SOLIDARITY from Sikniktuk Mi’kma’ki to Wet’suwet’en Territory

The so-called dangerous RCMP “precedents” in Wet’suwet’en are actually standing operational policy.

by Ann Pohl, Part 2 of 2
The people in the photo above are the stragglers who were still around when we remembered to take a photo.
NOTE: Most photos in this blog are poor quality. Except where otherwise credited,
they are
screenshots from this video OR this video.

 

Responding to the Call:

From the moment of the Wet’suwet’en call-out for international solidarity actions, we Sikniktuk water protectors knew we had to do something.

What the Wet’suwet’en were going through, on the opposite coast of Canada, was all too familiar to us. It is wrong. Both their territory and ours are unceded. In both cases the Indigenous People’s were saying “no” to the proposed industry on their lands. In both cases there are several Supreme Court of Canada decisions that specifically establish the rights of Indigenous people to protect the resources on these unceded territories. We both met unconscionable aggressiveness and disrespect from the RCMP. These are just of few of our similarities.

This solidarity message from Unist’ot’en meant a lot to us, back in 2013.

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We faced the RCMP as corporate enforcers for the fracking company SWN Resources Canada everyday, for seven months, in Kent County NB/Sikiniktuk Mi’kma’ki, (aka “Rexton” or “Elsipogtog”). Things got especially rough in mid-October, which is when this message arrived.

In the first few weeks of our protracted defence of our water, back in June 2013, we met local RCMP on the frontline. Then we started seeing RCMP troops coming in from outside Sikniktuk. Here is a map of our Mi’kmaq district, from  this Radio-Canada link). 161109_lm5tg_territoire-revendication_sn1250

The local RCMP officers were back at the station. Scuttlebutt, aka “mocassion telegraph” or “grapevine news”, was that it was too hard for local RCMP to meet their extended family and neighbours on the frontline. The official line was they were needed for “regular duties.”

The imported RCMP troops chased us around for months. In mid-October, with days of precision planning including the apparent use of provocateur agents and infilitrators, the RCMP servants to the government of New Brunswick and SWN invaded our non-violent camp on Route 134 in Rexton. They said it was to enforce SWN’s corporate civil law injunction based on a SLAPP suit and extraordinary claims for damages.

Actually the RCMP invasion was all about rescuing the SWN “thumper” seismic testing truck that was being held behind a barricade by peaceful water protectors. The purpose of that equipment was to find the best place to start drilling, in order to frack for shale gas. Our primary strategy since June was non-violently resisting, by standing or sitting in front of the trucks, to stop the company from collecting this data.

When they invaded our camp on October 17, 2013, the RCMP imported 200 or so tactical and riot control RCMP. They came from at least four different divisions, if we go by their different outfits.

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There were issues about RCMP conduct from the get-go. Based on these, the Civilian Commission mandated to review and report on RCMP complaints struck a Public Interest Investigation by the end of July. Complaints sky-rocketed after October 17th.

As the Commission’s investigation got underway, they met stalls and run-arounds, blank responses and inconsistencies. These raised more questions, and the Chairperson of the Civilian Commission filed his own complaint to the RCMP. “The December 17, 2014, Chair-initiated complaint will examine the conduct of those members who responded to, or managed the response to, the Kent County shale gas protests in 2013, including a policy and practice perspective,” says their website.

Countless people were “caught and released,” driven away from the protests and let go, sometimes in difficult circumstances. Over a hundred people in all were arrested. Some served jail time. Many were released on “conditions” that required them to stay away from protests, even our events and meetings. More than two dozen were actually named in the two SLAPP suits that formed the legal basis for the injunctions. Many of us SLAPPed had to countenance the threat of losing what we own, to make up for SWN’s so-called “damages” due to our resistance.

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My SLAPP suit paperwork. 22 other people also got this.

None of us can forget how the RCMP acted and manipulated, the dehumanizing and viciousness. As the resistance built, the Indigenous water protectors led the way, and bore the real brunt of the resistance at the hands of the RCMP and the rest of the “justice” system.

For all of us, especially the Acadians and Anglo settlers in our unified movement, this was an eye-opener, about how the Corporatocracy of Canada operates. Those who still had some faith in our “democracy” (where politicians respond to grassroots peoples’ views) were deeply shaken in 2013.

In response to the call for action from Unist’ot’en last week, we immediately decided to gather mid-day on the road by the RCMP station in Richibucto. This station is closest to where the massive RCMP invasion of our water protection movement happened a little over five years ago.

Outside the RCMP station, January 8, 2019

While it was clear why, when and where we would rally in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en People, what we would do was not. We did not expect many people. In this sparsely populated rural area, many people live close to the edge financially and do not have gas money to spare. The plan was for midday on a Tuesday. It was -20C outside. There was no way we could build a fire to stay warm in front of the cop shop!

But, the real reason we did not expect many people goes much deeper. To this day, many of our water protectors are still affected by the “state” coming down so heavy on them. To say our communities were traumatized and embittered by all of this is not an overstatement.

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For starters, I had not notified the RCMP of our intent to gather at their station. So, there we were, in their parking lot with banners, signs and flags. I knew we had to go into the station and explain why we were outside. I expected no trouble with this. Though some newbies cycle through this RCMP detachment, the regulars at this station live and work in this area. These are our local guys. The ones we call for domestic, vehicle, theft, and other issues. It was their water and communities we were protecting, as well as our own. …In their hearts, they know this.

My worldview insists that inside everyone there is a conscience, though sometimes this is turned off by training, or by bitter experience. Above all, we had to try to communicate somehow with the RCMP so they could feel what their actions do to people. They must not be allowed to avoid understanding the consequences of their actions. This is the only way we can hope to rehumanize some of them, to reclaim them for the hard immediate work we have as a species, which is to change our behaviour, to save our single and only beloved shared planet.

I asked the first half dozen arrivals: who wanted to go in with me? All seemed willing. As the cleansing Smudge passed, I became fully aware that each of us had something important to say to the RCMP about why we were there. I proposed we all go in to do that.

We entered the RCMP detachment station in Richibucto, a large group, overfilling the waiting room lobby. (Eventually there were twenty of us.) I walked up to the recpetionist’s window and explained we were the people rallying outside with the signs and all, and we would like to speak with the most senior person in the station.

A few moments later, Cpl. Dan Melanson came into the lobby and introduced himself. I said we were gathered outside in solidarity with the non-violent Wet’suwet’en water protectors and land defenders, and presented him with the pre-invasion statement from their Clan Leaders.

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Wela’lin APTN reporter Angel Moore for being present and tweeting this photo.

He said that “over here in New Brunswick, we do not know too much about this issue.” I said his heavily militarized riot and tactical RCMP colleagues in British Columbia had just forcibly entered Wet’suwet’en unceded territory to enforce an corporate injunction. This news took many of us here in Kent County/Siknitktuk back to 2013, when we experienced the same thing. We had come to share what we feel about this.

We agreed to talk while standing in a circle in the lobby. I asked him to make notes of what we said, and pass these up the line of command., explaining we want to hear back from the leadership in the RCMP what they have to say about the points each of us would be making. He agreed to do that. Cpl. Melanson has since emailed me to say he has done as requested, and will get back to me when they get back to him. I am not holding my breath, but I do hope we will hear something back. Maybe even create an opportunity to speak with the regional commanders. Meanwhile I have asked Cpl. Melanson to send me the list of points he included in his internal memo. I have not yet heard back from him...

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borrowed from Isaac Murdoch, chi miigwetch

As the early-birds among us entered the RCMP station, APTN reporter Angel Moore tweeted, “Protectors say people are passionate… Emotions are high, most of the protectors were here in 2013 at the anti fracking protests, and those who were not here remember.” Following is what we said to Cpl. Melanson…

Shame on Canada!

One of our group shared that “Criminal law is designed to control the poor, and corporate law is designed to protect the rich.” The RCMP are supposed to deal with criminals and public safety. Canada’s national police force has no business enforcing a private company’s interim injunction on unceded Indigenous territory. The RCMP knew this in early October 2013, but forgot it two weeks later. (For more on this and related points, see this critique I wrote about Bill C-51, especially point #3.)

In the case of the Wet’suwet’en People, there are clear legal reasons why it was wrong for the RCMP to invade their territory to push them out of the corporation’s way. Two Supreme Court of Canada decisions support the rights of the Traditional Clan Leaders to exercise jurisdiction over their original homelands, from “mountaintop to mountaintop” (the Tsilhqot’in Dcision), as recorded in traditional stories and songs passed down over the generations to hereditary leaders (the Delgamuukw Decision).

Talking with Cpl. Melanson, some of us observed that the current Canadian government, led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, consisently says it supports the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. (A CBC news report covered the spectacle Canada made at the UN plenary session in 2016, when it officially adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.) The invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory on January 7th, and the continuing occupation of their territory by the RCMP, violates more than a dozen Articles of that Declaration, including Article 30 as the RCMP acted as a military force in this instance, and when here in Sikniktuk in 2013.

Another opinion offered to Cpl. Melanson is that The Indian Act Chief and Council have no jurisdiction beyond their reserve boundaries, so all the spin about how the RCMP are just enforcing “the screenshot at 2019-01-14 08-32-54rule of law” is bogus. The tired old argument about the “rule of law” surfaces whenever politicians and police act on behalf of corporations to repress peaceful dissent. Clearly, the “rule of law” was on the side of the Wet’suwet’en (SCC decisions, limitations of The Indian Act politicians, UNDRIP).

Dogwood says it clearly:

“Under The Indian Act, elected councillors only have jurisdiction over reserve lands – the tiny parcels set aside for First Nations communities that are administered much like municipalities. That’s not where this pipeline would go.

“What is at stake in the larger battle over Indigenous rights and title are the vast territories claimed by the Crown but never paid for, conquered or acquired by treaty. In Wet’suwet’en territory, those lands, lakes and rivers are stewarded by hereditary chiefs and their relatives under a governance system that predates the founding of Canada… History will not look kindly on politicians who condone the use of force against local people on behalf of a multinational oil and gas consortium.” (my emphasis)

Prime Minister Trudeau was quoted saying the use of RCMP was “less than ideal” but justified by the “rule of law.” Tanya Talaq tore strips off Trudeau, in the Toronto Star on January 10th:

Let’s unpack that. A ‘less than ideal situation’ is missing the sale on three-ply Kleenex and having to settle for two-ply. A ‘less than ideal situation’ is locking your keys in your car. The arrests of 14 people by heavily armed RCMP officers over adherence to Indigenous human rights and land title? ‘Less than ideal’ doesn’t capture it. As this week again showed, the Trudeau government’s relations with Indigenous communities are nowhere near ideal.“

West Coast Environmental Law’s recent blog about the RCMP invasion of Wet’suwet’en Territory takes up the question of “the rule of law”

Respecting the rule of law is indeed important, but it can’t be selective. To truly uphold the rule of law, the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal title and governance must be meaningfully applied in Crown decision-making, before crucial decisions are made about Indigenous territories… The Crown’s resistance to concluding agreements that meaningfully recognize title and rights, while making important decisions unilaterally in the meantime… is clearly incompatible with commitments at the federal and provincial levels to rights recognition and reconciliation.”

According to the Prince George Daily News, the RCMP are now planning to set up a temporary detachment in the area at the centre of this controversy. If feelings are running high, as they did here in 2013, this could lead to whole new crisis.

In fact, the rule of natural law that underlies all of the resistance. That is why the Wet’suwet’en want no pipelines on their territory, why we refuse to allow fracking shale gas here in Sikniktuk, and substantially what motivated each of us to be present in the  Richibucto RCMP detachment last week.

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There are huge social issues around our planet. Most are connected to the looming environmental collapse due to climate issues. Climate scientists’ international organization, the IPCC, recently released a report that says we have 12 years to limit climate catastrophe. 6,000 peer reviewed works are referenced in their report. “At the current level of commitments, the world is on course for a disastrous 3C of warming,” perhaps even more. (With our tarsands, melting icecaps, thawing muskeg, leaky pipelines and transportation systems, massive frack fields and hydro dams, monoculture tree plantations, 3 coasts of rising seas, abuse of salt waters, mega-agriculture, etc., Canada has a huge role in causation and vulnerability to disasters.) Even though change is slow, and many appear deaf to the facts, the IPCC report authors believe that “the increasingly visible damage caused by climate change will shift opinion their way.” Here in Kent County/Sikniktuk, we are already seeing the chaos and damage, and this is intensifying.

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A young man from Saint John addressed this with Cpl. Melanson in a passionate intervention. Over the next dozen years or so, an extraordinary amount of damage will continue to be wrought on our planet. When it finally sinks in that Indigenous Peoples and non-Indigenous environmentalists are correct about the urgency of changing course to address climate change, “You and fellow officers in the RCMP will realize that you made a huge mistake helping to force through all this fossil fuel industrial development and infrastructure. You will come and want to join us then. Of course, we will welcome you. But the question individual officers need to ask themselves now, before it gets to that point, is ‘Which side of the history we are making right now do you want to be recorded as being on?’ “

Shame on the RCMP!

