland, but there are no indications any health authority or the provincial health ministry declared a “heat health emergency” internally; they didn’t do so publicly.
“The plans call for actions such as modifying or cancelling outdoor public gatherings, allowing free access to public pools, opening cooling centres, and asking management of air conditioned buildings (malls, theatres, etc.) to maintain longer hours,” Kosatsky and Henderson wrote.
CTV News asked to speak with Health Emergency Management BC, which civic emergency planners indicated is the agency that could’ve initiated a more robust response for municipalities. HEMBC lists emergency response in its mandate online, but the Province Health Services Authority would not let CTV News speak with anyone at the organization and insisted Emergency Management BC was responsible.
Sources suggested the province’s top doctor could’ve declared a public health emergency to draw attention to the dangerous forecast, but when CTV News asked to speak to Dr. Bonnie Henry or Health Minister Adrian Dix on the issue, the health ministry said both were unavailable and never provided further information or response.
LITTLE APPETITE FOR HEAT PLANNING FROM POLITICIANS, HEALTH AUTHORITIES
In 2017, the BCCDC published another document titled “Municipal Heat Response Planning in British Columbia, Canada,” in which the authors reiterated the benchmarks from the 2012 analysis and further warned that a heat wave with high relative humidity that took place early in the summer before people’s bodies had had time to acclimate to hot temperatures and air pollution could have severe impacts on seniors, children, the poor and those facing social isolation, all of whom faced “increase risk of heat-related mortality.”
Furthermore, the authors found that despite the death toll in 2009, planning for heat waves wasn’t a big priority for most municipalities or health officials.
“Some participants also noted that heat response may be ‘on the radar’ of staff and fire services, but not politicians,” they wrote. “Extreme heat was not considered a priority by any of the health authority participants … with the low perceived risk associated with extreme heat in their communities given the historically temperate conditions.”
In a planning document, also from 2017, the BCCDC suggested not only that municipalities should keep track of public air-conditioned buildings, but also that there should be free transportation to cooling shelters for the vulnerable.
“Municipalities may be able to provide temporary air conditioning to some buildings or mandate that apartment buildings have at least one communal air-conditioned room,” according to the planning document.
There don’t appear to be any such measures implemented in Metro Vancouver, though Vancouver’s City Planning Commission has just made similar recommendations.
2019 CLIMATE REPORT AND CALLS FOR AN INDEPENDENT REVIEW
The BC Liberal Party has unearthed a more recent report to the ministry of the environment that warned temperatures of 32 degrees and higher and lasting for a few days could result in 100 deaths and $100 million in economic damage.
Titled “Preliminary Strategic Climate Risk Assessment for British Columbia,” the 429-page document devotes four pages to warnings that reiterated the 2012 report and others – pointing out that “heat waves can contribute to a range of medical conditions beyond fatalities when people are unable to maintain acceptable body temperatures.”
“The hardest part of reading that report is the fact it literally said that hundreds of people would likely be extremely vulnerable and potentially lose their lives," said Liberal leader Shirley Bond. “I think it's essential that we get some answers to what went wrong. How was that report handled when it was received by government? What work was done in the follow up to receiving that report?"
She referenced outrage from first responders at the late response to the heat wave from BC Emergency Health Services, as well as heartache felt by hundreds of families, as she demanded the province initiate an independent review of how the heat wave was prepared for and managed.
"Government should want the answers to those questions as well,” said Bond. “If there isn't a sense of urgency, there certainly should be. Hundreds of British Columbians lost their lives. A report was provided to the government in 2019 that laid out fairly graphically what would happen in the event of a heat wave of this nature."
URGENT CALLS FOR MORE PLANNING
Most municipalities in the Lower Mainland urged residents to seek out air-conditioned public facilities and many provided cooling centres, sprinklers and other measures for citizens to cool down, but these typical responses to a heat wave couldn’t prevent deaths as a record-breaking heat dome proved anything but typical.
Surrey’s fire chief, who also heads up the city’s emergency response planning, says the city contacted BC Housing to inquire about overnight facilities for seniors, the disabled and vulnerable populations, since they’re responsible for weather shelter. BC Housing told CTV News they’re only responsible for providing accommodations for social housing they manage.
“That is something new (that) I think all local governments and the province need to consider if we're going to see more excessive heat waves,” said Larry Thomas of the idea of climate-controlled overnight facilities.
“In the Lower Mainland, we're not used to over-40-degree weather, so I think those discussions need to happen."
Whether anyone at B.C.’s health authorities or the Ministry of Health rejected the idea of a heat health emergency or considered it at all remains a mystery, given their refusal to respond to requests for comment.
But perhaps a clue can be found in the 2012 BCCDC report.
“Given the human and financial resources necessary to implement the action plans, the stakeholders made it clear that tolerance for false positive events (i.e., calling a heat health emergency during weather that was not unusually hot) would be low,” wrote the authors.
B.C. smashed dozens of temperature records and hundreds of people died during the heat wave, with a report expected from the BC Coroners Service once each death has been investigated.
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
The federal defence Minister says Canada 'unequivocally supports' the United States government's decision to shoot down a high-altitude surveillance balloon that was suspected of spying for China, noting the balloon violated Canadian airspace.
The U.S. military on Saturday shot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America. China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a civilian aircraft and threatened repercussions.
Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti says he is open to amending bail laws, which have come under increased scrutiny following the shooting death of an Ontario Provincial Police officer.
Canadian researchers are drawing attention to the increasing prevalence of 'a pathological pursuit of muscularity' among Canadian boys and young men, with a new study that found one in four were at risk of developing what's known as muscle dysmorphia.
