B.C. district postpones climate events, citing intimidation, safety, misinformation

·3 min read

NELSON, B.C. — A British Columbia regional district has postponed a series of climate action open houses, citing safety concerns and fears of intimidation.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay in southeast B.C. said the open houses had previously been scheduled to take place from next week until July, but making the "difficult decision" to delay them was the only responsible course of action.

It means adoption of the district's climate action plan will also be delayed.

"We understand the disappointment this (postponement) may cause, however, we firmly believe prioritizing the safety of our staff, attendees, and the community as a whole is paramount," the district said in a statement issued Thursday.

The statement does not describe the nature of the intimidation, but the district said its draft climate guidance plan has been the subject of online misinformation that had caused confusion and misunderstandings.

The news release also disavows the concept of 15-minute cities as part of the plan.

The 15-minute city concept advocates placing community amenities and facilities close to where people live, but has been the subject of conspiracy theories that it's part of a plan to restrict freedom of movement around the world.

Edwin Hodge, a sociologist at the University of Victoria who studies conspiracy theories, said they have a long history of affecting local politics and policies.

"It's not unique, but it is interesting to see it kind of manifest in this extreme way," he said of the situation in the Kootenay region.

"We do see this a lot where people may engage in their social media networks (and) they may engage in a lot of sort of global, cross-border or national discourse, but they act in local ways," he said in an interview Friday.

The idea of 15-minute cities is about making communities more walkable, he said.

Contemporary conspiracy theories often involve the "reframing of what are ostensibly thought experiments or even simple public policy proposals" into ideas the group in question is opposed to, Hodge said.

"It takes a lot of different forms," he said. "These days, a lot of it is rooted in anti-vax or climate change denialist rhetoric."

Dan Elliott, communications coordinator for the district, said the threats were not directly related to the 15-minute city concept.

"We were just trying to add some clarification to some of the messaging that's been shared across the public and social media. That seems to be a hot topic, so we just wanted to clarify that for some people," Elliott said in an interview Friday.

He said some comments made online and at public events had caused concerns about safety, but he did not expand on what those were.

Elliott said the district is aiming to reschedule the open houses for next month.

The district's statement said its board will not be adopting the climate action plan in August 2023 as originally planned.

"This decision aims to provide staff members with additional time to present recommendations for a revised timeline for public consultation," it said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2023.

The Canadian Press