One person of blended settler and Anishinaabe heritage, but living in Kent County, said he goes into schools ls to teach children about culture and worldview. “The first of the seven sacred Grandfather teachings is respect. How can we respect the RCMP when they don’t even respect the people they are sworn to serve? With the children, I have no choice except to speak the truth, that we obviously can see with our own eyes. Who do they serve? Why do they disrespect the First People of Turtle Island, with their actions? These questions must be answered so we can have confidence in those that are here, supposedly, to protect and serve all of us.”

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To serve corporations and protect their assets.

This man also mentioned community relationships. “Do you know the history of this region? Do you realize that your Acadian ancestors were helped to survive by the Mi’kmaq people in the 1700’s in particular? How could you justify what happened in 2013?” Someone else mentioned the Peace & Friendship Treaty, the only treaty ever signed by the Mi’kmaq. It talks only about how nations of Peoples should get along with one another, no mention of surrendering land, title, or guardianship.

Several people emphasized that we pay the salaries of the RCMP, who are meant to serve and protect everyone, not to serve and protect the corporations above all else.

At least three of those present had read the recently published book, Policing Indigenous Movements. A Mi’kmaq water protector said that it was “very disheartening” to learn the extent to which people like him are considered national security threats and what the state is doing based on that conviction. A non-Indigenous person said it was really embarassing that the RCMP had this attitude. Here is a link to an article, called Why the RCMP may not be a neutral player in the Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline dispute, in which one of the scholars who wrote this book is interviewed. Cpl. Melanson was one of the people who wrote down the title of this book. Someone commented they hope he finds time to read it.

Mi’kmaq persons who were present at the RCMP invasion in our region in 2013 told Cpl. Melanson that many other people from Elsipogtog wanted to be there with us talking to him and rallying in support of the west coast water and land protectors. However, they were afraid to attend. Several commented that it was very good to have non-Indigenous allies present there with them.

Workers can refuse to work if the conditions are unsafe, so the question was raised, “Can the members of the RCMP refuse to work if they are being asked to do something they think is not ethical?” Cpl. Melanson seemed to find this profound, and perhapssad. The community membnr who raised this suggested that, given the serious deep environmental and climate issues humanity is facing, supporting pipeline infrastructure construction by oppressing non-violent defenders and protectors is unethical.

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One of the grandmothers recounted a dream she just had. Her mother was dragged from her bed by an RCMP. She asked Cpl. Melanson, “When will the violence against us stop? Our ancestors are crying, our children are hurting, and I am not sure if you can do anything about it, but I really hope you can be a voice in someone’s ear.”

A non-Indigenous grandmother said that the world is in such a perilous situation environmentally that it is simply incomprehensible how the RCMP can justify to themselves that it is ok to promote further fossil fuel development. “It used to be that as a grandmother I would be thinking, should I start an savings plan to help with my grandchild’s education? Will they want to go to university? What will they do when they grow up? Now I think, will my grandchild have a planet on which to have a future?

Another grandmother said, “We are all concerned about future generations. The land doesn’t belong to the corporations, yet the RCMP protects them, while we pay your salaries with our taxes.”

A man commented that “we are tired of being bullied by you.” Another man followed this thread, saying we know what happened here in Rexton. The special RCMP who came here did what they are trained to do. It seems many come from families where you were brought up to hate, and went in all psyched up, to beat the crap out of Indigenous protectors. What you should have been doing is protecting the people who want to protect the water. It is your water too.”

screenshot at 2019-01-14 08-29-13The observation was made that the RCMP are always in the middle of whatever brutal measures Canada is trying to force on Indigenous Peoples, and also have enough rotten apples in their own ranks that they are also mired in their own controversies about Indigenous Peoples. Cpl. Melanson assured us that the people he works with have good intentions and attitudes, but he said racism can crop up in any group. A community member said the RCMP must not allow themselves to be used in this way, and “to make your own definition of what is ethical behaviour.”

The topic of the Civilian Commission’s report came up. Here we are five and almost one-half years after the Public Interest Investigation was launched and we still have no report. Numerous news stories and reports coming from Wet’suwet’en describe that they are going through the same traumatic brutality and callousness we experienced, see: First Nations arrested at B.C. checkpoint accuse ‘over-equipped’ RCMP of excessive force, also: People arrested at Gidimt’en anti-pipeline camp allege inappropriate use of force. no-fracking-health-yellow-8.5-150x150

On January 14th, the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance issued an Open Letter to New Brunswick MP’s. They appear to have new information about the Civilian Commission report:

“The actions in question [in Wet’suwet’en] resonated strongly* with those of us in New Brunswick who experienced the similar action of the RCMP raid on Elsipogtog over five years ago… with government employing the RCMP as an enforcement arm of fossil fuel interests; elevating commercial interests via an injunction over the larger and fundamental issues of civil rights, indigenous rights and international obligations at play.

“We have two requests to make of you. The first is to make the federal government aware of our position and our support for the We’suwet’en Clan Leaders…

“The second request is for you and the federal government to put pressure on the RCMP Commissioner to release the CRCC investigation report on the events at Elsipogtog… It has been over 5 years in preparation, and via our communications with the CRCC we know that it has been completed and is only awaiting a decision to be released.” (my emphasis)

Hopes were expressed in front of Cpl. Melanson that we might see this report during our lifetimes. While it was felt that rank and file RCMP might be very interested to read and learn from this report,it was observed that sreluctance to allow this report to see the light of the day could well emanate from state security personnel (elected, uniformed, civilian) who believe their own hype that Indigenous rights activists, defenders and protectors are terrorists.

The report would almost certainly challenge the dominant narratives about who is wrongright as well as critique official justifications for use of extraordinary measures. The underlying question of whether the RCMP should enforce private corporate civil court injunctions will have to be addressed as well. n this report.

Another topic that was mentioned by several people was the RCMP protocol of excluding media. Here in Kent County/Sikniktuk it appeared almost accidental that the media could not get to the protest sites, where water protectors were preventing SWN Resources Canada from using their seismic testing equipment. A combination of RCMP tactics – ranging from kettling the protestors and protectors, to creating barricades so no cars could pass through, to using the draconian terms of the second injunction to prevent reporters from stopping anywhere near the SWN equipment – all served to create a media exclusion zone. As person who often did media liaison work, I frequently heard reporters complaining they could not get to our sites to cover the stories.

On the morning of the actual invasion, October 17, 2013, the only mainstream media that could enter the zone sealed off by the 200 or so militarized RCMP was the one reporter who came in with them, an “embedded” reporter from Sun News, who told only the RCMP side of the events. All alternative coverage came from social media, although early on the Halifax Media Co-op correspondent was able to send out some reports, until he was detained by police. A reporter from APTN found his way in at some point. Our area is not like the Wet’suwet’en Territory, in that there are multiple methods of access if one has the right vehicle, friends, and knowledge of the trails.

The outrage about this strategy being used in Wet’suwet’en is encouraging. When it happened here in Sikniktuk, it was hardly mentioned in amongst all the other concerns. Now we see the issue rising above the din.

The international Committee to Protect Journalists saying, “Authorities in Canada should immediately end the arbitrary restrictions on journalists covering the police breakup of the pipeline protest. Journalists should be able to freely cover events of national importance, without fear of arrest.” Apparently an RCMP spokesperson said the “temporary exclusion zone” was established to ensure public safety. It is worth noting that this is what RCMP commanders told me when I complained about the exclusion of media here in 2013. I argued that the presence of media would help ensure public safety, as we the public were the ones in danger from the company’s private security as well as those RCMP members with less self-control.

APTN reported that neither their news crew not the Vancouver CBC TV crew could enter, and NDP MP Nathan Cullen was also prohibited from accessing the site. As soon as the tactical/paramilitary RCMP force arrived on site, all social media feeds and posts are the Camp went silent. APTN also reports that an RCMP spokesperson said the police had nothing to do with the sudden, timely disruption of communications. However, Tom Henheffer, vice president of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), told APTN that this tactic “is very commonly employed and is very difficult to fight against… it takes too long for a journalist to get a lawyer, go to court to get an order to allow them to get on to the site.”

Ricochet media editorialized “We are gravely concerned by the RCMP’s decision to bar journalists from the site of yesterday’s raid, and their continued refusal to allow media access to the area today…. The right to freedom of the press is guaranteed in our constitution and the right of the public to know is fundamental to our democracy. …We note with concern that the department of public safety and the minister responsible for the RCMP, Ralph Goodale, have referred requests for comment to the RCMP, describing the exclusion of media as an “operational matter.” …this precedent must not be allowed to stand. It seems clear that the RCMP’s intent was to limit reporting from the site, rather than to safeguard the well-being of journalists. This is consistent with” an APTN report on “internal RCMP and government documents,” which “show ‘police are not assessing Indigenous protests in Canada based on factors of criminality but are more concerned about the protestors’ ability to gain public support.’ “

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While we could argue that the “precedents” were set here in Sikniktuk, or least the mechanics tested here, on January 8th many of us raised the same points as the three organizations above.

An elder and community leader from Elsipogtog told Cpl. Melanson “Canada has abandoned you. Trudeau’s comments made that clear. He is saying the federal government has nothing to do this, like Pontius Pilate always washing his hands, always washing his hands. Trudeau might want to wash his hands but I will not allow him. This is going to fall hard on the RCMP. I very strongly condemn the invasion of a sovereign nation by the RCMP on behalf of Canada.”

Look at us. We are not terrorists.”

In some ways, the time we spent in the Richibucto RCMP detachment lobby was like being in the opening round of a Restorative Justice Circle. Cpl. Melanson stood in for the entire RCMP force, as we shared our feelings from 2013 and strongly criticized the repeat operation that had taken place on Wet’suwet’en territory since the court appoved Coastal GasLink/TransCanada’s interim injunction.

One person who was present with us said, “What made it good for people was that RCMP Daniel seemed to truly listen and also that no one was rushed. Although we were in RCMP facilities, the lack of a desk between us made for a feeling of equality, as in a true, be it impromptu, round table discussion. …And afterwards, the warmth and sharing of the round dance, the Honour Song…..will stay in my heart, also, just so you know.”

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Credit to Ernesto Carranza, Miramichi Leader

Another person said, “They are trained to look like they are listening and to stay patient. I have a hard time trusting that anything improved will come from this, because all my life and in my work I have seen how they “act” with Aboriginal people.”

As much as we have trust issues with the RCMP, they have them with us. Another of our people commented, “Notice how he was standing with his back to the interview room and the door was cracked open? We did not have to ask him to take notes. In the interview room there is a camera and recorder of voice, and probably there is something like that in the lobby too.”

The reporter from the Miramichi Leader newspaper was perhaps more objective. He wrote, “Melanson stood in a corner and listened to protesters…” He quoted the Cpl. Saying, “I will relay these concerns up and for me that’s all I can do right now… We can take in the concerns of the community, actively listen, and see if those concerns make it to the right people.” The news story continued: Cpl. Melanson acknowledged he had worked and lived in Richibucto for the last six years, was also in Rexton during the protests, and said he doesn’t want that situation to occur ever again.” (my emphasis)

In my view, committed as I stubbornly am to non-violence, the only way we can change things in human relationships is through changing understanding, through person-to-person conversation. What we did was important in general, but specifically for a community like ours which has been through exactly the same thing as happened in Wet’suwet’en territory last week.

For more than an hour, every time I looked at Cpl. Melanson, he looked very emotionally affected. Take a look at these images. You can also see more of him in the videos linked at the top of this blog, from which these still were taken.

What I saw each time I looked at him was he was often reflective and looking somewhat sad, or as if aching inside to be hearing all this. Down. At times his body seemed limp. Never angry. Sincere mostly. No doubt he must also have been frustrated by some recounts and comments that were harsh but he made no effort to argue. Only once did he try to correct (and that was me!). Perhaps he was even a bit grateful to finally have the chance to listen to us. As we were leaving, he shook my hand and said he was happy to have finally met me in person. I think there were others in the room he must have felt the same way about, as there were at least five others present who were centrally involved in organizing and speaking publicly in 2013. Odd that it took this long to start the conversation. That shows our lack of imagination as well as their limitations.

We are talking about doing something like this again. Personally, I am daydreaming about traveling across Canada, mobilizing local Indigenous-Settler alliances to go into cop-shops everywhere and try to get someone to sit down and talk with us. We have planet to save, and that starts with each of us.

A Final Word on “Reconciliation”

At the outset, I explained to Cpl Melanson we are here in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en People because we know that they are going through. The APTN reporter who was present with us tweeted me saying, “What happened yesterday was illegal.” And also tweeted Melanson responding. “I will let my superiors know.”

A strong and committed water protector pointed out to Cpl. Melanson that after all that was done by the company and the government, much of which the RCMP had to get their hands dirty carrying out, “It did not work. There are ongoing community tensions, and really you ended up creating more resistance” because of the force’s appalling behaviour.screenshot at 2019-01-14 08-34-13

For me, I have been involved in citizen activism for peace and disarmament, anti-racism, civil rights, and international solidarity my entire adult life. In 1990, I was drawn into Indigenous human rights and solidarity work by the obvious injustices occurring at Oka/Kanehsatake. “Oka” was followed by the Old Man River, Ipperwash, Gustafsen Lake, Burnt Church, Elsipogtog, and now Wet’suwet’en. Personally I was only directly involved in solidarity work on a couple of these issues but I do know that the responses from the authorities to each of these have come from the same play book, albeit more sophisticated each iteration. It is no wonder to me that frustration is growing. Yes, of course, as my friend said, what the RCMP is doing is not working and it is only building more resistance and public support because it is so wrong.

