When politics and science diverge

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…”

08 – Aquaculture Coalition Submissions Re ISAV-Corrected { var scribd = document.createElement(“script”); scribd.type = “text/javascript”; scribd.async = true; scribd.src = “”; var s = document.getElementsByTagName(“script”)[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(scribd, s); })();

Categories: Fishery, Harper Government

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11 replies »

  1. When we live in a dictatorship regime, all our Civil Rights and Liberties are taken away from us. We have no say, what-so-ever. Another country's media said, how badly Harper is eroding Democracy in Canada. Canadians are wise to Harper's dirty tactics. He and Gordon Campbell frantically worked to dismantle BC, before Campbell got the boot.

    Harper's greed comes before our wild salmon. Norway is particularly offensive to Canada's eco systems. They even had the gall to divert a river, to their dirty tar sands project. Their filthy diseased fish farms are killing our wild salmon. The marine life under those dirty farms, totally kills all marine things that grow and live under them, and around them. What has Harper said? What have the Campbell/Clark BC Liberals said? Not one damned thing.

    Campbell's theft and sale of our rivers, has caused serious eco damage too. Important salmon runs totally destroyed. The Kokish River project, will destroy more salmon and also steelhead fish. BC shot 61 bears this past summer. The salmon is a staple for the bears, wolves, eagles and hundreds of wild life creatures. The salmon is depleted, so the bears came into towns to find, human garbage to eat. And they always lose the battle. The F.N. also need the salmon, to feed their people. They lost the battle too. Harper and the BC Liberals greed comes first again.

    Harper, Enbridge, Alberta, and China, have the gall to expect the BC province and the people, to be slapped in the face again. They actually want the BC citizens, to accept the Enbridge pipeline and the dirty tankers from China, into our seas and across our lands, rivers and streams. every other day, we have heard of more tanker spills, ships run aground, pipe spills and gas leaks into the Gulf again.

    The F.N. people and the thousands of other BC citizens, have had enough stolen from them, from Harper and the Campbell/Clark BC Liberals. Boessenkool can go to hell too.


  2. I wonder if Harper has actively appointed sycophantic mandarins into the upper management of DFO and CFIA to carry out his own political/ideological policies. Or perhaps policy is dictated by Harper through his ministers. No scientist or agency director of integrity would try to stifle research that is in the public's interest.

    In fact there have been resignations from various government agencies such as DFO, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, the Canada Research Council and others when Harper has muzzled or otherwise sought to control them. It's sad that we have lost many good public servants as a result.

    And if government workers continue to defy Harper they are dismissed – Linda Keen, chair of the CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) comes to mind as an example.

    I lament the current state of this great country.


  3. Norm,
    This disgrace of democracy and outright disregard for truth called the Cohen commission should cause and will cause canadians of any moral value to be further repulsed by Steven Harper's style of governance.
    It is so insulting to the intelligence of us all and to the hard work on our behalf by scientists who are dedicated to our wellbeing and the well being of our other species with whom we share this planet.
    With every day that passes we are, because of this governance,shattering our membership and long earned place as a caring and ethical nation.


  4. What Harper has done to the civil service of Canada has been enabled by the mainstream media.

    Ole asks the question (because he knows the answer) whether Harper has appointed sycophantic mandarins. Yes he has but the system itself also breeds them. This is how they get ahead. The culture of the organization is not hard-wired for excellence – mediocrity is what the organization seeks and servility (not of the public interest) is what it rewards. This is no different than what the BC mainstream media reporters have as their own process. They are borderline illiterate and wouldn't know what investigative journalism is. They work to please their corporate and political masters (the corporate ones are also the puppet masters of the politicians) and maybe, if they are really good and obscure the truth to evil ends, they will get a high paying appointment to PAB, or as one of Christy Clark's BFFs. The situation is far worse in the provincial Environment Ministry and other related departments. If one looks at where salary growth has skyrocketed, it is among the ranks of the very senior yes-men. No salary freezes for them. They have seen their salaries baloon to the +/- $200K range. Meanwhile, even senior, seasoned and competent (their downfall) scientists in those ministries make less than school teachers.

    Herein lies a dangerous marriage for our country. Earlier in my career at DFO, I could count on a competent media, sprinkled with integrity to undermine those who were evil. There was the odd senior person already (it really started with the Mulroney era) who would try to tell the staff that our job was to make the Minister look good (he was ignored, we knew our job was long-term conservation of the resource). Today, that situation is different. The lack of a competent, ethical media is not holding anyone's feet to the fire and rot can trickle down from Harper or Clark (Clark is not very clever and would not know how to initiate rot herself, she simply does what her puppet masters – now Harper's own “Enbridge Man” – tell her to do). That rot is now eating out the foundation of this country.


  5. Anonymous 06.23 put it very well.
    A wake up call if there ever was one – but of course, no one in the main stream media will say a thing. They are much too busy counting the piles of coins to worry about the real problems that attacking the very roots of democracy !



  6. It is interesting to note that scientists studying climate change in both Canada and the US are being treated in the same manner by government and mainstream media. Certainly not a healthy sign for democracy!


  7. I am also a former DFO person. My wife thought this was my comment. It isn't my comment but it is absolutely correct. I can even name the yes-men who we ignored. Don't know who the commenter is but he is clearly legit.
    Also spot on is the fact that the Mainstream Media have in fact been infected with the same quest for mediocrity (and they are pretty good at it).
    Today's “journalists” and “reporters” are the biggest threat to democracy that our country faces. And the senior mandarins at DFO (and ministry of environment) are a complete waste of taxpayer money.


  8. I'm sure that the “ignorant sheep” you are referring to here are the people who voted for Harper and his minions such as Kamp and Moore. Those would certainly be ignorant sheep because there was plenty of information out there where clever foxes would have seen Harper's undemocratic hidden Agenda.


  9. Time to start focusing not just on Harper but on those who give him seats in BC. Take a look for instance at James Moore, blind supporter of all that Harper does: Enbridge, DFO cuts, Coast Guard base closures, shut-down of environment canada's spill response capabilities.
    Then there is Randy Kamp, the guy who wouldn't even admit that the Cohen Commission findings should be a wake up call to his government. These guys act like they are entitled to their seats. They don't represent their electorate, they represent Harper to their electorate. A concerted campaign to unseat them is in order. That will take care of Harper along with his minions.


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