Resource Spotlight – SAR Autism Canada

Hyun Ho Cho is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

Search and Rescue (SAR) situations are ones that no one wants to experience, yet these services are welcomed by those who find themselves in these unfortunate situations. But for some, SAR can add an additional level of distress that pushes them further from safety.

Recently I had the opportunity of interviewing Shanyn Silinski, the director of Search and Rescue Autism in Canada. SAR Autism is a program that plans and prepares resources for responders when it comes to people with autism in the context of search and rescue operations. According to Silinski, people with autism can present particular behaviours that may make search and rescue efforts uniquely challenging. Most agencies and organizations both in the private and public sectors may not consider neurodiverse people when it comes to planning infrastructure and services.

Having guided caving and backpacking trips in the mountain parks, I have experienced this capability gap firsthand. Neurodiverse people and how we respond to them is a perspective that I myself had never considered in regards to contingency planning and public safety. In order to make Parks more accessible and inclusive, it is important to have the necessary services and background resources to make the experience of these places safe for all. This means training public safety teams and responders on how to respond to members of our community who are neurodiverse and providing access to preventative education for people who are neurodiverse.

Normal Doesn't Exist

Going into the interview, I will admit my previous background knowledge on autism was somewhat limited. Unfortunately, this is quite common. The large majority of Canadians have a general idea of what autism is, without any actual knowledge of how autistic people perceive the world or how this might affect the way they respond to their environments. As a result, services that cater to neurodiverse people are less available across the board. Oftentimes in the context of parks, neurodiverse individuals and other minority groups are overlooked when it comes to policies and services. This includes public safety. However innocent this oversight may be, this affects many Canadians. When we look at the numbers this excludes quite a large segment of our population. According to Public Health Canada, an estimated 1 in 66 Canadian children have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and that’s just the kids. That means approximately 540,000 Canadian citizens may not have access to the services they need in our parks.

Neurodiversity: How Does it Work? Why Does it Matter?

Before my conversation with Shanyn, I didn’t really understand what the word “neurodiversity” meant. In preparation for the interview, like any good millennial, I googled it. Let’s start with a definition. Merriam Webster’s dictionary has 3 definitions of the term neurodiversity. They are as follows:

  1. Individual differences in brain functioning regarded as normal variations within the human population.
  2. The concept that differences in brain functioning within the human population are normal and that brain functioning that is not neurotypical should not be stigmatized.
  3. The inclusion in a group, organization, etc. of people with different types of brain functioning.

Because neurodiversity refers to the variations in brain functioning across the human population as a whole, it refers to a broad range of behaviours and responses that apply to us all at varying degrees – not just people with autism, or other behavioural conditions. Neurodiversity, then, is just as much a part of someone’s identity as their skin colour, gender identity, sexual orientation, and physical ability.

If we are to make Canadian parks a more inclusive environment for all, it is imperative then that we make an effort to include individuals who are more neurodiverse, just as we would someone with a physical disability or a minority group. Individuals who are more neurodiverse should have services and amenities available to them on par with the rest of park users; parks leaders should not expect individuals who are more neurodiverse to adapt to our current park’s infrastructure. That may not always be possible. It means our parks or parts of them must change to accept and welcome these individuals.

What About Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder, or autism, is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain development.  The result is that most individuals experience communication problems, difficulty with social interactions and a tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour. They may also have a markedly restricted range of activities and interests.
Autism Canada

In our interview, Silinski spoke to how people with autism may perceive the world differently from those of us who are more neurotypical. Specifically, she spoke to how people with autism may require extremely detailed descriptions and instructions in order to complete a task or recognize a situation. For example, individuals with autism may not recognize what being lost looks like without being told specific characteristics of what being lost feels like. Consequently, they may wander even further from where they were last seen. 