Ellen Gabriel, always a respected speaker for the Kanehsatake Mohawks, commented on social media last week:

“We’ve been asked hundreds of times about lessons learned from the “1990 Oka Crisis.” Obviously Canada decided its lesson was to increase military training to its police forces.

“The “Kanehsatake Seige of 1990” included the status quo of Canada discriminating against the Haudenosaunee – People of the Longhouse – in fact making Indigenous traditional governments illegal. Canada deals only with the band councils it created and which it claims are the only ‘legitimate ‘ entity. So almost 29 years later people are now asking what is the difference between traditional governments and band councils.”

Gabriel’s answer is simple:

“One survived colonization. The other embraces it. The Two Row Wampum is the way to understand this. One path upholds Onkwehón:we culture, customs, law, and governance. The other path upholds the colonizers’ values and laws. There is no prejudice against those who chose the colonizer path, but allow those who choose traditional governance a voice and right to protect our ancestral heritage and human rights. Skén:nen.”

Few people realize Canada has signed many international human rights treaties and is required by some of these to report regularly to the UN Human Rights Committee on compliance issues inside Canada.

Even fewer people realize that Canada’s treatment of Indigenous persons inside Canada has long been an ongoing concern for the esteemed human rights experts at the UN. Canada is trying to get an seat on the Security Council of the UN, which it lost during the Harper government period, in large part because of that regime’s handling of Indigenous rights issues domestically. So there is some potential leverage there, because the UN human rights experts welcome “shadow reports” from informed citizens and groups, who may speak of things that the nation-state (in this case Canada…) does not wish to make public. 9200000010157436

As well, there is an “Optional Protocol” procedure which allows specific urgent specific human rights violations to be brought directly into the UNHRC apparatus, provided the claimant can convincingly assert that their own rights have been affected. Because Canada is eager to impress the UN, these are tactics worth considering.

The UN also has Special Rapporteurs who handle key human rights files. The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples submitted a report in September 2018, called Attacks against and criminalization of indigenous peoples defending their rights. In the section called “Root causes and drivers behind attacks and criminalization,” she notes:

“The intensified competition over natural resources led by private companies, at times with government complicity, has placed indigenous communities seeking to protect their traditional lands at the forefront as targets of persecution…

“Disregard of indigenous rights of traditional lands ownership breeds tensions, subsequent violence and criminalization, as indigenous peoples become trespassers or illegal occupants of their own lands, subject to criminal charges… and removal from the lands they rely upon for their livelihoods, social and cultural cohesion and spiritual traditions. In the worst instances, escalating militarization, compounded by historical marginalization, results in indigenous peoples being targeted under national security acts and antiterrorism legislation, putting them in the line of fire, at times literally, by the army and the police (A/HRC/24/41/Add.3).

“The priority of indigenous peoples is the protection of their traditional lands, territories and natural resources. Indigenous peoples question a purely commercial development model which disregards their rights and causes irreparable harm to the environment and the natural resources they depend on for their survival.”

In the concluding observations of her report, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples says,

“States carry the primary responsibility for ensuring that indigenous peoples are able to safely exercise their rights… Large-scale development projects are major drivers fuelling the escalation of attacks and the criminalization of indigenous peoples. The frequent undertaking of such projects without genuine consultation or measures to seek the free, prior and informed consent of the indigenous peoples concerned must cease…

The Special Rapporteur recommends that civil society continue to provide support and legal advice and facilitate the sharing of experiences in relation to protection measures for indigenous people.” (my emphasis)

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Credit to tweets by Angel Moore at APTN for this image.

We are civil society – all of us. This document is an attempt to do some of that sharing. I do think it would be useful for solidarious settlers to go in and talk, like we did, heart-to-heart, with local RCMP personnel in your area. We must make these conversations happen. Forget the politicians, they are all front men for the corporations. Talk to your local cops. I am not sure who said this, probably many wise revolutionaries, but we cannot change society until we bring the military and police on board.

I give the last words to Niigaan Sinclair, columnist at the Winnipeg Free Press, because just as here in 2013…

“The non-violent actions of Indigenous peoples at Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en camps is an invitation to conversation. It is Canada who orders police and guns and ends any dialogue. It is Canada perpetrating violence and arresting people on their land. It is Canada forcing people to accept what they don’t want.

“That’s not a “nation-to-nation” relationship… The biggest challenge facing reconciliation is how Canada and Indigenous peoples share and listen to the other’s perspectives… Canada wants to tell Indigenous peoples who should sit at the negotiating table. When Indigenous peoples send representatives Canada doesn’t want to speak to, the RCMP is dispatched…

Who, this week, was ready to talk — and who brought the guns to the meeting?”

(my emphasis)

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Send reply comments to me at coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com.
Wela’lin, merci, thanks. M’sit nokmaq. We are all related.

*Note: that link takes the reader to Part 1 of my report on our rally at the Richibucto RCMP detachment. This is Part 2, dealing with what took place in the dialogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Improving the proposed Federal Environmental Legislation (Bills C-68 & C-69)

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Submission regarding Bills C-68 and C-69 to:

  • Honourable Ministers Jim Carr, Marc Garneau, Dominic LeBlanc, and Catherine McKenna, and to the Standing Committee of Parliament on Environment and Sustainable Development.  

From:

  • Ann Pohl, on behalf of Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians (coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com — March 15, 2018)

 

During the various stages of consultation on revitalizing and reorienting the Acts contained in Bills C-68 and C-69, members of our chapter of the Council of Canadians participated in three public sessions and submitted several related briefs to government.

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Our Neighbourhood

These new Bills were introduced in the federal parliament on February 6 and 8, 2018. More recently the Government of Canada made a call-out for comments on C-69 in particular, saying submissions should be filed with the Standing Committee as soon as possible. However, we also have some concerns about C-68.

We have taken every opportunity to understand what is envisaged by the Bills. In general we are pleased to see a number of proposals for positive initiatives, but there are substantial gaps and some serious concerns. Here then, in point form, are our comments for how to improve these proposed Acts to provide the quality of environmental protection and management that our grandchildren need.

Concerns about the Review Panels

  1. The Impact Assessment Agency (IAA) is supposed to be able to independently evaluate proposals based on science, traditional/community knowledge, and other factors. Conflicts of interest may well undermine these good intentions because Bill C-69 authorizes at least one member (possibly more) of the Canadian Energy Regulator (CER), Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), and/or Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Boards to sit on the IAA’s review panels. For example, CER has no requirement to consider climate pledges or cumulative impacts: there is not one mentions of climate change in the entire proposed CER Act in Bill C-69. Each of these agencies is supposed to provide the IAA with a roster of panelists to choose from, putting their experts inside the decision-making process to advocate/lobby for the energy industry. This opportunity, this place of honour, is not extended to environmental organizations.
  2. The Government’s promotion of this legislation has stressed that there will be one process for all assessments. Yet, this does not seem to be the case.
    • It appears that not all proposals relevant to the offshore petroleum boards will be required to go through the CCEA impact assessment process: the NS and NL/LB offshore boards will also continue their own assessment processes. Although Bill C-69 gives the CER and IAA their own multifunctional mandates and scientific capacities, the offshore boards’ mandates narrowly and clearly favour offshore oil and gas development with no meaningful checks and balances for impact on the environment. Effectively, they have greater authority and autonomy through Bill C-69.
    • Furthermore, the Bill empowers the Minister to substitute provincial processes that he or she deems to be “equivalent” for the proposed new federal IA process.
  1. The new IAA will continue the faulty but cost-saving practice of relying on industrial proponents to research, report on and advise government on the relevant environmental concerns in their projects, and how to address these issues. To stretch an analogy we have used many times before, this is akin to asking the fox to report on the structural concerns related to a proposed hen-house, and how to address these matters.

Discretionary Power of “The Minister” in proposed new Acts:

  1. Although hearing panels can identify adverse impacts, the Minister (or Cabinet, or “Governor in Council”) retains very broad discretionary powers under Bills C-68 and C-69. Some specific reasons for concern about this in regards to the IAA include:
    • It appears the Minister can invoke a very broad “public interest” determination to short-cut to approval at various stages of an Impact Assessment. the Minister’s uncircumscribed power to determine what is relevant in making her or his decision totally undermines the pledges this government to restore public trust, ensure transparency/accountability, and ensure that decisions are based on valid information. As it stands, political considerations could quash all indicators of what is truly in the public interest, allowing for a decision that is instead in the interest of corporations but would be terrible for the environment and population health.
    • The IA process addresses only major projects designated by regulation or Ministerial order. Smaller projects that may cause dire local or ecosystem impacts are not going to be caught through this mechanism, moreso because it appears the Bill allows the IAA to forego impact assessment for designated projects based on Minister’s discretion. As well, the timelines for public input are quite restrictive.
    • It is not clear at all how regional, strategic assessment, and public input will influence minister’s determination, and the Minister is not even required by the proposed legislation to respond to these inputs.
  1. While many of the changes in Bill C-68’s rewrite of the Fisheries Act are excellent, there is a fundamental weakness in the vague wording that the Minister “may or may not” (emphasis added) consider: “(a) the application of a precautionary approach and an ecosystem approach; (b) the sustainability of fisheries; (c) scientific information; (d) traditional knowledge of the Indigenous peoples of Canada that has been provided to the Minister; (e) community knowledge; (f) cooperation with any government of a province, any Indigenous governing body and any body — including a co-management body — established under a land claims agreement; (g) social, economic and cultural factors in the management of fisheries; (h) the preservation or promotion of the independence of licence holders in commercial inshore fisheries; and (i) the intersection of sex and gender with other identity factors.” All of these are crucial factors that must be considered in all cases where they are relevant, and most likely that would be virtually all cases. A simple change to “the Minister will” is imperative.
  2. Given the complexity of Bill C-69, it is not clear if this issue of broad discretionary power is also a concern in regards to the new proposed Canadian Navigation Protection Act. If so, that must be addressed as well. However, it is noteworthy that the Minister (in this case, of Transport) will have discretionary powers to act directly in regards to obstructions in navigable waters. Is this a new power, previously absent? Perhaps we are being too presumptive, as the example given by the government is sunken ships, but would this also include the right to take whatever steps are necessary to remove water protectors who are exercising their rights to peacefully assemble in the water?
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Walk to Protect the Water, Sikniktuk Mi’kma’ki, Fall 2016

What Is/Is Not Protected in the Proposed Canadian Navigable Waters Act:

  1. Notwithstanding the issue of Ministerial discretion (mentioned above), the new Act does not restore protections to the vast majority of Canada’s waterways. The first problem is the Act’s definition of what is “navigable waters.” The usual understanding is that navigable waters are any river or lake deep enough to float a boat, but the new definition has four criteria that serve to seriously constrict the application of the Act to only specific navigable waterways. For example, it seems that a stream flowing through privately held extraction industry land might not fit the definition and therefore would be exempt from this Act’s protections, regardless of its potentiality to cause great bioregion damage if used for some industrial purposes.
  2. The proposed new Act sets out three categories of development that may take place on a waterway: minor works (that get approval without public input if they meet the established critieria); major works (dams, etc.), and works which are proposed for a lake or river on the Schedule of Navigable Waters. Only a few waterways are included in the current proposed Schedule of Navigable Waters, and it is incumbent on individual Canadians or over-stretched civil society and environmental organizations to apply to restore protections to the thousands of lakes and rivers navigated in Canada.
Water Protection Pledge BrownsYard 009.1

2 & 1/2 years ago: restore protections to EVERY lake and river.

Fisheries Act:

  1. Bill 68 sets out many positive aspects to this new proposed Act. The best part is that considerable meaningful protection is being extended to fish habitat — not just the habitat of food fishery fish, but all fish. Also included are a number of pathways for implementing these protections.
  2. Nonetheless, broad discretionary powers are available to the Minister, in a government department which has historically had major issues regarding public dialogue and engagement. Only “large-scale” projects will require a review. Worse still, there is a continued reliance on “Letters of Advice,” which have been identified as a signficant pathway for avoiding a bona fide assessment, and a matter of concern for many years among environmental organizations.
  3. Given the fragile state of many fish stocks and marine creatures in general, as well as the declining health of salt water environments around the planet, including notably the Gulf of Maine, it is essential to stay up-to-the minute on scientific and traditional knowledge and observations. For that reason, this Act should include a commitment to report on state of fish and fish habitat on an annual or biennial basis.

Public Participation:

  1. Although the issue of who has “standing” has been resolved in regards to the proposed CER, and there is a promise that the public will be allowed to participate earlier in the IA process, there is almost no detail on how the government will extend the rights to the public to participate in the various agency reviews, or along the steps of the IA process. All that the Minister is so far required to do is to provide “an opportunity to the public to participate” during the planning stage of an IA, and in any regional or strategic assessments (which are not fleshed out in the Bill, and remain “discretionary”). The IAA has some power to decide on participant funding if it has a budget to do so, but it is not evident if there is a similar provision for reviews done by other agencies, for example the offshore petroleum boards. It seems like this aspect has not been fully thought-out by the government. To restore public trust, more detail and certainty about the public’s rights and opportunity to participate is required.
  2. The “public registry” is a great proposal. Once it is up and running, this will be very useful to all those who are interested in a project or a bioregion’s health, provided that the public is aware of its existence and has good access to it. However, it is imperative that the registration system ALSO requires notifications from proponents directly to all affected populations rather than simply relying on an online registry.

