There will be inevitable after-action reports by Vancouver’s fire and police officials after the March 4 chemical fire in a container at DP World’s Centerm dock at Port Metro Vancouver. The early, good news is that what could have been a disaster was minimized.
However, were top officials at Vancouver city hall prepared?
Mayor Gregor Robertson and his Vision Vancouver party ran an election campaign highlighting its ideologically driven opposition to oil tankers in 2014. While that was happening, I became curious: Did the party in power have any worry whatsoever about the risks posed to citizens and the environment by other types of hazardous materials and pollution in and around Vancouver?
I filed a June 19, 2014 request to Vancouver city hall for:
“Any and all internal staff reports or reports by contractors produced for the Office of the Mayor or Office of the City Manager since Dec. 1, 2011 regarding the storage, processing and transport of hazardous and dangerous materials in Burrard Inlet and the Fraser River — other than oil, bitumen and coal — but including minerals (like uranium), chemicals (like chlorine), explosives, pesticides, aviation fuel and e-waste.”
On Aug. 15, 2014, city hall’s Freedom of Information office told me it had published the Phase 2 Submission from April 2014 to the Tanker Safety Expert Panel on the city website. This was the only record that city hall deemed responsive to my request for a broad set of records dating back more than two-and-a-half years.
The report’s genesis was Vision Vancouver’s concern about increased oil tanker traffic because of the proposed twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to the Burnaby terminal. (Kinder Morgan also operates Vancouver Wharves, home to the sulphur piles across from Stanley Park). The report gives lip service to non-oil risks, but does say:
“The City of Vancouver would be significantly impacted in the event of a fire, explosion, collision, spill, or other accident or malfunction occurring in or near Vancouver’s waterways, and has a key role in managing consequences of an HNS (Hazardous and Noxious Substances) incident within Vancouver’s jurisdictional boundaries.”
On Oct. 1, 2014, I filed two separate requests for correspondence between the Office of the Mayor and Office of the City Manager with senior federal and provincial officials, to find out whether Robertson, his aides and city staff were concerned about hazardous materials transport or marine pollution in and around Vancouver.
The city hall FOI office delayed processing of my request until after the civic election (because, hey, uncomfortable questions might be harmful to the career ambitions of the politicians above the bureaucrats).
On Dec. 14, 2014, I received a rather confused, no records response to my request about the marine-related pollution issue:
“Based on our consultation with other public bodies regarding this request, the records initially supplied by the department(s) as responsive have been reviewed and in fact are not responsive to the request. Therefore, the record search has not returned any responsive records.”
On Jan. 8, 2015, all I got were 48 pages about the city’s concerns over the Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal. Nothing about sewage from cruise ships or toxic chemicals in port containers or uranium shipments to Asian nuclear power plants.
Nada, zip, zero, ling.
Greenest City in the world by 2020? Cough, cough, cough.
(P.S.: If you’re a first responder, Port Metro Vancouver or City of Vancouver worker concerned with workplace health and safety, contact me in confidence through this blog. I’d be glad to hear from you.)