Photo courtesy of C Valdez / Unsplash.com

Another example Silinski used was that of the “Hug a Tree” program for children, where individuals were instructed to hug a tree if they got lost. Where a neurotypical person might be able to read into the implied context of an instruction, an autistic person may not. Take, for example, the instruction “hug a tree if you’re lost.” Even without any further context, most people would be able to gather that the reason for this is so that they don’t wander, which makes it easier for responders to locate them. An autistic person, on the other hand, might instead fixate on what constitutes a huggable tree. In most situations, the implied meaning must be explicitly stated in order for them to fully understand the “why” of the instruction.

Additionally, individuals who have autism may bolt unexpectedly from unfamiliar situations or situations with too many stimuli. Oftentimes individuals with autism prefer familiar environments, objects, and people – in short, stimuli that they are accustomed to. This can be problematic in many rescue scenarios that have stimuli like flashing lights, bright colours, loud noises and hazards.

What Can Happen?

According to Silinski, because autistic individuals may respond differently to a crisis or an emergency situation, this can have a number of implications that responders may not be well trained to respond to. Oftentimes they retreat from rescuers or a safe location during a crisis, especially if it is unfamiliar or overstimulating. An example Silinski used was a building fire in the United States where everyone was evacuated safely from the building to a safe secondary holding area. However, one of the individuals who was rescued had autism. When transferred to the safe secondary holding area, they found it overwhelming and overstimulating and ran back to a familiar space, that space being the burning building.

Photo courtesy of Obi Onyeador / Unsplash.com.

Instances like these are called secondary incidents and are easily preventable with training on how to recognize and respond to signs of autism. Oftentimes people with autism will try to return to a place that makes them feel safe or that is familiar to them, even if that place is more dangerous than where they currently are. To an average responder, this may not be common knowledge and thus they may not be able to respond accordingly. Additionally, without understanding how an individual with autism perceives and recognizes safety we cannot make them feel safe in a crisis or emergency.

Inclusion As a Solution

That’s where SAR Autism comes in. SAR Autism aims to educate people with autism and give them back ownership of their own outdoor experiences so that they can recognize and prevent emergency situations. Additionally, they run courses for agencies, responders and volunteers on how to respond when an autistic person is lost or in an emergency situation. For example, having a “first aid kit” for neurodiverse individuals with items that they can stimulate themselves with to feel more at ease once they are found, or search methods that are less overwhelming for neurodiverse individuals and people with autism. By educating people with autism on how to be more proactive about their safety outside and teaching them how to recognize certain situations, like how to recognize when they are lost or what a rescue looks like, SAR Autism can help increase the chances of a successful recovery on both ends of the rescue.

By making spaces inclusive and safe for autistic people we can actually make parks a safer and more inclusive space for all. Silinski posits that by making spaces feel safe and inclusive for people with autism, we also make those spaces inclusive for a diverse range of individuals. Quiet safe spaces can help people healing from trauma, newcomers who want a more authentic experience of their surroundings, and Indigenous peoples who want to reconnect with their traditional lands. In sum, by making these spaces more accessible it does a service to all, with minimal impact to the existing visitor experience.  

What other safety resources do you know of that help achieve inclusivity in parks? Let us know in the comments below!

Webinar Summary – Healthy Parks Healthy People

Healthy Parks Healthy People Webinar

Healthy Parks Healthy People (HPHP) is an international initiative aimed at increasing the overall health and wellness of individuals through positive interactions with nature. The goal of HPHP, according to Ontario Parks, is to “use health to engage people with parks who may not be otherwise engaged and increase awareness of health benefits of parks with the overarching goal of improving health of Ontarians.” This webinar focused on evaluating the efficacy of HPHP as an initiative through community and stakeholder feedback and in situ surveying on parks premises.