Sustainability Criteria and Strategic Assessments:

  1. Other analysts have commented on definitions that are absent from these Bills. We note the definition for “sustainability” is so vague it could not be used to clarify any issue. For example, why does this definition not include the concept of ecosystem or bioregion? Fix this, or we will all be going the long, expensive way around, using the courts to detail these definitions.
  2. Similarly, there is very little useful detail on the proposed optional or discretionary regional or strategic assessments, although for the latter there is a federal government policy and process in place that has been standing still for almost a decade now.

Addressing the Climate Crisis

  1. The words “climate change” appear exactly four times in Bill C-69 – and only in the IAA Act. The first is in the title of the federal Minister McKenna; the second in the preamble to the Impact Assessment Agency Act; the third is in the list of “considerations” relevant for an impact assessment; and the last is in the list of factors for the Minister to keep in mind when making a “determination.” This is shocking considering that climate change is definitely the hugest environmental issue of our time, related to almost all other environmental and population impact and health issues.
  2. Between 2004 and 2009, the federal civil service developed this tool for strategic assessment (see references below), so it already exists. The standard for measurement is also available (Paris Agreement). In June 2017, the government of Canada undertook to begin Strategic Assessments on major environmental issues, and commited that the first one would address climate issues. The language in Bill C69 is vague on Strategic Assessments and gets us no closer to the task and completion of this initial climate strategic assessment. Time to get it going on this Climate Strategic Assessment now! This assessment would and must set the context for all the work done through impact assessments, panel reviews, Ministerial discretionary orders, regulation-based approval processes. Flowing from this, federal legislation can more effectively move urgently towards the 100% clean energy economy that will ensure survival for some life on our planet.
  3. Bill C-69 falls short in not creating an arms-length independent centre with a specific mandate for energy data collection, information and education. Despite much discussion about this prior to and throughout the consultation process, there is no plan. This data would enable viable scientific forecasts about what energy production is needed for the “national interest.” It is also crucial for monitoring Canada’s success in dealing with climate protection promises and goals.
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Mandi’s contribution to our chapter’s Earth Day 2017 youth art exhibit.

Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent:

  1. Nowhere in these Bills is there reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada has agreed to uphold and implement at all levels. This includes of course the principle of free, prior and informed consent in all stages of the impact assessment process. Good words are spoken but the legal requirements to enact this commitment, within the proposed legislation, are absent.
  2. If the CER is mandated to deliver on Indigenous (Aboriginal) consultation duties, will this hold up at the Supreme Court?

Putting the Money where the Mouth Is:

  1. We regret that we have not done a comprehensive review of what got funded and what did not in the federal budget for 2018. It appears that a considerable amount of money has been set aside to restore much-needed scientific, conservation, and enforcement capacity to the Departments of Fisheries and Oceans and of Environment and Climate Change, which were gutted of this expertise during the 10 years of the Harper government. If this money is spent for this purpose, great news!
  2. Funds are also needed for climate change research (and the database mentioned above), as well as strategic assessments of major industries such as fossil fuel hydrofracking, tar sands extraction, majors dams, methylmercury pollution associated with clear-cutting, drinking water aquifer and other source inventory, and water export impacts on Canada’s drinking water supply, as well as reinstating fresh-water and science research programs cut from federal departments, etc. When the government commits these funds, alongside the improvements to this legislation under discussion, as suggested above and by other environmental and population health organizations, then we will know that our grandchildren’s futures are more secure.

Risky and contentious deep water offshore fossil fuel exploratory drilling, by BP, south of Nova Scotia, was approved by Minister McKenna only a week before Bills C-68 and C-69 were introduced in Parliament. Elements of this proposal underscore many concerns we present in this submission. Thank you, merci, wela’liek for taking the time to review our concerns set out in this document.

References:

Blakes’ Business Class. Federal Government Overhauls Canadian Environmental Legislation

Canadian Environmental Law Association. The Federal Government’s Proposed Impact Assessment Act: Some Forward Progress, but Changes Needed to Ensure Sustainability.

Council of Canadians: Cautions to consider as Trudeau government tables water and energy project review legislation; Will today’s announcement usher in new legislation to protect every lake and every river?; Cautions to consider as Trudeau government tables water and energy project review legislation; (NWT Chapter.) Letter on C-69 to federal environment minister Catherine McKenna.

DeSmog Canada. ‘We’re Under Assault’: Feds Quietly Approve Deepwater Oil Drilling Off Nova Scotia.

Environmental Defence. WATCH: Putting all projects to the “Climate Test”

Government of Canada: Strategic Environmental Assessment; Environmental and Regulatory Reviews: Discussion Paper; (Department of Fisheries and Oceans) Better Management of Projects; Bill C-69.

Lawson Lundell LLP. Canada: Impact Assessment Agency – An Overview

Parliament of Canada. Bill C-69 House Debate.

West Coast Environmental Law Association: The problems with the new Canadian Navigable Waters Act; Sweeping new federal environmental law bill contains promising changes, say environmental lawyers

World Wildlife Fund – Canada. Impact Assessment Act needs to do more to safeguard nature.

York Faculty of Environmental Studies. (Sustainable Energy Initiative.) Has Trudeau Delivered? A Discussion of Bills C-68 and C-69

 

 

Federal proposal for “protecting” the Laurentian Channel does not do that.

Featured

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Herring provide a feed off Newfoundland, George Griffen.

Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians
coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com

July 11, 2017

The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc,
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard
Attention: Christie Chute, Manager, Marine Conservation Program
Integrated Oceans Management, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
200 Kent Street, Room 12W127, Ottawa, ON K1A 0E6
Oceans-NL@dfo-mpo.gc.ca

RE: PRELIMINARY QUESTIONS & COMMENTS
concerning the proposed Marine Protected Area for the Laurentian Channel,
in reference to Canada Gazette Part I notice (June 24, 2017)

Dear Minister Dominic LeBlanc:

As you are aware, Minister LeBlanc, our Kent County NB Chapter of the Council of Canadians has written you several times previously about east coast marine life, coastal, and ocean protection issues.

We are relatively new to engaging with government on these matters, and learning as we go. After carefully reading the Canada Gazette notice re: designation of a Marine Protected Area in the Laurentian Channel (LCMPA) between mainland Canada and Newfoundland, we reviewed the concerns of esteemed expert organizations such as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS), the Ecology Action Centre (EAC), World Wildlife Fund (WWF-Canada), and the Sierra Club.  As well, we have listened to comments from marine scientists in our own Council of Canadians network. At the same time, we have been reading through your government’s discussion paper Environmental and Regulatory Reviews (ERR) on how to “regain public trust” in regards to federal environmental protection processes.

We feel it is best to approach this particular topic by asking some questions. After we get the answers, we will be better able to write a submission on the LCMPA proposal.

The Science-Based Risk Assessment

The Gazette notice says that a “science-based risk assessment” was done in 2012. Regrettably, the notice does not provide a link or a citation to the aforementioned science-based risk assessment.

As keen observers of government, we know the early years of this decade were a time of great upheaval in your department. The government of that day, under Stephen Harper, tore apart federal environmental protection legislation, scientific research capacity, enforcement capacity, etc. and in fact muzzled many professionals whose researched conclusions did not synchronize with the Conservative government’s industrial development goals.

Your government has been working hard to change this culture of repression and narrow focus. ERR states, “There is a need for greater transparency around the science, data and evidence” (p1)… “in all aspects of environmental assessment and regulatory processes, from making data and science accessible to clearly communicating the basis for decisions” (p11). Sadly, this excellent objective is not met in the Gazette announcement of the LCMPA proposal. There is no route in the Gazette text to access information on the 2012 assessment, nor any other scientific evidence for the proposal as it presently stands.

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All community members who care about oceans, marine creatures and coastal life need to know the 2012 assessment’s terms of reference, content, personnel, and precise recommendations. Given that it was prepared during the Harper government era, we need to be certain that the assessment was done free from political intervention by truly qualified and unbiased external experts. We ask:

  1. Could you please provide us with a copy of this assessment material as well as the information about who prepared it, and their terms of reference?

Basics of the Laurentian Channel Marine Protected Area (LCMPA) Proposal

Life on our entire planet depends on the global community fully addressing the principles established at the United Nations’ Oceans Conference last month: to ensure sustainability of the world’s oceans and the life within them. For starters, oceans produce about 70% of our planet’s oxygen. The warming trend and other side-effects of climate change are already causing de-oxygenation of our oceans, which is already having disastrous impacts. Then there is the plastics issue. All species in the ocean are at some state of risk from one anthropogenic cause or another. For humans, food security and rising waters are serious concerns. The list of human-made damage continues to grow, and appears endless.

When members of our organization first heard about the “Marine Protected Areas” and the related plan to establish use-zoning districts in relation to the Bay of Fundy, we were not convinced. How could mapping right-of-ways and slender no-go zones do anything to address the ongoing oceanic ecoapocalypse? Ironically, the marine scientist whose encouraged us to appreciate potential strengths of MPAs and related strategies is Dr. Rodolphe Devillers of Memorial University in Newfoundland. Dr. Devillers is now speaking out about the limitations of this LCMPA proposal, in an article published in Hakai Magazine on May 9-17.

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When designing marine protection, conservation goals are absolutely paramount, and the task requires undivided focus. We understand that DFO is very vulnerable to industry pressure because of its multilateral mandated responsibilities. Your department is charged to work with diverse stakeholders: commercial fisheries, small independent fishers, ecotourism entrepreneurs, coastal resident communities, and environmental organizations. In many instances, middle ground between these sectors must be found, to accommodate survival of all creatures depending on the salt water for life, including human beings. However, when it comes to ocean, marine life and coastal protection, there is no middle ground on the need to establish firmly protected, inviolate areas in our salt water bodies. This is humanity’s only hope for a future.

Returning again to the just-released Government of Canada discussion paper Environmental and Regulatory Reviews, it acknowledges, “Government does not effectively communicate how science and data are weighed or contribute to federal decision making.” This is precisely the stumbling block we hit as we tried to understand why recent changes were made to the original proposed area and conservation goals of the proposed LCMPA. So we ask:

  1. Given Canada’s international and domestic commitments to protect 5% of our coastal waters by the end of 2017, why were the boundaries for the LCMPA cut by one-third?

  2. Why were ten species found in the Laurentian Channel, and originally identified as needing protection, not included in the final list of protected species for this MPA?

  3. Why were cod and redfish fisheries not given further conservation support?

  4. As suggested in a June 21, 2017 article, did some of these changes happen after “closed-door meetings” with petroleum and other industry officials?

  5. Were your own in-house regional marine experts at “DFO Science” asked to report on the original LCMPA concept and/or on the recent diminishment of the proposal?

If there is a DFO Science report on this proposal, please forward us a copy by return email.           (** Note to Reader: see video insert at the end of this letter. **)

Adaptive Management Zone

The apparent need for the term “adaptive” to describe Zones 2a and 2b is tangible evidence of the conflictive pressure industry puts on DFO, when DFO is trying to do serious conservation. This situation is illuminated by reasons offered for the term “adaptive” in the Gazette text. A five-year review will allow DFO to see if conservation measures can be eased (“adapted”) to suit industry’s objectives of increasing commercial catch areas and species. If a regular review process is to be established in the regulations for this proposed MPA, it should be a comprehensive public review allowing for broad, transparent stakeholder input to examine tightening conditions throughout the MPA in all Zones, as well as consideration of appropriate response to any fishery rebounds.

  1. Will you comprehensively itemize the terms of reference for this intended review, including what will be considered, how various stakeholders can engage, will we be assisted by DFO to do so, and assuring all of wide public opportunity to engage?

Incompatible Uses

There is no excuse, and no basis in bona fide marine environmental science, for the inclusion in a marine protected area of:

  • oil and gas development (82% of the proposed MPA);

  • seismic activity (88% of the entire proposed MPA in each year);

  • underwater cables (100%; and although they may have a small footprint when laid, the work to lay them wreaks havoc);

  • major shipping routes (100%; while this falls into Transport Canada’s (TC) mandate, there is no evidence of DFO having attempted to engage TC to reduce it); and,

  • directional oil and gas drilling (98%, and recent scientific evidence is that this contributes to earthquake activity).

The inclusion of these totally incompatible uses in your proposal returns us to our opening question, although now we ask more broadly:

  1. Will you please provide copies of the scientific marine conservation research on which you based these questionable decisions you have proposed for the LCMPA?

Canada has committed, internationally and domestically, to protect 5% of our coastal waters for ongoing, unlimited, intensive conservation by the end of 2017, and 10% of our coastal waters by 2020. Diminishing the extent and content of the protection offered by this MPA is not the way to reach our goals. It undermines the entire meaning and value of the process.

