The be oil and end oil: exposing the Mayor’s haz mat apathy

Centerm chemical fire a wake-up call for oil-obsessed Vision Vancouver

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?

March 4 fire at Vancouver container terminal
March 4 fire at Vancouver container terminal (

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.)

2014-318 -res-2

2014-319 – app-3


2 thoughts on “The be oil and end oil: exposing the Mayor’s haz mat apathy

  1. e.a. foster

    The Vancouver harbour has a lot of very dangerous goods going through it and its a pretty open accessible space. Neither one of the 3 levels of government are any where prepared to deal with a “disaster”. It most likely is just like the 1,200 murdered First Nations women. Its not on their “radar”.

    The harbour has grown over the past 60 yrs as has the types of cargo which passes through it. Yesterday, we were lucky. The City of Vancouver is lucky they have a professional and capable fire dept. which was able to handle the problem. The politicians are too busy arguing to have rapid transit and extra taxes, that they just don’t think about the really dangerous things which could go wrong. It is most likely no level of government has any idea of what to do or how to go about it. About all that is standing between the city and disaster is the VFD.

    If anyone had asked the Mayor, Premier, or P.M. about what went on yesterday, I’m sure not one would have had an answer or an idea. Next time it might not just be one container. The City of Vancouver and the Harbour need to come up with a plan, if only to evacuate the city, but hey Mayor moonbeam has been so busy with his bike lanes, who cares about dangerous goods. The P.M. wants to send every body to jail and wants us to destroy our democracy because some jihadist may some day want to do something “really bad”. Well a new flash for P.M. “greatless warrior” harper: a really big danger in Vancouver is a dangerous cargo exploding or catching fire. That is more likely to happen than some jihadist.

  2. Bill

    One container catches fire and it suddenly carries the same impact as 1200 murdered and missing FN women. Wow! what a quantum leap.

    BTW they were actually unlucky yesterday, something went wrong in an port that has been operating with relatively few major incidents for over 100 years.

    I’m just wondering what the time from first smoke to cargo identification was? This is one of the most critical bits of knowledge required to deal with hazmat events. Railroads are typically terrible at providing this information but it should only take minutes if the rail car or container can be identified. First responders need to know this ASAP


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