Presenters

  • Anne Craig, Ontario Parks
  • Catherine Reining, Wilfred Laurier University

5 Key Takeaways

  1. After five years of the HPHP program being implemented by Ontario Parks, they held a large public consultation in 2019 with largely positive feedback.
  2. Some engagement and communication strategies of HPHP focused on signature events that links parks with health, such as days for free access to parks and challenges to spend time outside. HPHP-themed social campaigns, such as those around mental health, were some of the most popular topics.
  3. Some of the key barriers to accessing the benefits of HPHP include affordability, transportation, accessibility for diverse audiences, the need for more time, and the need for more green space and continued protection of green space.
  4. Research on the role parks and protected areas play in health promotion found that 95% of respondents felt visits to natural areas were important for improving wellbeing and health.
  5. Research found that high restorative outcomes were experienced by participants, irrespective of length of stay, and environment type is not a determining factor. However, the perceived quality of the environment experienced was important.

Webinar Summary – Parks Day: Past, Present, Future

Parks Day CPCIL Webinar

The first Parks day, back in 1990, was based on a paper commissioned by the Canadian Parks council which provided an opportunity for all public parks to participate in the celebration of parks and their role in natural and cultural heritage conservation in Canada, and to increase public awareness and support for parks. From here, Parks day emerged, and has changed throughout the years and looks different for different jurisdictions. This webinar explores these different contexts and perspectives of these jurisdictions.

Presenters

  • Nic DeGama-Blanchet, Friends of Fish Creek Provincial Park, Alberta
  • Caroline Ipeelie-Qiatsuk, Nunavut Parks and Special Places, Qikiqtaaluk Region
  • Tobi Kiesewalter, Ontario Parks, Learning and Discovery Program
  • Michael Nadler, Parks Canada External Relations and Visitor Experience

5 Key Takeaways

  1. For Fish Creek Provincial Park, Parks Day is run by community volunteers so that it can involve a great number of people. Park isn’t merely a space, but rather becomes so because of the relationship people have with that place. 
  2. In Nunavut Parks, Parks Day is utilized as an opportunity to highlight the local cultures’ deep ties to the land and expand the outdoor classroom. For example, they showcase cultural activities like drum dancing, throat singing, tea and bannock, and fried fish.
  3. For Ontario Parks, the concept of Parks Day has melded with the Healthy Parks, Healthy People movement, however the spirit of Parks day is still present as a way to engage people with Parks who might have been otherwise uninterested
  4. Parks Days were collectively seen as an opportunity to host discussions about Reconciliation, equity, and how to keep these conversations and relationships going year round.
  5. All panelists connected with the element of human connection to the land. The future of Parks Day is seen as an opportunity for people to celebrate this connection and contribute to part of a broader national identity.

Reconciliation – A Review of ‘Ha Ling Peak’

Preview image of Ha Ling Peak documentary by Brian Zimmerman

By Ebany Carratt

Ebany Carratt is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

Growing up in Saskatchewan, I always had a strong appreciation for the Rockies. Every summer since I can remember, my family would make our yearly pilgrimage to the Banff area where my brothers and I would make a game of trying to accurately name every mountain that we could see outside of our car window. Approaching our stay in Canmore was always the best part and we’d frequently try to petition reasons to live there permanently to our parents, with little success. Nestled in a valley surrounded by gorgeous snow-capped limestone peaks, I always assumed Canmore was the perfect place to live. So I was shocked to learn in my early 20s that one of my favourite features, Ha Ling Peak, was not always called by that name.

Aerial view of Ha Ling, Canmore, Alberta.
Aerial view of Ha Ling. Photo by Wikimedia Commons User Kevin Lenz

According to the documentary ‘Ha Ling Peak’ by Bryce Zimmerman that aired on CBC in 2018, the story goes that a Canadian Pacific Railway cook named Ha Ling climbed the mountain in under 10 hours for a bet. Impressed by his abilities, the townspeople of Canmore decided to name the peak after him, but unfortunately, through time the mountain lost his given name and was simply referred to as “Chinaman’s Peak” well into the 1990s despite the term being a well-known racial slur. 