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Canada has historically been a world leader on matters of principle put forth by the United Nations, a place of honour lost during the previous federal administration. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appears willing to resume this mantle. Ocean protection is a very important place to reestablish our nation as a world leader for international social and economic justice, and vercome the decade of repression of science and environmental protection that the Harper government left as its legacy. We see DFO beginning to operate in a more open, transparent, and community-engaged manner. Now is the time to move “full speed ahead” with that. You will earn a lot of respect and support for doing marine protection the right way.

Thank you for this opportunity to make preliminary comments on, and ask questions about, the proposed LCMPA. We look forward to a prompt response to the above questions so that we can make a full submission before the final date, which we believe would be July 24, 2017 at the earliest.

Respectfully yours,

Ann Pohl
Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians

copies: 

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Dr. Rodolphe Devillers, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Sabine Jessen, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society
Susanna Fuller, Ecology Action Centre
Megan Leslie, World Wildlife Fund-Canada
Gretchen Fitzgerald, Sierra Club
Brent Patterson, Council of Canadians
Emma Lui, Council of Canadians
Oceans & Marine Life Chapters Network, Council of Canadians

Play this video. Hear what a DFO Scientist says about this ocean treasure region.
Then ask yourself: “Why is there no NL DFO Science report cited in the Canada Gazette announcement for this proposal?”
…Could that be that NL DFO Science has NOT been asked to report,
because they would not agree with the proposal as written?   Hmmm…. 

 

Institutional & Systemic Issues that Undermine DFO’s Capacity to Fulfill their Mandate to Protect Marine Life, Habitat, and Oceans

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On February 22nd, we recieved a response to our January 3rd Open Letter, from the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, the Hon. Dominic LeBlanc. It spoke to issues about the herring crisis that we asked almost two months ago. We already knew 95% of the information in his response. On the other hand, the Minister did not address any of the institutional and systemic issues we identified in our January 3rd letter. Below is our reply.

Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter
coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com

February 28, 2017

The Honourable Dominic LeBlanc
Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard
200 Kent Street, Station 15N100
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0E6

Dear Minister LeBlanc:

Thank you for your response. After November 22nd, it is evident that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) initiated a professional investigation of possible causes of the unprecedented herring die-off in the Bay of Fundy.

As you know from reading our file of correspondence and supporting documents, we are deeply concerned about the institutional and systemic issues highlighted by this crisis. Most of these matters were also emphasized in your November 2015 “Mandate Letter.” When you were appointed Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Prime Minister Trudeau stressed that “openness and transparency in government” is vital; and that “Government and its information should be open by default” because for “Canadians to trust their government, we need a government that trusts Canadians.” In the following paragraphs, we explore related points.

The Value of Peoples’ Knowledges and DFO Communications Strategy

Our position was and is that the people closest to the situation must be regarded as very important stakeholders. These are the little people who do not have huge profit margins or access to public money. Consequently, their standard and quality of life is directly affected by an event like the herringcide. As taxpayers, they pay government salaries. As coastal dwellers, they know the water and the creatures living in the water. Their perspectives deserve full respect and due regard.

For democracy to thrive, government must be accountable, responsive, and transparent. In our view, with so much potentially at stake, it was essential to address valid community concerns about the extraordinarily synchronistic timing between the die-offs and the turbine installation. The actions we advocated were: immediate visual monitoring of Minas Passage herring activity, prompt necropsy of beached herring further down the Bay, and swift reportage on what was learned. Instead, DFO staff simply continued to assert that the turbine was not a factor in the herring die-offs. This set no one’s mind at ease. It caused rancour and distrust that continues to this day, and will challenge relationships between government and community into the future.

Here are three examples of how it appears DFO did not show respect for the opinions and concerns of grassroots community members:

  1. Invites to two DFO briefings held in the first week of January were not inclusive of pertinent organizations – for example, the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association (BFIFA) was not invited to either one of them.
  2. Our Kent County chapter did manage to phone-in to one such briefing on January 5th, as did one independent small-scale Minas Basin fisherman. Your moderator made several attempts to prevent our participation, finally telling us that we would have to wait to the end to ask any questions. She then tried to close the briefing without letting us speak. I had to remind her she had agreed to let us ask questions of the panel after all reporters were finished.
  3. Both the fisherman and I asked questions the expert panel could not answer at that moment. Promises were made to put that information on your website. I found out some time later that one of my requests was also raised by a staff person with an Environmental NGO invited to your January 6th briefing. Specifically, your staff agreed to provide data (ideally a map) of areas where die-offs happened, indicating what tests were done from there, complete with dates. The DFO “herring” webpage still does not have the promised details.

Why do we ask for this sort of information? As one example, its absence means the issue of anoxia is not satisfactorily addressed. Obviously, massive numbers of fish in small areas will reduce oxygen levels. Upstream conditions can exacerbate oxygen depletion, and the die-offs were at or near river mouths. Where were the oxygen samples taken? When will this online map be provided?

What Authority does DFO Have?

In April 2016, your Science Advisory panel published an extremely critical report about Cape Sharp’s environmental protection plan. Despite all the flaws noted by your experts, the province of Nova Scotia very quickly decided to let the turbine installation proceed. How does this fit with your department’s mandate to protect the creatures that live in the water and their habitat?

On January 5th we sent your office a supplementary email, via your Ministerial Correspondence staff Ms. Aileen Kenny (cc’d below). A 2013 National Energy Board (NEB) Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with DFO had just come to our attention. We asked that your response to our January 3rd letter also provide information about this. It gives the NEB override authority on decisions re: fisheries impacts and endangered species protection regarding NEB-regulated pipeline and power line energy development proposals. This totally undermines DFO’s mandate to protect marine animals and their habitats, so we specifically asked:

  1. Is this MOU still in place?
  2. Are there other similar MOU’s? 
  3. Or, is it now simply “standard practice” that DFO stands down on issues related to marine health where energy development projects are being implemented?

Your February 22nd response did not address the above huge issues. We look forward to further information on these questions.

The Damage Done to DFO by the Previous Federal Government

As your Mandate Letter recognizes, there were massive budget and mandate cuts to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans during Stephen Harper’s Conservative government. Personnel were moved and terminated. Scientists were muzzled. Apparently libraries of crucial scientific research were eliminated. You have a clear mandate from Prime Minister Trudeau to restore DFO staffing, mandate and regulations to the level necessary to truly protect marine life and habitat in Canada’s coastal and ocean environments. This is urgent. How fast are you moving on this?

The existence of the MOU mentioned above is evidence of the restructuring that happened during the Harper years. DFO’s full mandate for protection of marine animals and their habitat has not been restored if there exists a body of interdepartmental or intergovernmental formal or informal (“standard practice”) understandings that your Department’s scientists will routinely stand down to expedite energy development, or perhaps other resource industry, proposals. These operational policies must be rescinded. Has this been done?

Only very recently were DFO staff informed that they could now speak publicly on issues. Could the institutional culture of terror and silencing under the past government be the cause of the inadequate flow of information between the Department and the public-at-large during the herring crisis? Points made elsewhere in this letter demonstrate this lack and further examples can be provided. What was the cause of this shortcoming? Are frontline and research staff still worried whether they have executive support for speaking with the public and media? Is there a lack of capacity in DFO regions to engage with the public appropriately? Are staffing levels too low?

No Explanation Offered for the Herring Deaths

We want to make clear that Council of Canadians’ chapters never asserted the Cape Sharp turbine was the cause of the herringcide. In the December 14th backgrounder, ten possible causes are examined. We published this participatory social research because your Department was virtually mute on what it was doing about the herring die-offs during the first few weeks of the crisis. Our research was based on what was surmised or known at the time by those closest to the crisis, such as: fisherfolk, ecotourism operators, coastal residents, environmentalists, etc.

These coastal knowledge-holders could not find a basis to blame the “usual suspects” – as was proven by your department’s preliminary and subsequent conclusive testing. The major outstanding factor identified by our community allies and other coastal community members was the new turbine. The fact that its testing and commission period completely synchronized with the beginning of the herring die-off was evident to everyone.

As time went on, your Department staff continued to assert the turbine was not a factor because it was too far away. This did not alleviate concerns. The turbine as a major factor in the herringcide was a consistent theme in social media (including in comments in the petition I launched; now closed and signatures sent to the Prime Minister). The turbine as a possible cause was mentioned frequently in mainstream media reports throughout December 2016.  Further, as you know, on January 2, 2017 the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermens’ Association directly asked Cape Sharp Tidal Ventures to turn off the turbine “experiment,” to see if that could be a cause. (NOTE to the Reader: copies of this letter are available on request.)  The turbine issue was addressed further in our wrap-up document on the herringcide, but primarily in the context of your Department’s community relations deficits.

What we do know is that there was an extraordinary number of herring in the locations where the die-offs were seen. At the January 5th media briefing, this is the only fact on which the government staff expert panel confidently agreed. Some experts called this “densification” and others called it an excessive “aggregation.” Your staff offered no theory as to why this happened.

Where did these extra herring come from? The fishermen and other coastal residents have their theories related to the turbine. As you know some of these issues are before the courts. If there is no substantial Spring Herring Run in the Minas area of the Bay, we will know they were unfortunately correct. Our group sees another major unexamined factor, which we take up below.

What is DFO Doing Now?

It appears your staff have taken the position that after an event like this finishes, there is nothing more to be done. We disagree.

As an environmentalist who is not a fisherman or a scientist, I can reasonably surmise that climate change might have something to do with this extraordinary “densification.” The Gulf of Maine is perhaps the fastest warming portion of the world’s oceans. Ocean warming affects fish populations: for example, there is emerging research on the impact of warming waters on the New England cod fishery. As another example, considerable research is now emerging on marine species moving to cooler waters in response to chemical and temperature changes wrought by global warming of our oceans. It is noteworthy that this relevant and crucial research does not seem to originate in Canada. This feels wrong in this time of deepening ocean ecocrisis. As your Mandate Letter emphasizes, Canada has more coastal area to steward and protect than any other nation.

Something was responsible for the extraordinary densification of herring in the Bay of Fundy die-off locations. Perhaps it is neither the environmental disturbance caused by the turbine nor the warming temperature in the Gulf. We do know there are many recent instances of similar sudden, large, unexplained herring die-offs around the world. This suggests considerable probability mass herring die-offs will continue. Something must be done to help the stressed herring.

In Canada, DFO is responsible for protecting marine animals and habitats. In the face of the global ocean warming and acidification crisis, this means proactive engagement, not just reactive response. Has DFO initiated contact with other global marine scientists to collaborate on an international body of knowledge re: what might be done in the way of mitigation to assist herring? If not, is this due to a lack of resources, perhaps related to the gutting of all environmental programs by the Harper government? If there is a lack of resources, what is being done to rectify it?

One final point: on January 5th I confirmed to Ms. Aileen Kenny the email addresses for the final count of seven Council of Canadians’ chapter who support our Open Letter of January 3rd. In regards to your correspondence of February 22, 2017, I noted that not all had received your reply. I have forwarded your letter to Jean Louis Deveau of our Fredericton chapter (he is named but was not emailed on February 22nd), as well as Leo Broderick of our PEI Chapter, and Leticia Adair of our Saint John NB chapter. All are also cc’d in this reply. We look forward to your response.
Respectfully,

Ann Pohl

Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter

Copies:

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • Premier Brian Gallant
  • Premier Stephen McNeil
  • Ms. Aileen Kenny, Ministerial Correspondence, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Council of Canadians signatories to the Jan. 3, 2017 “Open Letter to Political Leaders”
  • Supporters of the Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter

For other news about what we are up to, please read this blog by Brent Patterson. Exciting news that it is now *30 chapters* of Council of Canadians seeking a meeting with the Prime Minister on better protection of coastal life, marine health, and our oceans. We have received confirmation that our communication has been passed to the PMO section that responds to requests for meetings. You will hear more on this…

 

A Call Out to Mobilize for Coastal Life and Ocean Protection

Prepared for circulation to all Water Protectors:
Our Allies, in and around the Council of Canadians

Near Saglek Bay in Nunatsiavut, the homeland of the Labrador Inuit. ©Ossie Michelin

All waters—fresh and salt—are connected

For more than 30 years the Council of Canadians has been a leader on fresh water protection in Canada. In 1999, we published a comprehensive National Water Policy advocacy brief regarding how to protect watersheds and implementation of the human right to water.

Fresh water flows into the sea. Contaminants that flow into rivers and streams from industrial pollution, such as fracking and burst tailing pond dams, drain into estuaries, bays, seas, and oceans. These contaminants compound the abuse and neglect already poisoning the salt-watery majority of our planet. Survival of marine life, already stressed by acidification and warming waters, is further compromised.

The Council of Canadians is not loosening our efforts on freshwater issues. This is a “both/and,” because the planet’s waters are all connected. We are calling out across our organization, and to allies, to develop a coordinated, unified, strategic campaign on protecting coastal life and ocean waters. In a separate communication sent today, 24 chapters of the Council of Canadians ask the Prime Minister of Canada to meet with us to discuss the issues raised in this call to action.

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The magic of life in coastal waters, Gaburus, Cape Breton Island, NS. ©George Griffen

Our coasts are being neglected

Canada has a huge global stewardship responsibility. We have more oceanfront than any other nation. Gaining protective legislative and regulatory measures will not be easy. The plethora of issues is compounded by official lethargy and avoidance.

