June 12, 2009

Pt 1: Swine Flu in the North - For the first time in 41 years, the world is facing a global flu epidemic. Yesterday, the World Health Organization raised its alert level for the H1N1 or swine flu virus from five to six because of the growing number of infections. There are close to three thousand confirmed cases here in Canada.

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Pt 2: Peru Oil Standoff - We started this segment with some sound from earlier this week as security forces clashed with the mostly indigenous inhabitants of Peru's northern Amazon region.

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Pt 3: Rubber Duckie Death - When the full weight of summer hits and the air quality - in many places - takes a dive because of pollution and smog ... we head indoors, seal up our windows and take refuge in the hermetically sealed bubbles of our homes.

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It's Friday, June 12th.

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a law it hopes will boost car sales by giving consumers cash vouchers to buy vehicles that are more fuel-efficient.

Currently ... Toyota is confused but grateful.

This is The Current.

Swine Flu in the North

For the first time in 41 years, the world is facing a global flu epidemic. Yesterday, the World Health Organization raised its alert level for the H1N1 or swine flu virus from five to six because of the growing number of infections. There are close to three thousand confirmed cases here in Canada.

And the outbreak has hit Canada's remote First Nations reserves and Inuit communities particularly hard ... a concern raised earlier this week by top WHO officials who said a disproportionate number of severe cases were occuring in Canada's aboriginal communities, something that has happened in the past. Federal Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq spoke directly about those concerns yesterday. We aired a clip.

Of the three thousand confirmed cases in Canada, 143 of them are in Nunavut. Across the territory, many communities don't have the resources to test people who present symptoms of the virus. And some in those communities say they aren't getting enough information about how many cases there are and where they are showing up.

The CBC's Jackie Sharkey spoke to some of the residents of Rankin Inlet about their concerns.

In Manitoba, there are now 78 confirmed cases. And aboriginal leaders from the province's isolated Island Lake region say they are facing a crisis. More than 200 people from the Saint Theresa Point First Nation have fallen ill since the beginning of last week. Some have been flown to Winnipeg for treatment and two have been confirmed to have the H1N1 or swine flu virus. Two other cases have been confirmed at the nearby Garden Hill First Nation. David Harper is the Chief of the Garden Hill First Nation in Manitoba.We reached him there.

Spanish Flu Historian

There's no doubt that the poor living conditions and limited health care are putting some aboriginal communities at risk of the H1N1 or swine flu virus. But Doctor Anna Banerji says there are other factors to consider. Dr. Banerji specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at St. Michael's Hospital and the Dalai Llama School of Public Health in Toronto. Among other things, she has studied respiratory illness among Inuit children. And we asked her if First Nations and Inuit populations are at increased risk of contracting the H1N1 virus.

Back in 1918, the Spanish Flu Pandemic killed thousands of Canadians. And it took a disproportionally devastating toll on many First Nations and Inuit Communities. Mary-Ellen Kelm has studied the effect that virus had on First Nations people. She's the Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples of North America and she was in Vancouver.

Peru Oil Standoff - Ben Powless

We started this segment with some sound from earlier this week as security forces clashed with the mostly indigenous inhabitants of Peru's northern Amazon region.

Some of the worst violence took place at Devil's Pass, where an estimated 100 people were killed. The protests began in response to the Peruvian government's plan to open up previously protected areas of the Amazon to oil, gas and mineral exploration. Indigenous people say their rights are being trampled on and that the Amazon's fragile ecosystem will be destroyed. The government says that opening up the Amazon to resource extraction will bring in much-needed revenue and boost the local economy.

Ben Powless has been at the centre of the action. He's a native Canadian activist and he was near Bagua in the Peruvian Amazon.

Peru Oil Standoff - UN Ambassador

We made requests for an interview with a representative of the government in Peru, but were unsuccesful.

But Ambassador Gonzalo Gutierrez did agree to speak to us. He is Peru's Permanent Representative at the United Nations. We reached him at his home in New York City.

Peru Oil Standoff - Richard Heinberg

According to Richard Heinberg, there's a good chance we're going to see a lot more conflicts like this one. He is a Senior Fellow-in-Residence at the Post Carbon Institute and the author of Peak Everything and Blackout: Coal, Climate, and the Last Energy Crisis. Richard Heinberg was in Santa Rosa, California.

Rubber Duckie Death

When the full weight of summer hits and the air quality - in many places - takes a dive because of pollution and smog ... we head indoors, seal up our windows and take refuge in the hermetically sealed bubbles of our homes.

But according to our next guests, our indoor sanctuaries aren't as safe as we'd like to think ... not only is the air not clean, but our homes are full of everyday household products that carry harmful toxic pollutants.

Rick Smith is the Executive Director of Environmental Defence. And Bruce Lourie is the President of the Ivey Foundation, an environmental consulting firm. And to prove their point, they turned themselves into human guinea pigs for 48 hours to see what would seep into their systems - from the stuff all around them. They've documented the results in a new book. It's called Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects our Health. And Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie were in Toronto.

Last Word - Rubber Duckie

Before we go ... If Rick Smith and Bruce Lourie are onto something with their fear of phthalates and other toxins in everyday products ... then Ernie is going to have to change his habits. Yep. Ernie from Sesame Street ... famous for his love of bubble baths and his rubber duckie. Little does he know that he may be rubbing toxic chemicals onto himself and his rubber duckie friend in that bath tub of his. We ended the program today with some of his shockingly dangerous behavior.

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