It took months for people like Roger Mah Poy, a long term resident and school teacher in Canmore, to publicly debate and educate people on why the name should be changed and how the term “chinaman” deprives Chinese people of their humanity, of their names. Looking to his children as a motivator for his activism, he said, “I want them to grow up in a world where it shouldn’t matter their racial background”.

It wasn’t easy to get public approval on changing the name, and even today, some still refer to the peak by the old name. The name change is something that I am personally glad happened, as I have never known the peak as anything other than Ha Ling Peak.

Reconciliation In Action

Not only did this documentary help me become more aware of what reconciliation looks like in action, but it also made me think more on the ways that names, especially when associated with places, hold so much political and historical power. It makes you question what power dynamics are at play when place naming occurs. Despite the success of renaming the peak to Ha Ling, it’s important to become aware that even before colonialism and before Ha Ling, Indigenous people had names for these places. They had emotional, traditional, and spiritual connections to those names that are unknown to people like me who only know one version of history.

Yet, through reconciling with the communities who have been harmed through exclusion and allowing them to play active roles in deciding what ways to reach reconciliation, we can change the narrative so that younger generations will know these histories naturally and understand the diverse world views that have existed before we settled here. Even Mah Poy said he approached the renaming of the peak with “ambivalence” because he was conscious of the fact that there was an Indigenous name for that peak, and a lovely story behind it. 

A Work in Progress

Despite the peak being renamed in 1997, many places within Alberta alone hold offensive, derogatory, or exclusionary names that Indigenous communities want to change. And while we’ve had some success especially in 2020 with the new naming of Upper Stoney Trail and Bald Eagle Peak, there is still much work to be done. For years the Stoney Nakoda people have been lobbying to change Tunnel Mountain to Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain (translation), with little success. We need to take this time to question the ways that supposedly inoffensive names (like tunnel mountain) or perceptions of nature/ethical place maintain a system of exclusion and inequality. 

View of the town of Canmore from the summit of Ha Ling. Photo by Bryce Zimmerman.
View of the town of Canmore from the summit of Ha Ling. Photo by Bryce Zimmerman.

It is my hope that through my series of blog posts exploring what reconciliation means through a consideration of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the Indigenous Circle of Experts Report (ICE), and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report (TRC); that I can highlight the many different ways that we can achieve reconciliation by including Indigenous people, cultures, world views, and approaches to conserving the land into every aspect of national parks. 

 

Human-Wildlife Coexistence Programs You Should Know About

By Rachel Goldstein

Rachel Goldstein is part of a team of CPCIL Research and Knowledge Gatherers producing content and compiling resources on themes such as inclusion, ecosocial justice, partnerships, conservation, organizational sustainability, climate change and biodiversity, connection to nature, conservation financing, and ecotourism, to support effective and equitable leadership and inclusion in parks and protected areas across Canada. These positions are funded by Canada’s Green Jobs Program and supported by Project Learning Tree.

As a Canadian, I’ve had the privilege of coexisting with wildlife from a very young age. Spending my summers at Charleston Lake Provincial Park (CLPP) in Ontario, I would anxiously await the early signs of summer, not only for the warm temperatures, but because that is when the turtles would begin making their annual pilgrimage to the perfect nesting spot. Driving to CLPP, where I eventually started working as a naturalist, I was often late because I had stopped yet again to help a snapping turtle safely cross the road (which, it turns out, is a valid excuse for a naturalist to be late). Later in my life, I moved to Alberta, where I could observe grizzly bears rearing their cubs and foraging for berries. I got to hear elk bugle and was once lucky enough to see a lynx carefully picking its way across the Icefields Parkway. 