Every day, volunteers in the Council of Canadians‘ community chapters work with people from local networks and environmental NGO’s across Canada to advocate for marine life and salt water protection. We are united in alarm about the contamination that will certainly result from hundreds of oil and gas export tankers, each day, crossing the fragile and stressed waters of the Georgia Strait, Salish Sea, other western coastal waters, Bay of Fundy, Gulf of Maine, Beaufort Sea, and more of our shore waters. Much of the intended export material is bitumen, which truly cannot be cleaned from the water after a spill. Each of these areas provides habitats for designated species at risk and/or for marine life on which Indigenous Peoples and others depend for sustainable livelihoods.

In particular, Atlantic Canadians feel betrayed by government on marine protection: “Frankenfish” in PEI; aquaculture diseases spreading to wild populations (despite government assurances this would never happen); the evaporation of Newfoundland’s cod fishery; the loss of the salmon fishery in New Brunswick; the loss of some unique Striped Bass spawning habitat in Nova Scotia; off-shore drilling throughout the near Atlantic Ocean; etc.

Darren Porter’s Herring Weir, Minas Basin, NS. When other fish are caught,
such as this stupendous Striped Bass, they are released. ©Erica Danae Porter 

Countless millions of dead herring: a case in point

Beginning mid-November 2016, dramatic mortalities of herring were evident in the Bay of Fundy—a powerful, unique ecosystem boasting the highest tides in the world, and is home to rare species such as the Right Whale, provides spawning grounds for the Striped Bass, and has a flourishing ecotourism industry.

Why the big fuss about the humble herring? The herring are a primary food source for larger marine life in the Fundy, as well as people food, bait for shellfish traps, and a significant resource export. Without herring, the Fundy fisheries collapse.

Contrary to frequent public messaging, energy generation by tidal turbines can seriously harm marine life. Depending on design, direct strikes can kill and injure animals caught in the mechanism. Arguably more insidious is the noise, vibration and pressure change disruption of the marine environment. Many at-risk sea mammals, and forage fish like herring, have very sensitive auditory biology. Despite the urgent need to generate energy from non-fossil fuel sources, this calls into question tidal power’s “green” status.

In April 2016, the Science Advisory Committee for the Maritimes of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) reviewed a proposal to install an experimental tidal turbine in the upper Bay of Fundy. The DFO advisory committee clearly said the proponent’s baseline data was inadequate to establish an environmental monitoring plan. The province of Nova Scotia immediately approved the turbine’s deployment in the Minas Passage. Fishers’ associations are currently taking the province to court over this inconsistency.

Left: Busy Digby Harbour, NS. ©Pics by Mitch (FB)  
Right:  Sandy Beach, on the Northumberland Strait, NB. ©George Griffen

Turbine deployment happened in early November 2016. Within days of the onset of testing and commissioning, dead herring began beaching further down the Bay. DFO’s response was sluggish. While die-offs continued, the department spent weeks testing and retesting for “the usual suspects”: viruses, bacteria, algae bloom toxins, and predators. DFO acknowledged a unique “densification” or “aggregation” of herring in the die-off bays and coves (ie. overcrowding), but had no explanation for the phenomenon. (See this “A Sequel” link for more info on herringcide investigations and theories.) 

Many residents, including fisherfolk, are certain the herring were affected by the turbine. People who know these waters believe the herring fled from the Minas area to similar marine environments further down the Bay. Injured or overcrowded, that is where the herring were seen swimming abnormally, losing strength, and ultimately dying. Repeated calls to government and industry – to please stop the turbine to determine if it was the cause of the herring die-off, or to send cameras and divers to the bottom of the Fundy in the Minas area – were ignored.

Throughout the entire “herringcide” event, DFO refused to acknowledge that the synchronous turbine disruption of the Bay’s marine environment demanded serious evaluation. Many observers feel this is due to politics: Nova Scotia wants tidal turbines to succeed. The province has invested a lot of cash and political capital in creating the Fundy Ocean Research Centre for Energy (FORCE) to start-up major tidal energy generation. Powerful corporations see a huge market for “green” Canadian electricity along the US eastern seaboard, involving undersea cable links from the controversial Muskrat Falls in Labrador, biomass generation at Point Tupper NS, and upcoming Fundy tidal generation.

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Seal near Annapolis Royal, off the Bay of Fundy, NS. ©Pix by Mitch (FB)

Deepening the public’s scorn for DFO’s controversial “look over here, not over there” herringcide investigation, a 2013 Memorandum of Understanding surfaced in early January 2017. This gives the National Energy Board responsibility to assess risk to fish and fish habitat near proposed pipelines and power lines. The possible existence of a similar understanding regarding FORCE initiatives in Nova Scotia could explain DFO evading questions about the new turbine’s possible effect on herring.

Like all such development proposals in Canada, Cape Sharp/Emera’s turbine in Minas Passage went through a provincial environmental impact assessment (EIA). This means that the proponent contracted a company that wrote an EIA report. The government then reviewed the paperwork, and approved the application. In some such instances, governments put conditions on approval, but the proponent is responsible for undertaking, monitoring, and reporting on their own compliance. This process is ridiculous. Asking the fox to install security for the henhouse is unacceptable and makes a mockery of the intent and meaning of environmental assessment.

In the past two months, more than 70,000 international and Canadian individuals have signed a petition calling on federal Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant to address the issue of herring die-offs. On January 3, 2017, an open letter was sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and all these other political leaders, bringing their attention to the petition and asking for a response on key points. To date, none of the aforementioned have responded.

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Bull Kelp on beach, Tofino, B.C. ©Alexandre Robichaud

The system is failing marine life, and us

This environmental crisis has brought to the forefront a host of broader concerns. DFO simply does not seem to be up to the job of protecting marine life. We understand that DFO’s scientific and species/habitat protection mandate is undermined by its multi-pronged mandate. Most significantly, DFO was hard hit by the extreme politicization of science, including restructuring and defunding, that happened during the Harper regime. At that time, scientists were muzzled, protection legislation was gutted, and key programs and personnel terminated.

As mentioned above, EIA processes across Canada do not protect the environment, and other protective legislation was stripped of its powers by the Harper regime. The Justin Trudeau government came into power promising to renew and revitalize Canada’s environmental regulatory system. Standing Committees and panels recently finished consultations on these ravaged laws. Each committee, dealing with each legislation, picked which major cities to visit (or not). All ignored frontline rural areas that are often most impacted by poor regulations. In the online consultation option, the questions funneled towards the interests of big government, not the affected communities. We will be watching to see what these consultations generate.

Left: Humpback whale & friends enjoy herring snack. Cape Bonavista, NL. ©George Griffen   Right: Loon in winter coat, enjoying aneel, Bay of Fundy shore. ©Pix by Mitch

Environmentalist confidence in the Trudeau government further deteriorated with the November announcement of the Ocean Protection Program. Billed as being about proactive protection of the oceans, it prioritizes putting more resources towards clean up costs after anticipated shipping and pipeline accidents on our coasts. This is useful but not “protective,” which means “preventative” or “precautionary.” The Program also touts creation of more marine protected areas. Meanwhile, the very fragile and important Gulf of St. Lawrence is still open for oil and gas exploration where, intentionally or not, the planning processes are going slower than industry is moving.

“Consultation” seems to be the main public relations strategy of the current government. During the regulatory-related consultation processes in Fall 2016, many directly-affected stakeholders lacked resources and capacity to be at all tables and forums. In this vacuum, the Prime Minister recently held a few “pop-up” community town halls to demonstrate his sincere interest in hearing from ordinary Canadians. He was not seen in directly-affected or -threatened rural communities.

When marine life or habitat decimation occurs, other legal and ethical precepts come into play. In the instance of the herringcide, this happened on unceded Mi’kmaq territory. All of Canada is traditional Indigenous territory. The federal government has trustee responsibility for stewardship and protection of the resources, and is required to ensure that future generations of “Aboriginal” or Indigenous Peoples can enjoy their inherent rights to these resources. When profound environmental degradation occurs, the federal government is abrogating its fiduciary duty. Numerous related court cases are already in motion, eating up funds and personnel time that could go towards genuine protection. (See, for example, this link.)

More crises like the herringcide will be commonplace as our climate increasingly crisps and crumbles. Whenever this happens, those with the most direct knowledge of marine environments must be recognized as experts about what is happening in our own backyards: Indigenous traditional knowledge holders, fisherfolk, citizen scientists, naturalists, local environmental advocacy organizations, and ecotourism operators. These experts must be deliberately sought out, and not evaded or fought, by departments and agencies such as Environment and Climate Change Canada, DFO, and provincial departments. We should not have to go to court to keep corporate actions in line with the public good.

The Council of Canadians represents more than 100,000 people across this nation in a network of more than 60 grassroots volunteer-based chapters who work with a wide cross-section of allies. The Council’s volunteers are backed by a national staff of experts. We deserve an opportunity to have the Prime Minister meet with us about meaningful protection of our marine areas.


Published on February 16, 2017 by the Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter.
Contact us at coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com.

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Swallowtail Lighthouse, Grand Manan, NB. ©Deborah Carr

Please Note: we will soon post our letter to the Prime Minister asking for a meeting.
It has already been co-signed by 25 Council of Canadians chapters across the country.  

A Sequel: What *Happened* to the Humble Herring?

Note: this is “a sequel” to What’s Happening… (dated 12-14-16)

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Prepared by:
Ann Pohl, Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians
January 23, 2017

1.  It May Be Over

For now, the herringcide crisis in the Bay of Fundy may be over. The last observed occurrence of this winter’s major die-off was January 4, 2017. This is according to retired University of Saskatchewan scholar Dr. Ted Leighton, renowned for his work in wildlife disease research.

However, if DFO walks away from this now, we may well see more of the same at the time of the Spring Herring Run in the Upper Fundy (see Sections 6 & 7). In my worst fears, there may be another round of herringcide.

On January 4, 2017, birdwatchers known to Leighton saw an estimated 20,000 seagulls on one remote, distant stretch of beach in St. Mary’s Bay. There were also an exceptional number of crows, eagles and ravens. All were feeding on dead and dying fish on the shoreline, as well as fish at the surface of the water. The huge confluence of birds was not there on January 3rd or on January 5th. Leighton concludes, based on prior events, that this Jan 4th feeding frenzy signified another big beaching, more so considering herring do not usually swim on the water’s surface during the day. What this deductive process illustrates is it’s almost impossible to calculate the scope of the herringcide crisis. To my knowledge, the Jan 4th event went unacknowledged by DFO. (ft.1)

The very next day, after this re-enactment of Hitchcock’s “The Birds” on St. Mary’s Bay, regional staff at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) held a media conference. Two members of the Council of Canadians (COC) took part in the media briefing on January 5th via teleconference. We did so to get the information that DFO was sharing, unfiltered by public hysteria, rumour, or the media (who at times propagate both hysteria and rumours). Teleconference is not the best way to participate in a forum like this. It was very difficult to hear well, and we could not see who was speaking. Still, we took notes. Staff from DFO and at least two other federal departments/agencies, CFIA (ft.2) and ECCC (ft.3), explained that they had looked at all the things they thought might be causative, and had come up empty-handed.

And on the next day, Jan 6th, the experts from DFO, CFIA, and ECCC, etc., held a “citizen scientist” briefing and apparently repeated what they they had shared on Jan 5th (ft.4).

Subsequently, I discussed what was learned on Jan 5 and 6 with my colleague, as well as wildlife, coastal and ocean protection allies Ted Leighton, Darren Porter (fisherman), and Matt Abbott (Fundy Baykeeper and Marine Conservation Coordinator for the Conservation Council of New Brunswick).

It is not surprising that DFO wants to minimize and move on after this herringcide. In its post-Harper whipped and stripped state, the surviving DFO science staffers are doubtless suffering PTSD and gasping for air. (ft.5)  At the same time, the extraordinary aspects of this event lead to the term “herringcide.” The inescapable conclusion of those watching closely is that, in some way not yet determined, human activity led to this mass death. Not identifying the cause is a huge failure. DFO research could have led to breakthroughs that would support super-stressed marine life coping with our dying oceans and critically ill planet.

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Some forage fish species are already in trouble. Pacific sardines are at their lowest numbers in decades

 

Following are point-style lists of what is known, possible, unknown, and theorized, about the herringcide, followed by general discussion.