'It's devastating': Homeless Canadians at risk as Eastern Canada endures extreme cold, advocates say
As the majority of Eastern Canada stays indoors during an extreme cold weather alert, homeless shelters are struggling to keep up with the demand from unhoused people as temperatures continue to drop.
China's foreign ministry said on Sunday that it expressed strong dissatisfaction and opposition towards the United States' use of force to attack its airship.
An early study has shown keeping your gums and teeth healthy may have added benefits for your brain health.
Canadians will continue to bundle up in the country's east this weekend as a recent bout of extreme cold persists in much of Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. CTVNews.ca looks at the signs and symptoms for frostbite and hypothermia to watch for if exposed to extreme cold.
The federal government says it wants the RCMP to ban the use of two crowd-control tools that forces across the country say they have in their arsenals: sponge rounds and CS gas.
A man wanted in B.C. has been arrested in Oregon after a bizarre series of events involving a high seas rescue and a home made famous in the 1985 film "The Goonies."
The Oak Bay Branch of the Greater Victoria Public Library will remain closed for significantly longer than initially planned.
Goldstone Consignment Boutique in downtown Duncan was recently hit by two smash-and-grab thefts within a 26-hour period.
Three people are in stable condition in hospital after a two-storey Calgary townhouse caught fire on Saturday morning.
Calgary police have identified a man they believe is connected to the sexual assault of a show home employee in Alpine Park.
Chinese New Year celebrations continued in Calgary's Chinatown district Friday night.
A dog required emergency surgery after what its owner described as a vicious attack Friday evening in northeast Edmonton.
Musicians and live music supporters are mourning the loss of another Edmonton concert venue.
A 45-year-old man was killed in a 'confrontation' with RCMP officers responding to a firearms complaint Saturday morning at a northeast Alberta First Nation.
Metrolinx begins to clear trees at Osgoode Hall, agrees to 'pause work' ahead of hearing on their removal
A spokesperson for the Law Society of Ontario (LSO) says Metrolinx began cutting down historic trees at Osgoode Hall in Toronto on Saturday before the Ontario Superior Court could hear an injunction to prevent their clearing.
Marit Stiles officially became the new leader of the Ontario NDP on Saturday after a majority of party members voted in favour of the lone candidate.
Police in Durham Region are investigating after two people were found dead in Bowmanville.
Residents from Quebec to Newfoundland and Labrador are waking up this morning to more extreme cold weather. Emergency officials warned people to seek shelter and monitor for frostbite if they had to be outside overnight, as the temperature across much of Eastern Canada was expected to feel like -40 C to -50 C with the wind chill.
A 31-year-old man was seriously injured Saturday night following gunfire in Old Montreal. Montreal police (SPVM) were called to Place Jacques-Cartier in the Ville-Marie borough around 7:55 p.m. after multiple people called 911 reporting gunshots and an injured man.
A Quebec cardiologist is spearheading an effort to install more defibrillators in public, with the goal of making the life-saving machines more accessible in a crisis.
Donning toques, mitts and scarves Saturday, Winnipeg families didn't let some light snow spoil a break from the extreme cold.
A 57-year-old man is recovering in hospital after a stabbing in downtown Winnipeg Friday night.
The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is calling on the federal government to do more for cancer patients, as the system continues to struggle nearly three years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
'100 per cent Filipino products': Saskatoon Filipino community hosts first trade show for a good cause
The Studio at Midtown Mall was host to the first edition of the Proudly Pinoy Filipino Trade Show this weekend.
BHP is moving forward with its plans to build the world's largest potash mine.
Saskatoon’s police chief, Troy Cooper, participated in a polar plunge as a fundraiser for Special Olympics Saskatchewan.
A group who fled to Canada due to the war in Ukraine are showing their appreciation by donating the gift of life at Canadian Blood Services in Regina.
Above seasonal temperatures with snow squalls did not slow down the first day of Regina's Frost Festival.
A man is facing an assault charge after striking another man with a glass object early Saturday morning.
Extreme cold warnings were in effect for the Maritimes Saturday, with feel-like temperatures hitting between -40C and -50C.
Nova Scotia Premier Tim Houston is reassuring his party faithful that he still intends to fix the province's health-care system at whatever cost it takes.
A new medical school at the University of Prince Edward Island is set to start training its first class in fall 2024. But the nagging question is, with ongoing doctor shortages on the island, who’s going to teach?
The opening celebration of Black History Month was held at the Museum London on Saturday afternoon.
Two children have been taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries following a three-vehicle crash Saturday morning.
London police seized nine handguns, cash and drugs during the arrest of a wanted man Thursday afternoon.
The suspect in an assault in M’Chigeeng First Nation on Manitoulin Island Thursday is still at large and police are seeking witnesses or video footage in hopes of finding him.
W5 Investigates | Daniel Jolivet insists he's not a murderer and says he has proof
Convicted murderer Daniel Jolivet, in prison for the past 30 years, has maintained his innocence since the day he was arrested. W5 reviews the evidence he painstakingly assembled while behind bars. W5's documentary 'Buried Evidence' airs Saturday at 7 p.m. on CTV.
After a very cold – but well-attended – opening night on Friday, Bon Soo 2023 was in full swing Saturday.
Waterloo regional police are investigating a car theft they say happened while the owner was vacuuming out their vehicle.
One person has been airlifted from the scene of a serious crash in North Perth.
Demonstrators in Cambridge are hoping greenbelt and conservation lands can be protected from new home development.