The one thing that united all of these positive experiences is they were all on my terms. I chose to observe or interact with wildlife. Coexisting with wildlife is never as glamorous when a racoon topples your garbage bin or a grey ratsnake decides to set up camp in your shed. In these instances, it no longer feels like coexisting; it feels like conflict. But in reality, we do not get to decide when to peacefully coexist and when to evict an endangered snake from a shed-turned-hibernaculum. It is in these instances that I remind myself that the wildlife is not encroaching on me, I have encroached on wildlife.

From Conflict to Coexistence

When I began my research into the topic of human-wildlife coexistence (HWC), I originally thought of the ‘C’ in HWC as ‘conflict’. I had always looked at this topic as resolving the conflict between humans and wildlife. The more I delved into HWC and re-examined my own relationship with wildlife, however, the more I realized it is not conflict resolution we should be seeking, but coexistence. My research quickly led me down the path of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK)[1]. In parks and conservation, greater effort is being made to move beyond the colonial approach to conservation and towards traditional knowledge. In a way, we are moving backwards from colonial conservation and reverting to a way of conservation that Indigenous people have been facilitating for millennia. When I began to look at human-wildlife coexistence from a TEK lens, it became clear that the problem is not that humans and wildlife exist in the same space, the problem is that we do not know how to harmoniously coexist in this space.

Elk on road with vehicles in Banff National Park.
Photo by Touann Gatouillat Vergos / Unsplash.com

Human-wildlife conflict is defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) HWC Task Force as something that “occurs when animals pose a direct and recurring threat to the livelihood or safety of people, leading to the persecution of that species. Retaliation against the species blamed often ensues, leading to conflict about what should be done to remedy the situation”[2]. In recent decades, HWC has shifted from a narrative of ‘problem’ animals to an anthropocentric narrative of human-human conflict. The IUCN considers HWC as an issue of multiple stakeholders including conservationists, parks, Indigenous communities, farmers, landowners, tour companies, and so on, with conflicting interests over the land and wildlife. The diversity of stakeholders coupled with the diversity of wildlife has led to a need for multiple approaches to HWC, even within Canada.

Human-wildlife coexistence can take many forms, as can the conflicts that arise from such coexistence. HWC can have significant impacts on human and wildlife welfare, both positive and negative. Some negative impacts include loss of biodiversity, diminished ecosystem health, loss of human life, disease transmission, economic losses, particularly relating to agriculture and farming, and, in extreme circumstances, species extinction. Positive impacts are often less tangible and can include ecosystem services, increased human mental and physical wellbeing, economic growth due to tourism, increased empathy towards wildlife, and connection to nature [3,4].

HWC Programs You Should Know About

Across Canada, different programs have been developed to assist with HWC so that conservation and human activity are both prioritized, without one taking undue precedence over the other. These programs range in every way imaginable; they are diverse in order to accommodate the diverse ecology of Canada. Wildsmart in the Bow Valley, AB focuses on unavoidable human encounters with wildlife when recreating in the area. The Eco-Whale Alliance in the Saguenay-St. Lawrence Marine Park provides resources for whale-watching guides and tour companies so that they may be sustainable stewards of the land, rather than simply consumers. The Polar Bear Alert Program in Churchill, MB, protects townspeople and tourists from the annual migration of polar bears through the town towards arctic sea ice, while ensuring safe passage for the bears. 

These HWC programs are running across Canada, boosting tourism economy, protecting people and wildlife alike, and improving the way we coexist with the land. This series of posts profiles the unique and necessary work being done by HWC programs for our benefit. Though there is no single solution to navigating wildlife coexistence, these programs are allowing us to move towards a more peaceful and harmonious relationship with nature.

What programs facilitating human-wildlife coexistence do you think should be highlighted? Please provide the name of the organization in the space below.

Unearthing Restorative Justice in a Parks Setting

By Capstone Team E – Travis Halliday, Maria O’Hearn, Kelly Stein, Jennifer Szakacs

This project was completed as part of the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program, an applied leadership program exploring transformative leadership approaches to complex park issues and concepts.