2.  What was Learned at DFO Briefings?

  • There has been an extraordinary “densification” or “aggregation” of herring in the three areas where the dead herring have beached. This is the only thing everyone agrees on, including experts at these sessions and all fisherfolks in the region. Previously, one citizen scientist described it as “thick, from top to bottom in the water, like they are stacked on each other.” NOTE: DFO offered no possible explanation for “why”.
  • Extensive tests have been done by several federal agencies. DFO asserts they have ruled out infection, viral diseases, physical injury, algeaic blooms, and environmental toxins, as the cause of the herring die-off. DFO has also ruled out “predation” as a cause. Checks were done re: spread of any known cause from aquaculture installations, and this has been ruled out. The DFO laboratory in Moncton analyzed dead herring samples and found no evidence of abnormalities. Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) scientists have done some investigations into possible land-based/industrial toxins. Seemingly late getting into the game, ECCC has found nothing but as of early January were still “finalizing results of testing for pesticides and are conducting other tests on water quality.” Routine tests checking for health of shellfish harvested for consumption were double-checked and confirmed as not a factor. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) stated that the fish and seafood from the Bay are safe to eat. DFO continues to caution not to eat the ones that are beached, but to buy from licensed vendors.
  • A webpage was to be launched that afternoon. DFO promised me it will have full information on all tests on fish, water, etc., including locations of samples, dates, what tests were done, and results, as well as a map where the reported “morts” (marine life mortalities) were found. Here is Matt Abbott on this: “I participated in a call on Jan 6, 2016 regarding the mortalities of herring and other creatures over the last several weeks. DFO staff committed to update this website to include more detail, especially relating to test results (including all that came back negative).” After two and one-half weeks, the webpage is up but these details are not on it.
  • DFO was very clear that they do not now know what killed the herring and may never be able to figure it out.
  • One camera was sent down to the Fundy floor in the vicinity of the die-offs. The benthic marine life was fine there.
  • My notes from this media conference show as follows. When I asked if DFO had considered asking Cape Sharp to turn off the turbine, the response I got was, “There is no evidence to support that the turbine could be a cause, so we are not investigating that possibility.” In almost every media report, DFO answered the same way to this question. However, in a January 3rd communication between DFO and the Bay of Fundy Inshore Fishermen’s Association (BFIFA), there is a slight qualification, “…DFO does not unequivocally rule out the turbine. The statement made is ‘based on all of the work and the analysis and testing we don’t see any evidence that would point to an issue related to the turbines’.” 6 Consider that DFO’s own experts said eight months earlier that Cape Sharp/Emera had failed to provide either adequate baseline data or a valid monitoring plan for environmental protection. For an unknown reason, the proponent was given permission by the Government of Nova Scotia to proceed without the data or improved plan in place. Why would DFO fall back now on proclaiming the lack of evidence as their excuse for refusing to consider the possibility?
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Cartoon credit: Bruce MacKinnon, The Chronicle Herald

 

3.  What More do We Know, but Not from DFO?

  • Herring have unusually sensitive auditory systems, for a fish.
  • Herring usually do not swim on the surface in the day time, and those seen alive near shores and boats, were doing so and also exhibiting other odd behaviours. Why?
  • The Gulf of Maine has arguably the fastest warming ocean water on the planet, and species travel to cooler areas and affected in other ways by ocean temperature and related chemistry changes. Some herring fishermen in the Upper Fundy believe that herring may now be overwintering there.
  • Ecology Action Centre’s (EAC) “Making Forage Fish Count” is an excellent reference document on the larger issues of the vulnerable herring and mackerel populations. It mentions herring size has diminished over recent years, which may be due to climate change stress. This report also says that overall herring stock in this entire region from Cape Breton to Maine are stressed and likely diminished; and, when a population bottoms normally it gradually begins to rebuild over several years. (NOTE: The past couple months there has been a sudden, absolutely gigantic, upswell of population in the three areas where the morts appeared, called “densificiation” by DFO.) The EAC report concludes, “One of the most pressing issues facing the management of Atlantic Herring is the lack of regulation and monitoring of herring bait fisheries.” The data on the size of the stock has also not been assessed by scientists, and “without proper catch and abundance estimates, it is difficult to accurately determine stock status.” In other words, DFO does not do the needed stock inventory counts and catch-checking, and this is aggravated by the lack of limits on landing herring for bait purposes. The report argues for a “precautionary and ecosystem-based approach” to managing herring population.
  • In recent years, including this one, there have been mass herring die-offs in other regions of the Atlantic as well as in Chile. At least one of these cases may be very similar to the one in the Bay of Fundy: the situation in Iceland (the link provided is not the best reference but it is a starting place). Why did DFO not look into this or if they did, why did they not mention it to the public?

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  • FORCE (Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy) is the umbrella corporate-government organization nurturing tidal energy development in Nova Scotia; the Cape Sharp/Emera project is one of their approved experimental operations. In mid-April 2016, a company called Big Moon Power was given approval by FORCE to run an off-grid test in the Minas Passage, related to a new type of tidal power equipment that does not use in-water turbines. According to Darren Porter, who has talked with his fellow weir fishermen beyond the Passage, this experiment completely disrupted the 2016 herring fishery (see 1:29:45 at this link, which is also footnoted below #9). What Porter explains is that the 2016 Spring Herring Run was only just getting underway when Big Moon brought its tugboats into the Minas area, and seemingly the noise scared the herring back down the Bay. There are six or seven herring weir fishers at the Passage and in the Basin. One may be in talks to reach a financial settlement on this matter. Apparently the subsequent 2016 Gaspereau fishery in this area may also have been diminished.

4.  Other Pertinent Points:

  • Fishermen and “citizen scientists” say the dead herring were mostly juveniles, perhaps coming to spawning age next year. This points towards population decline in coming years.
  • On November 28th, there was a media report of “seals with gashes on them” as well as dead herring. To my knowledge, DFO has made no acknowledgement of the wounded seals seen near “mort” sites by Joan Comeau, and certainly offered no explanation of how this might or might not be related to the herringcide.
  • It is not yet clear if DFO did necropsy of the herring to examine specifically for swim bladder-related damage, which can prove auditory trauma and shows in four ways, specifically: ruptured bladders, emphysema in the heart ventricle, and emboli in either the rete mirabile and/or head kidney.
  • DFO was asked if they can provide population data on how many herring they would expect to find in the Bay’s basins or coves at this time of year. They did not have that information.
  • Many “citizen scientists” say DFO has put all its efforts to this issue, once they realized how serious it was. On the other hand, on December 26th CBC’s As It Happens interviewed community member Joan Comeau said she first reported herring die-off to DFO on November 17th  and never got a call back. Looking at DFO tweets, the first showing they were “on the case” was December 14th. (NOTE: This is when our first blog, “What is Happening to the Humble Herring?” was posted online.) Do these instances indicate a generalized sluggish response by DFO, or are they basically communications failures?
  • On Jan 5th, I heard a member of the expert panel muse that “as many as 1000 people altogether” from the relevant government departments had been working on this for weeks. On one hand, it is no wonder they could not figure anything out with that number of administrative, clerical, frontline, specialist, and other staff running around in all directions. Conversely, how could they do such a poor job of communications and information-sharing, and why did they not come up with some sort of viable theory on causes, or at least a plan for what they need to look into further?
  • On Jan 5th a member of the media asked how many herring died in this event. Further undermining public confidence, DFO staff showed they still had not grasped the depth of this crisis by answering “tens of thousands.” Perhaps DFO was trying to downplay the crisis. As likely, they lack capacity to send real researchers into the field. Most probably the personnel who picked up the dead fish samples are the ones usually out in the field to catch poachers and monitor catch regulations. These workers would have had no idea how to calculate the scope of the die-off based on what could be seen at lowtide on the beach. ALL reports from citizen scientists working closely with the department point to greater than a million dead herring, perhaps several million. As Dr. Leighton said way back on Dec 1st, “What we see on the beach is just a partial window on what’s going on somewhere out on the water.” This is exactly why we urged DFO to get out on the water and send down cameras/divers at multiple points.
  • For more than six weeks, DFO focused on “usual suspects” – what past experience had taught them would kill herring. They frequently referred to the only similar recorded event, which occured in the 1970’s… But it was not similar: fors starters, that incident did not include “densification.” In early December, DFO quickly ruled out the cause of that die-off with their first round of tests. While DFO kept looking at the “usual suspects” based on events that appeared very different, they wasted a lot of time and valuable research opportunities. Why?

5.  Can DFO see the Whale in the Bathtub?

There is an old saying about “not seeing the elephant in the room.” Adapting it to this watery world, DFO, ECCC, their provincial counterparts, and their political masters are not seeing the “whale in the bathtub”. As the EAC has pointed out, DFO lacks an ecosystem approach.

Due to human activity, all marine life in our ocean waters is endangered. Their watery home is rapidly becoming less hospitable. Species are behaving in abnormal and unpredictable patterns, often associated with their demise. Yes, this season, it is only the humble herring caught in the ecoapocalypse cross hairs in our beautiful, abundant Bay of Fundy… But, so many species rely on a healthy herring population and there are many recent reports of herring die-offs around the world. This herringcide is truly a case in point. It’s now or never to change how we do things with our sister and brother, aunt and grandfather, all our relations, in the natural world. There is no Planet B.

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For almost two months DFO has assured the media “there is nothing out of the ordinary,” “nothing amiss,” and “not a great cause for concern.” DFO also consistently messaged they “don’t think fish are being harmed by environmental factors” and the cause is not due to “human activity” or “human-related.”

The “don’t worry” and the not “human related” messaging is manifestly anthropocentric. DFO’s actions were as well: they tested and retested for fish conditions that could impact people who eat Fundy herring, or that could sicken people who eat creatures (such as salmon or lobsters) who eat the herring. Again, as EAC says, DFO does not have an ecosystem approach. DFO’s messaging is only concerned with reassuring human consumers that it is safe to continue eating Fundy fish and seafood.

Not “environmental”? How can DFO make that statement if they do not know why it happened? The theories not disproved start with human-caused environmental stress, due to climate change and ocean warming.

  • Planetary marine health is increasingly compromised by the warming of the oceans, which serve as a major and primary planetary carbon sink.
  • Chemical composition changes in our planet’s oceans such as acidification are a recognized stressor on all marine life. (ft.6)
  • Everyone in touch with the natural world is noticing species, including marine animals, moving from the usual habitats into new ranges – likely due to temperature or other weather changes as our climate becomes less and less “normal.”
  • In particular, the Gulf of Maine, of which the Bay is a part, is warming dramatically. This alters marine life population distributions.

From the beginning, the mass herringcide was extraordinary, including abnormal swimming behaviours, and signaled something entirely new. A quick, bona fide scientific response would have enabled timely collection of priceless genuine environmental data, such as water quality, temperature, chemistry, and distribution of the herring population throughout the Bay.

After the initial quick tests came back negative and the second round were duly commissioned, DFO should have intently focused on the unusual facts of this crisis. They should have immediately examined – by diver and/or camera – the subsurface Fundy down to the benthic region, at key coastal areas where die-offs were seen. As important, camera/s or diver/s should have been sent down in other areas from Yarmouth to the Minas Passage (see Section 6) that, based on currents and other factors, may be implicated. As well DFO should have been:

  • energetically collecting data on water chemistry/temperatures and distribution of herring populations from the top of the Bay to the near Gulf;
  • enlisting fishermen’s and citizen scientists’ collaboration and observations to keep costs down and build knowledge;
  • looking at parallel crises in other parts of the world (especially Iceland, as mentioned above);
  • bringing together all available brains to think outside the box; and,
  • fulsomely sharing their explorations into these realms with the concerned public because maybe out there in the civilian world there was someone who had a theory that might be useful.

The collection of knowledge and data in a timely, valid manner would have changed the outcome, at least in terms of knowledge gained. Instead, the public servants entrusted with duty of care for marine life in the Bay of Fundy are saying they may never know what caused this.

As Evan Young, a New Brunswicker from the Fundy who runs a canoe outfitting/tripping service, said on social media, “How could the analysis be over until we have some idea what happened? What’s missing is the sense that the government actually reports to us, the people, the taxpayers, on this.”

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6.  Best Remaining Guesses: Causes of the Herringcide?

To repeat: the term herringcide is used because with all the usual causes excluded at the outset and the extraordinary factors mentioned above, it is evident the herring were killed by something/s people did, or something/s people did not do. As with any man-made disaster, there is a domino effect here, one small issue leading into the next larger one. Bang! Herringcide. Here are some theories:

  • Although we know from DFO that food-chain predation is not the cause, the herring were running away from something. They crushed themselves into these three somewhat sheltered areas, and succumbed to lack of oxygen from being in such density in these havens.
  • One credible citizen scientist hypothesizes the herring normally in this area had a huge population boom this year and starved to death due to their overpopulation.
  • Land-based/industrial contaminants may have been causal or partially causal. The argument supporting this is that the die-offs occurred in the mouths of three major watersheds.
  • Some of the other species found dead during the same time period may have been killed by causes unrelated to the herringcide. Weather, specifically quick and dramatic temperature changes, might have been the factor in the one-day dramatic shellfish die-off. I have heard no alternative explanation for the whale death/s. The wounded seals are not ever mentioned by DFO. Until we figure out what killed the herring we will not know whether it is linked to these synchronous deaths or harm.

As the herringcide progressed, DFO repeatedly said they were not ruling anything out, but they consistently refused to consider any possibility the herringcide could be causally connected to the turbine. We say that the failure to investigate this possible cause along with others illustrates the depth of institutional carnage in DFO, and the width of systemic biases. Failing to act quickly, effectively and inclusively could have contributed to the profound consequences.

Herring have very sensitive hearing biology, on which their capacity to thrive depends in various ways. Big Moon’s test at the Minas Passage in Spring 2016 (see Section 3), shows how accidental man-made changes in the Passage’s environment can have deleterious impacts. After the turbine was lowered on November 7th for testing and commissioning, the change in that environment may have scared herring away from the farthest reach of the Upper Fundy, sending them down the Bay, looking for accommodations that are in some ways similar to Minas Basin. This outcome would have begun anytime between November 7th and when the Cape Sharp turbine was connected to the grid and started generating electricity on November 22nd.

