The Cohen Commission Final Report is available now. I suggest you download the full document because it will probably disappear rather quickly into federal archives to gather dust alongside other costly and ignored commission reports that faulted government policy.
The report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River is an extensive document, one that confirms Canada and British Columbia ignored precautionary principles when they promoted expansion of open net fish farms without regard for the effect on wild salmon populations.
Whereas BC Liberals were FOR SALE to the highest bidder, Stephen Harper’s government fits a description written by freelance writer Lawrence M. Ludlow:
“a particular subset of libertarians that champions anti-environmentalism, zeal for maximum fossil-fuel consumption, disregard for pollution, and worship of population growth for its own sake (and all that comes with it). At best, these libertarians merely fail to acknowledge the downside of their positions. At worst, they revel in them.”
The following was published here in January 2012. The opinions did not cost millions nor extend over more than 1,200 pages. Nevertheless, it is worth reading once more.
Regardless of its ultimate conclusions about the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon, the Cohen Commission‘s December hearings may have exposed the most critical of all issues: federal and provincial regulators operate for the present day benefit of industry, not for the public’s long term interest.
Dr. Alexandra Morton describes how the government of Canada has been managing wild salmon:
“Some diseases are clearly a threat to trade, and so the public is discouraged from knowing anything about them. Hatcheries are asked not to test, pathologists were hindered in trying to figure out why millions of Fraser sockeye are dying just before spawning and salmon farms are off limits to most researchers. The information about these diseases has to be tightly controlled.”
It is apparent that in Canada’s federal government, science does not influence policy; the reverse is true: policy dictates science. Political managers defend established positions zealously, treating people with adverse opinions as competitors to be suppressed or exterminated. Truthful science and prudent policy are victims; conquest of supposed foes becomes the paramount objective.
The Cohen Commission heard numerous examples. DFO scientist Dr. Kristi Miller worried that vital research resources would be seized and destroyed, senior officials misrepresented test results and intimidated staff; campaigns of slander and claims of professional misconduct were initiated. The strategy was to neutralize people deemed to be enemies. An example from the December hearings:
Question by Aboriginal Aquaculture Association lawyer Stephen Kellerher:
“…have you ever had a sense that there could be negative consequences to you professionally, financially, economically, politically, as a result of you exercising your independent professional scientific judgment?
Response by University of P.E.I. Professor of Virology Dr. Fred Kibenge, one of the world’s leading authorities on infectious salmon anaemia (ISA),
“I think so. I mean, this has been so public that my reputation and everything else is really in question. So, yeah, you can say that.”
When ISA virus researcher Dr. Are Nylund at U. of Bergen published findings that went against Norwegian corporate interests, he was accused of scientific misconduct, triggering investigations by his university and Norway’s National Commission for the Investigation of Research Misconduct. The Commission found unanimously that there had not been any serious breaches of good scientific practice.
Brock Martland, Associate Commission Counsel, referring to the now infamous “Battle is Won” memo written by CFIA Acting Regional Director Dr. Joseph Beres, stated:
“That language, that way of framing it is, “If there’s a hill to be won and we need to fight our way up it and win that battle,” suggests that CFIA is going into this with a hypothesis or with an end goal…”
Examination of federal and provincial strategies related to open net fish farming determines an inescapable conclusion. There is more than disinterest, there is a focused effort to subvert science when it conflicts with commercial goals. Accordingly, citizens should mistrust all work done by industry overseers such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and ask when regulators will next compromise public safety to favour commercial objectives.
The CFIA and DFO, with annual budgets totalling almost $3-billion, should be principal guardians, leading the identification and analysis of deleterious factors that menace the ocean ecology. Instead, they have had to be pushed and prodded by unfunded volunteers.
Of course, we’ve seen failures in regulation of food production previously at the federal level. The 2008 listeriosis outbreak tracked to a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Toronto resulted in 23 deaths and the subsequent Weatherill Report accused government agencies of “a void in leadership in managing the crisis.” Unfortunately, here on the west coast, DFO and CFIA management is fully engaged in preventing effective oversight and ocean resource management.
Gregory McDade and Lisa Glowacki, Counsel for Alexandra Morton and the Aquaculture Coalition, made an excellent submission to the Cohen Commission in late December, 2011. It is highly informative and a devastating indictment of DFO actions. For example, after testing at the Pacific Biological Station revealed presence of ISA in 2002-2004,
“DFO did not do further testing, or attempt to reproduce the results. Instead it buried the results completely for seven years. Instead it decided to not test any further wild salmon. This reaction is not consistent with the scientific method or a precautionary approach – rather it shows action of a political nature – denial and suppression of an inconvenient fact. In legal terms, it is known as willful blindness, also characterized in some circumstances as gross negligence.
“…Rather than turning their primary efforts to protection of the wild salmon, DFO and CFIA reacted against the initial reports of ISAv as a public relations and trade problem. They fell into a pattern of denial, delay and suppression…”