Restorative justice is a criminal justice approach with the goal of healing both victim and offender.  It aims for participation with all involved while holding offenders responsible for their actions and encouraging introspection of the cause of their behaviour.

This approach is increasingly being applied across Canada leading to better outcomes for both victims and offenders. However, its application in a parks and protected areas context in Canada is unknown.

Our objective as a capstone team in the CPCIL Park Leaders Development Program was to pull the curtain back to find out if and how the process is used within our parks collective. This would result in a snapshot of the current state of restorative justice that others looking to venture down this road could access.

Photo by Ben den Engelsen / Unsplash

Our preliminary research of journals, news articles and other online resources turned up very little on the use of restorative justice within a parks context. So were we boldly going where no one has gone before? A bit more time plus a thorough jurisdictional review and numerous interviews would tell.

We set out to delve deeper into restorative justice application in a conservation context to get a baseline of usage from jurisdictions across Canada. Our online survey posed questions to the Canadian Parks Council network like:

  • Who is using restorative justice?
  • What cases are referred?
  • What training is used?
  • What challenges are faced?

So, did we boldly go into uncharted territory? Most certainly. We received six responses from across the country, five of which do not use restorative justice and one respondent applies restorative justice in a marine conservation context.  The responses received, along with the fairly low response rate, indicates that restorative justice is not widely used in parks and protected areas.

However, our interviews with subject matter experts show that restorative justice is applied in other contexts, such as offences involving wildlife and natural resource-related enforcement. This presents an opportunity to build a restorative justice program for parks and protected areas by basing it on these related programs.  There is more work that can be done to dig deeper.

Bull elk bugling in a grass field with elk herd.
Photo by Briana Touzour / Unsplash

Recommendations for further work to promote the use of restorative justice in parks and protected areas across Canada include:

  1. Follow up with survey respondent from the jurisdiction currently applying restorative justice to build a case study.
  2. Develop case studies in related fields such as wildlife offences which could provide the groundwork for developing restorative justice programs in parks and protected areas.
  3. Promote the use of restorative justice in parks and protected areas across Canada through the Canadian Parks Council network.
  4. Start a forum devoted to restorative justice on the CPCIL website to facilitate information exchange among interested practitioners.
  5. Consider revisiting this topic to explore how restorative justice is applied in 5-10 years.


The benefits of restorative justice are far-reaching yet underutilized in parks and protected areas. So we have a mission for a future capstone team: to go boldly into this new world of restorative justice in a parks and protected areas context. We are keen to see what the future holds.

What restorative justice programs or examples have you heard of? Let us know in the comments below.

Ontario Parks shares Jurisdictional Scan on Sign Guidelines among Canadian Parks Council agencies

Amanda Schroeder, Policy Development Intern with Ontario Parks, shared a recently completed summary of a jurisdictional scan on sign guidance within CPC park agencies. The document was completed with support from park staff in Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, and Parks Canada. Other agencies may have additional guidelines but were unable to participate in the scan.

From the introduction:

In the interest of creating formal guidance on park signage, Ontario Parks put forward a request for information to Canadian Parks Council members in the summer of 2018. Park agencies were asked whether they had a manual or similar guidance for symbols and sign specifications. Several responses were received and are outlined in the following document.

Responses vary from agency to agency based on their environment, policy and legislation. Please be advised that not all details are provided in this document. One should contact the respective agency to obtain further information.
Ontario Parks would like to thank the park agencies that provided responses to our inquiry. We hope that this information will prove valuable.

Ontario Parks Jurisdictional Scan on Sign Guidelines

The document includes information on the presence or absence of sign guidance, details of guidelines, and contact information. It would be useful for park infrastructure and maintenance, planning, visitor experience, way finding, and management.

Link to Resource in CPCIL Training and Resource Directory:

https://cpcil.ca/resource-inventory/17376/jurisdictional-scan-on-sign-guidance-within-the-canadian-parks-council