00:00 Jordan: This one starts with a suggestion that ignited a political firestorm, probably because it got at something that’s been an issue in Canada for decades, an issue that we have never wanted to really talk about.
00:16 News Clip: You might not say what does a gender lens have to do with building this new highway over this new pipeline or something. Well, there are gender impacts when you bring construction workers into a rural area. There are social impacts…
00:29 Jordan: that was last year in Buenos Aires and you may remember some of the immediate reaction.
00:34 News Clip: We don’t think that you need to have some kind of gender based analysis when 2,000 people come to create jobs, to work, to support hotels and restaurants, and small businesses and families. It’s unbelievable to watch this prime minister refused to acknowledge that his arrogant and self righteous comments are an insult to tens of thousands of Canadians who work in construction in our communities across the country.
01:02 Jordan: Here’s what that all comes down to. Whether or not you support pipelines and dams, whether you think Justin Trudeau is a modern progressive example for the rest of us, or a fake feminist who doesn’t understand the real world, these construction projects, which employ thousands of out of area workers for months at a time, do have an impact on the communities that host them. And yes, some of that is a positive contribution to the economy and local infrastructure. And yes, some of that is negative, and when it gets bad, it can get really bad. There are a couple of ways that we can measure these impacts. One is with numbers, and that’s being done. The other is the old fashioned way. You send a reporter, he talks to everyone, and he tells us what he found. Today we have both of those things, so we’re going to try to answer the question. What are the real costs of Canada’s worker camps?
02:04 Jordan: I’m Jordan Heath Rawlings, and this is The Big Story. Kyle Edwards is a reporter from McLean’s who spent time at a massive worker camp in Fort St John in British Columbia. Tell me why you went to Fort St John?
02:18 Kyle: Well it started in…. I think it was August 2018. There was this story out in Manitoba after kind of this arm’s length, and provincial agency in Manitoba had released a report. They’re called the Clean Environment Commission, and they had released a report that had gained a lot of media attention. Basically detailed allegations of sexual abuse dating back to the 1960’s at a work camp up in a northern town called Guillem, which is just east of a city called Thompson, Manitoba. And it was involving several First Nations communities, one in particular was the Fox lake Cree Nation, and there were members. They kind of detailed, these horrible issues, these horrible stories of a sexual abuse at the hands of Manitoba hydro workers. One person in particular had said that the RCMP had organized gang, bangs back in the 1960’s. And so it was this very explosive report, I guess you could call it, and it gained a lot of media attention in Manitoba last year. And so we were talking about it at Maclean’s and we wanted to do a story. We actually discussed the idea of doing a story on industrial camps last year, around the time the report came out, and so that was kind of the time. That was kind of when I started thinking about it and I put in some FOY’s and started asking people if this was an issue that they’re really concerned about, and that took me to Fort St. John, which is where; It’s a city that is known for having a very large transient population, which basically means there are workers that go there for work.
04:08 Jordan: What do we know about what happens at these camps? Or, I guess, what’s kind of the popular stereotype around them, because the report detailing what allegedly happened in Manitoba is not kind of the only one of it’s kind.
04:23 Kyle: Yeah, so in 2017 a report from this organization called, or this consulting group called the Firelight Group. They released a report that basically raised a bunch of warnings about when there’s a particular camp near in an area by other communities there’s an increase in issues like sex trafficking and the sex trade. There’s an increase; RCMP data and the report showed that there was a 38% increase in reported sexual assaults in Fort St. James BC in 2011, and there were other issues like an increase in S.T.I’s in a particular area, as well as other concerns regarding rampant drug use and alcohol use, in a lot of these camps. And this has been really….. as I kind of looked into it a little bit more, this was something that a lot of people have, a lot of scholars, academics, researchers had…. they’ve kind of looked into this issue for many, many years, and it just seemed like it was nothing new. And a lot of people kind of knew that there were a lot of social impacts to industrial camps. So that really kind of drove the story.
05:44 Jordan: So you went to Fort St. John to essentially see what the situation was like on the ground in, and what kind of social construct springs up around these camps?
05:53 Kyle: Exactly. In Fort St. John, there’s a huge strain on…. they call them. They call it the shadow population. A lot of people, that’s a term a lot of people use. The province of British Columbia is not really sure how many people are going to northeastern BC for work who live elsewhere, who reside permanently elsewhere, and one of the challenges with that is things like health services and social services, those sort of things are funded by the province based on the resident population, and without taking into consideration the thousands and thousands of people that most nearly double the actual population. When I got there, a lot of woman spoke about…. a lot of indigenous woman I spoke to, spoke a lot about racism and sexual harassment and abuse, and it was kind of alarming, really.
06:54 Jordan: So can you tell me about some of the people you met in Fort St. John and some of the stories you heard?
