By Abhisha Sakthievel
Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, was celebrated worldwide by nearly a billion people on October 24. A holiday mainly celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, and Jains, Diwali is a 5-day celebration. This year, it started on October 22 and ended on October 26.
“Diwali is about light over darkness, good over evil, and the human ability to overcome,” according to the Times of India. It is also associated with the Goddess of Prosperity, Lakshmi.
At 6:18 in the morning on the 24th, Environment Canada (EC) made an air quality statement for the sudden increase in air pollution expected in the GTA, Brampton, and Mississauga later that night because of the Diwali fireworks.
The original warning said, "High levels of air pollution are expected this evening into the overnight hours. A SPECIAL AIR QUALITY STATEMENT is in place because of the possibility of deteriorating air quality because of fireworks for Diwali... Weather conditions are expected to cause increasing levels of air pollution."
Many people were upset as they did not make the statement before and felt like it singled Diwali out. Natasha Goel, a Ph.D. student at UofT, who was interviewed by CBC earlier this week, said the statement was shocking.
"Other holidays, which are also marked by fireworks, have not been singled out for their effects on air quality," she said.
Many other people were also concerned about why the warning wasn’t made on Canada Day, New Years’ or Victoria Day. Krista Coughlin, a sports broadcaster, stated, "I have never seen an air quality warning because of fireworks for Canada Day or... NYE, only Diwali. If air quality statements for fireworks are now a thing, it’s incredibly problematic to roll this out for the first time today."
At around 2:30 that afternoon, Environment Canada removed "Diwali" from their original statement, changing it to "tonight’s meteorological conditions" that could lead to deteriorating air quality.
But, on the other hand, many people have also expressed their desire to ban fireworks all together with petitions gaining more signatures daily.
A few hours after the original statement, EC released another statement explaining their reasoning for the alert.
The agency explained that fireworks set off when the temperatures are dropping have a greater impact on our communities based on weather conditions in the colder seasons when compared to the fireworks on Canada Day and Victoria Day.
"While fireworks take place year-round, including for Canada Day, the impact of particle emissions from fireworks can be greater [on our communities] during weather conditions in the fall and the winter when temperature inversions can trap harmful particles caused by pollutants, including fireworks and wood-burning stoves, in the air for longer periods of time," they clarified.
"The alert on October 24 was not meant to reflect negatively on those who are celebrating Diwali, and we regret the impact it has had on these communities. [Environment Canada and Climate Change Canada] acknowledges that the alert should have been more culturally sensitive and should not have referred to the specific event."
In the end, it was revealed that the air quality warning was made to warn sensitive groups about the fog caused by the dropping temperatures and firework smoke so that they could protect their health. EC has further stated that they will now take future actions to assure this type of incident doesn’t happen again.