British Columbia

Vancouver city council approves motion to plan for future heat waves after criticism

Vancouver city council has passed a motion to plan for future heat waves after B.C. saw a spike in sudden deaths during last month’s unprecedented heat dome.

City accused of 'lack of communication and urgency' during last month's deadly heat dome

A Vancouver construction worker uses a misting fan to cool down during a heat wave at the end of June. The city passed a motion Thursday to plan for future heat waves. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Vancouver city council passed a motion Thursday to plan for future heat waves after B.C. saw a spike in sudden deaths during June's unprecedented heat dome.

The motion, which passed unanimously, is in response to a July 5 memo to council from the City Planning Commission calling for action to help residents cope with the heat.

The BC Coroners Service reported 719 sudden deaths during the heat wave, triple the number that would normally be expected in the province in a week.

Some of the recommendations in the memo include ensuring 24-hour access to shaded parks during future heat waves, building more public water fountains and working with health providers to hand out air conditioners to low-income residents. City council referred the memo to city staff asking them to come up with both short-term and long-term recommendations to deal with extreme weather events.

Coun. Jean Swanson told council that someone had died in her building during the heat wave and later told CBC News the motion contained valuable recommendations.

"If we get another heat wave this summer, we need something to happen so that we don't lose so many people ... so we don't lose anybody. That would be the ideal," she said.

Children play in a Vancouver water park on June 28. Recommendations sent to city council include making sure people have access to shady parks and water. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Communication lacking, planning commissioner says 

The memo was authored by two city planning commissioners, Amina Yasin and Gabrielle Peters, and came about after Peters observed what she perceived to be multiple gaps in Vancouver's heat wave response while it was happening.

Peters says that racialized, disabled and poor people were disproportionately affected, due to years of city planning ensuring affluent neighbourhoods were cooler.

"It is not incidental that this memo was written by a Black woman who is a renter and lives in an urban heat island and a disabled white woman who lives in poverty in social housing," she said. "This is why it matters who is in a position to have input on policy and who is not."

Yasin said she observed a "lack of communication and urgency" in the city's response.

"A big part of the memo speaks to communication standards and communication tactics to employ for the next extreme weather situation or heat wave that we have," Yasin said. 

Yasin points to the U.S. Pacific Northwest states of Washington and Oregon, which also went through the heat wave that hit B.C., but saw much lower death counts.

"We can see that those neighbours of ours in the United States were just a lot more diligent with the way that they communicated the severity of the situation to their residents," she said.

A sign on a cooling centre during last month's heat wave. Planning commissioners want future emergency communication from the city to be in non-English languages (CBC)

The memo recommends future emergency communication from the city be provided in languages other than English (including braille), and be posted in a wide variety of spaces.

It also asks the city to work with TransLink to post emergency communications within public transit, and also to use phone-based systems to issue heat alerts.

Daniel Stevens, director of emergency management for the City of Vancouver, said that staff are already conducting a review into emergency management strategies following the heat wave.

"The first phase of this review took place this week, based on preliminary data available now. The outcomes of this first phase will be reported to council in the coming weeks," he said.