06:59 Kyle: So I was in Fort St. John, but I had traveled throughout the region. I went to various First Nations to talk to people. I went to nearby towns. There’s, you know, there’s industrial development… sorry, resource development happening all over North East BC. So I was in this town called Shetwin, and it’s about an hour and 1/2 south of Fort St.John and people who I had spoke too there had told me about this murder suicide that had occurred in 2017, and they said it kind of shook the area and it occurred in a nearby first nation called Soto First Nations. I had reached out to a woman named Tammy Watson, who’s the younger sister of Linda Watson. Linda Watson met a man named Tony La Brea in 2016, Fall 2016. He was from Quebec, he was a white man who was a carpenter. They met over a dating sight and a couple months after they had started talking, he had kind of thrown out the idea that he would move out west and work at the site C Damn. He had falsely claimed that he had a job there at the site C dam and you know, and these are, this is like a thing, I guess Linda it didn’t strike her as anything surprising.
08:29 Jordan: Right. Thousands of people come here for jobs.
08:31 Kyle: Thousands of people come to northeast BC looking for opportunity, many of them without the proper trade qualifications. They just arrived there because that’s where people are telling them that jobs are. So he moved in with her in early October. He had never…. during that entire time he had never found a job or had worked anywhere. A few months later, in March 2017, Linda decided that she wanted out of the relationship. She was being physically abused. Tony was abusing drugs, and one morning in March, there had been arguing. Throughout the night, Linda and Tony were arguing, and also inside the house was Linda’s younger daughter Christina, and during this kind of frantic moment, Tony had started beating Linda like, horribly from what was told. And Cristina, who was 15 at the time, had gone downstairs to call the police. And during that time, Tony La Brea found Linda’s hidden rifle somewhere in the house. He went downstairs. He shot and killed Christina. He went back upstairs, shot and killed Linda, and then he killed himself. And so I went to that home where this incident had occurred, which is where Tammy, Linda’s younger sister and Tammy’s daughter, 28 year old daughter Ashley, are living. They had moved into the house to support Linda’s other daughter, Kate. So I went and interviewed them there at the house, and I found this whole family just really interesting. They’re incredibly generous, incredibly like just really, really nice, and they welcomed me in and they spoke about their family, and what Linda was like. Linda was a.. she was a one time counselor in the community. She was a cook at the site C Damn. She was known in the community for planning and cooking for events, and we just spoke about their experiences and it turned into like this story of this kind of inter generational story where you have the grandmother, Tammy’s mom, Tammy, and Linda’s mom who was abused during the construction of the WAC Bennett damn in the 1960’s. And then Tammy told me stories of her own experiences of sexual assault and harassment while working in industrial camps not too long ago. Those experiences kind of drove her away from working in industry. She’s now a land’s manager at her First Nations band, and I also spoke to her daughter Ashley, who was 28 and who has worked at sight, who has worked at sight C, and has also worked in the oil fields and she also had experiences of being sexually harassed by fellow employees, and then have nothing done about it. And ah, it was… I think for me it said a lot about the region. You know, oftentimes you hear a lot about inter generational drama in First Nations communities, and I feel like the story of the Watson women really exemplified that.
12:11 Jordan: The first thing that came to my mind when we realized we’re going to talk to you about this story is Justin Trudeau’s comments from last year about the gender studies at construction sites, and he took a lot of heat for those comments. Here you are, and it actually seems like a lot of that is backed up by both the evidence and what you’ve seen on the ground.
12:32 Kyle: Yeah, and I remember that a lot of workers, a lot of people in the industry who work in various resource industries were quite appalled by that comment, and you know, I should say that there are a lot of women who work in various industries, resource development industries that are very proud of the work that they do and you know, often this term man camps comes up among activists and land offenders. That was something I really tried to avoid in this story because it is very polarizing, and there are, as I mentioned in the story, there are a lot of things that can be put in place to regulate certain types of behavior in camps. Like a growing number of them are becoming dry, others incorporate things like drug and alcohol testing. But at the same time, I think one of the things that I constantly heard from woman in Fort St John was that, you know, we’d like to talk about these types of issues in other countries, but it’s also happening here in Canada. Issues like sexual violence, racism, sexual assault, harassment.
13:38 Jordan: How are the problems that can come up socially in these camps, entwined with the environmental concerns about them, at least in the minds of the people that are resisting?
13:49 Kyle: I think a lot of women I spoke to in Fort St John who were First Nations woman spoke about this idea that…. you know how you treat the land reflects how you treat women. Something I heard over and over again, it’s this idea that often times the workers that come to these areas have little to no connection with the people or place. They don’t really understand…. they don’t really have knowledge of indigenous culture or the cultural connection that first nations people have with with the land. So in a sense, they sort of, you know, devalue much like they devalue the land, they devalue indigenous woman. And this was something I heard from, you know, a commissioner at the national inquiry into missing and murder indigenous woman and girls. And this is something that they’re also looking into. This will be, I guess I’m not sure how big of an aspect will be of their final report, which is soon to come out. But they have looked into it.
14:56 Jordan: How do the local politicians and police treat this problem? Do they have a handle on it?
15:02 Kyle: I had reached out to the City Council office at Fort St John. They never got back to me. I also reached out to the RCMP many, many times throughout the month of April, and no one there had got back to me, so I’m not sure what their thoughts are on the story. But the crime in Fort St. John is is high. They have a sexual assault rate that is nearly double the Canadian average. They have a physical assault rate that is more than double the Canadian average. Crime has gone down however, from what I understand over the years they have been able to get additional policing in Fort. St John, but the numbers are still pretty alarming.
15:51 Jordan: Well how do you run a city or a town if you have no idea how many people are in it at any given time?
15:57 Kyle: Yeah, and that’s you know, one of the things that they are working on. Their are… I know for a fact that the city is working with academic institutions to try and quantify at least how many transient workers come to Fort St John to work.
16:11 Jordan: What kinds of resources exist on the ground their for women who have been victimized?
16:16 Kyle: So one of the places I went to is called the Fort St. John Woman’s Resource Society, and they offer support to to woman in the community, many of them indigenous woman, and they offer things like food and clothing, you know, hygiene supplies and everything like that, legal counsel. There are victim services in the city that offer counsel to survivors. There’s a lot of strain placed on these services because of the transient population. For example, the Fort St. John Woman’s Resource Society, they have been…. ever since sight C Dam was approved in 2014, they have been accepting more and more men into the center every year. So, for example, in 2014 the year site C was approved, Center welcomed 79 male clients. And this past year, that number had gone up to almost 2,000. It was kind of striking actually, because now they have a day… so every Wednesday they hold a thing called Men’s Day, where they kind offer… its a day specifically devoted to men, where they welcome men into the center, and offer them services that these men are having trouble finding elsewhere because, like even the local hospital, there’s so much; locals despise the wait times at the hospital, and this was a common concern that almost everyone told me about. So the woman’s research society really tried to step up, and offer, and welcome men into the center. And the executive director of the Society when I asked her why she thought this was necessary, she really felt that it was a way to educate men in a sense, kind of protect woman.
18:12 Jordan: So, like proactive outreach?
18:13 Kyle: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
18:16 Jordan: As these numbers and these stories sort of become more and more widely known, is anything changing? Do these camps look different? I mean we started this by you telling me stories that you heard from 40 years ago, that sounded a lot like the ones that are in your story today.
18:32 Kyle: Yeah, I I think one of the things that struck me is when I filed an FOY, freedom of information request to Manitoba Hydro to try and get a sense of what the issue is like today. The response I got was pretty revealing. In the past few years, there have been concerns in northern Manitoba, the same area as was in the 1960’s, where there is still a lot of hydro development. Where a woman had reported concerns of vehicles following young woman around in early morning hours. The response, documents that I had received detailed issues like sexual harassment and racism, physical and sexual contact against women. And I was kind of struck by this, that this was something; To me it felt like this was something that’s very ongoing, and I think that’s what a lot of activists and land offenders have been trying to say over the past year, as the Trans Mountain awaits approval is that when we build these industrial projects and put camps in these areas, you’re increasing the likelihood that woman might be victims of something terrible.
19:50 Jordan: You spoke to a lot of activists for this story. What do they want to see happen? Is there anything they think can be done to change the makeup of these towns or make them work better?
20:01 Kyle: Well, I think for the women in these stories, you know a lot of them I spoke to had worked in industry and they were kind of…. and it was kind of surprising because it’s the big job in the region. Where these projects are, it’s how a lot of people make a living. You know, they do offer opportunity to people, but at the same time, there’s a sense of fear of what that might bring. There’s a sense that these projects bring people who are unfamiliar with the area and might do terrible things to the women that lived there. And I think for the most part they would like to see projects like the site C stopped.
20:51 Jordan: Really, even though it would cost a town like Fort St. John a good chunk of its economy.
20:57 Kyle: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s really what they’re looking for.
21:00 Jordan: Their any indication that these projects will be slowing down anytime soon?
21:06 Kyle: I don’t think so. You know, one of the things that I found when I was writing this story is that the federal government has a way of assessing how projects, how different resort projects might affect vulnerable populations. It’s called a gender based analysis plus, and there was one done on the site C dam and 2014 but it is subject to Cabinet confidence, so nobody really knows what’s in there or what it says.
21:38 Jordan: So we just have to ask on the ground.
21:40 Kyle: Exactly.
21:41 Jordan: Thanks Kyle.
21:42 Kyle: Thank you so much.
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