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Photo credit: C.W.MacKay

Colin Sproul, Spokesperson for BFIFA, wrote to Christian Richard, Director of Cape Sharp Tidal Ventures/Emera on January 2, 2017 (ft.7) :

“…The past months have seen an alarming situation develop in the Bay of Fundy. The massive fish mortality overtaking its herring population has caused great concern amongst our membership. All scientific investigation thus far has failed to identify what is causing this to happen.

“One fact that cannot and is not being ignored by BFIFA members is the emergence of these fish kills immediately after activation of the CSTV turbine in the Minas Passage. Our members have a legitimate concern that the onsiderable acoustic disturbance from the turbine and the electromagnetic field present due to the failure to bury its transmission line as accorded in the environmental assessment approval may be having a deterrent/exclusionary effect on herring stocks in the upper Bay of Fundy.

“…[Y]our predecessor, Paul Laberge made an assurance to the BFIFA… if population level effects to a species were evident in the Bay of Fundy that you would cease operations. We contend that this may be happening now but acknowledge that there is not scientific certainty of this. However, it seems the only appropriate action at this time is to temporarily stop the turbine and see if the killing may cease….

“Therefore, the BFIFA respectfully asks CSTV to follow through on its commitment to take this responsible action to protect the Bay of Fundy’s critical herring population and help determine if the turbine is contributing to fish kills or not.”

I consulted a respected and successful international high-voltage electrical engineer on this issue. He had no knowledge or experience of a crisis like this being caused by electromagnetic waves. The industry is all about electric current and has been groomed to pay special attention to issues such as this. However, based on his knowledge of rationale behind environmental impact regulation for his industry in other jurisdictions, he felt that the herringcide could indeed be related to the turbine’s noise, vibrations and/or pressure changes. Without prompting, he suggested they may have “run away to find a safer place.” It certainly would have been very useful to have a count of usual population levels in the Cape Minas area, before the turbine was lowered so that could be compared to a diver/camera investigation of population in that same area after the die-offs began.

Asking DFO for a current population count on how many herring should have been in Minas Passage, or any other specific part of the Bay ,is useless. DFO could not supply this information at the Jan 5th media conference. Looking into the baseline population data in Cape Sharp’s EIA is also pointless. As mentioned above, DFO’s own science advisors critqued Cape Sharp/Emera/FORCE for not providing the baseline data necessary to ensure proper environmental monitoring. Even if their data were adequate (which it is not), the proponent also did not provide an adequate monitoring plan. DFO knew that the baseline data was not done and that this is a major concern of their own science advisors. It is confounding that DFO repeatedly refused to do their own assessment of the impact of the turbine’s impact at the height of the crisis.

The turbine was synchronously installed just before the herring die-off began. Right from the start of the beachings, fisherfolk, residents, ecotourism entrepreneurs, citizen scientists, and naturalists asked that the turbine be turned off as a precautionary measure, while examining to find the actual cause. The injured seals and the dead whale/s are additional reasons it would have been the right decision to see what was happening at the location of the new tidal turbine near Minas Passage, and if needed turn off the turbine to study further. For some reason, DFO would not even consider requesting this.

The responsible Government of Nova Scotia, which allowed installation of the turbine without adequate baseline data and a proper environmental assessment monitoring plan, appeared mute on the entire subject of the herringcide, the dead invertebrates, the chopped-up seals and the dead whale/s.

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Photo credit: Joan Comeau

The petition we started online on December 17th is full of comments echoing what grassroots people were saying in social and mainstream media: shut down the turbine, look at the bottom of the Bay, and see if you can figure this out. From early on, the position of our chapter and others in Council of Canadians across the Maritimes has been the Cape Sharp/Emera turbine should be considered as “a stone that must not be left unturned.” We advocated to turn it off and look around. If this did not solve the quandary, it would at least put the hearts and minds of so many Maritimers at rest that the problem was NOT the turbine. We want to support renewable energy, but not at the cost of millions of marine creatures, perhaps on a recurring basis.

7. Lack of Capacity or Intentional Blinders?

The challenge DFO faced in November and December was to determine how we human beings are responsible for this, and how it could be prevented in the future. In our opinion, government’s institutional and systemic biases (particularly DFO) deeply influenced the causal factors investigated throughout the crisis. These biases have resulted in a dead end to their investigation. There may also have been forces (intentional pun) at play that caused some things to be obscured.

The comparative analysis in this article supports a conclusion that at least some of this apparent bungling is intentional. It shows how “company men” in management positions in our Maritime government bureaucracies engage in cover-ups of issues because it is important to corporations. When corporate agendas conflict with public concern, governments often seem to forget their obligations to transparency and accountability, “obligations” because that is what makes our democracy work. This holds in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, or Newfoundland, in federal and provincial systems.

We also need to consider that some frontline public servants are still hogtied by political will enshrined in non-legislative policies. We recently discovered a 2013 MOU between the National Energy Board (NEB) and DFO that gives the NEB authority for “assessing potential impacts to fisheries from proposed NEB regulated pipeline and power line applications.” This inter-bureaucratic agreement was developed under the Harper government and, added to that regime’s gutting of legislation, further undermines the capacity of DFO to protect marine life. It is true that this MOU applies only to projects under NEB auspices. However, could a similar MOU or policy-level “understanding” exist that resulted in Nova Scotia ignoring the environmental plan shortfalls outlined in the 2016 DFO Science Report on Cape Sharp’s turbine?

Documents filed in court by BFIFA show that DFO staff well understood, and appeared to concur with, the view that the turbine project proponent had failed to provide a proper environmental monitoring plan for this “experimental” project. Specifically in P21 of BFIFA’s October 20, 2016, Submission for a Stay to delay start-up of the turbine, it states that DFO staff wrote the Minister of the Environment for Nova Scotia and did not mention the missing baseline data. (ft.8) Why was this left out of DFO’s comments?

For the sake of all life in and around the Bay of Fundy, including the living water itself, we need to implement the Precautionary Principle. As Darren Porter says, “If you don’t have the money to monitor… and if you don’t have the baseline” data, don’t do it, “ecology comes first.” (ft.9) Incidentally, in this talk Porter says he got an email from the DFO on January 16th, in which DFO acknowledges that Cape Sharp’s single monitoring camera is not functional.

Just as this document you are reading was being prepared for publishing, there were two new media stories related to the herringcide. One is a report from Dalhousie scholars about tidal energy in general. The other is a CP Press story on the presentation that DFO did at the Nova Scotia Legislature. Both may be intended to do damage control; yet the many controversial issues raised in this document were not addressed in either of these settings.

Every point raised above still needs to be investigated. We need alternative renewable energy, but not at the cost of already deeply stressed marine life. As the BFIFA letter to Cape Sharp/Emera executive Richards points out:

“This situation has quickly shown that the absence of adequate environmental monitoring for the FORCE project can lead to a lack of social license and acceptance for tidal energy generation with Bay of Fundy stakeholders. Please begin the process of fulfilling your commitment to the BFIFA, this will surely start the much needed rebuilding of trust and acceptance amongst the greater Bay of Fundy community.”

NOW is the time for DFO to stop saying, “There is no evidence to support that the turbine could be a cause, so we are not investigating that possibility.” There is no evidence to support that it is NOT a cause of the herringcide, and DFO has already acknowledged that. For the sake of all marine and coastal life, no stone can be left unturned.

If this remaining possibility (the turbine) explains the herringcide, and if the transnational Emera’s tidal power experiment issues are not addressed, it is very likely herring will be pushed out of the uppermost Fundy, stressing the remaining populations in this region. That is an unacceptable possibility.

 


The intent of this document is to support community partners to rouse federal and provincial action. Emerging ecocrises are learning opportunities; we MUST study and understand what is actually happening on our planet. In specific, in this instance, we must sleuth our way to the core of the learnings that so many herring sacrificed their lives to give us. We must do this for the sake of all future generations of ALL LIFE on this planet.

This document is a follow-up to the earlier posts:

Following circulation of this “Sequel” backgrounder, another Open Letter on Protection of Coastal Life and Oceans across Canada will pursue political responsibility issues. Stay tuned, there will be a chance to get involved in meaningful national action.

This document was prepared by: Ann Pohl, on behalf of the Kent County NB Chapter, Council of Canadians, and is supported by:

  • Moira Peters, Member, Board of Directors, The Council of Canadians, from Maitland NS, on the Bay of Fundy;
  • Marion Moore, on behalf of the South Shore NS Chapter, Council of Canadians;
  • Leo Broderick, on behalf of the PEI Chapter, Council of Canadians;
  • Marilyn Reid, on behalf of the St. John’s NL Chapter, Council of Canadians;
  • Leticia Adair, on behalf of the Saint John NB Chapter, Council of Canadians; Jean Louis Deveau, on behalf of the Fredericton NB Chapter, Council of Canadians;
  • Brent Patterson, Political Director, National Office, Council of Canadians.


A Note on Popular Education Social Action Research:

Usually external crises that affect ordinary peoples’ way of life or livelihood are analyzed, and pronounced upon, by powerful people at a distance from the disaster. “A Sequel…” was prepared following the Freirean pedagogical principles for collection and summarizing participatory social action research. As such, it honours knowledge, opinions and concerns of grassroots people who live close to the situation, or in the midst of it, not just topic specialists.
If you want to contact the author, email Ann Pohl at coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com.

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Yes, I know those are mackerel, and that is the Northumberland Strait.

Footnotes

DFO is also known as Fisheries & Oceans Canada. Throughout this document, except when referring to the Minister, I use the term DFO because that is what their website address is and also what everyone calls them.

2   CFIA: Canada Food Inspection Agency  

3   ECCC: Environment & Climate Change Canada  

4   It is not clear why DFO did not invite independent fisherfolk and their organizations to their Jan 6th briefing session. Some fishermen were very helpful to DFO during the herringcide event. They hold an enormous wealth of knowledge on Fundy marine life and related marine health issues. They are definitely stakeholders. Is it because some fishermen are meeting the province in court over the issues related to the tidal turbine installation?  

5   For those who may have forgotten or been distracted at the time, here are just a few news reports re: the Harper attack on DFO. Read and imagine the culture of the surviving institution and its survivor personnel:

– https://thetyee.ca/News/2013/12/23/Canadian-Science-Libraries/
– http://halifax.mediacoop.ca/fr/story/harper-agenda-fisheries-and-oceans-%E2%80%93-sweeping-nation-wrecking-transformation/10441
– http://www.alternativesjournal.ca/policy-and-politics/crimes-against-ecology     – http://fonv.ca/media/pdfs/Press_Release_-_Habitat_to_be_Removed_From_Fisheres_Act_March_12_2011__2_.pdf 
– http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/42231-400-dfo-jobs-chopping-block-50-atlantic-region  – 
http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/killer-whale-expert-out-of-work-as-ottawa-cuts-ocean-pollution-monitoring-positions  

6   This citation deals with an entirely different species, but also in the Gulf of Maine, of which the Bay of Fundy is a part. It does demonstrate how acidification could possibly be one of the causal factors for relocation and the herring densification witnessed by fishers, scientists, etc. in these locations.

7  Due to DFO’s and Cape Sharp/Emera’s failures to respond with answers to the questions in several relevant communications, Colin Sproul, BFIFA Sokesperson, shared them with me.

8   See: Hfx Court # 453771. September 26, 2016. Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Between: The Bay of Fundy Inshore Fisherman’s Association, Halifax N.S. (APPLICANT) and Nova Scotia Minister of Environment, the Attorney General of Nova Scotia representing Her Majesty in Right of the Province of Nova Scotia, Fundy Ocean Research Center for Energy Limited, and Cape Sharp Tidal Venture Ltd.

9   In this talk found on RedSky-BlackSea see minute 1:25 : http://www.redsky-blacksea.com/podcast/au.mp3

An Open Letter to Political Leaders re: Marine Life Protection in the Bay of Fundy

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~ photos: Jennifer Thibodeau, Bruce Hewey,  various news sources, social media posts ~

January 3, 2017

Addressed to:

  • Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
  • Dominic LeBlanc, Canada’s Minister of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)
  • Stephen McNeil, Premier of the Province of Nova Scotia
  • Brian Gallant, Premier of the Province of New Brunswick

Dear Sirs:

“Canada’s Ocean playground has become Canada’s ocean graveyard,” commented Robert from New Brunswick on 0ur petition demanding leadership from your governments regarding the huge crisis that has been occurring in the Bay of Fundy for the past six weeks. At the time of writing this Open Letter to you, more than 53,000 signatories make this request:

We petition Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) Minister Dominic LeBlanc, Nova Scotia Premier McNeil and New Brunswick Premier Gallant to call a joint public conference with concerned citizens and the media, to provide updates regarding the herring die-offs, and to indicate steps that will be taken immediately to improve transparency, collaboration, reporting, and resourcing between citizens and frontline DFO staff.

Living creatures in and around the Fundy will be coping with this disaster for a long time. In fact, it will get worse, not better, while not necessarily in exactly the same way. The Bay of Fundy, as part of the Gulf of Maine, faces major challenges due to the fossil fuel and methane pollution rapidly changing the chemistry of the world’s oceans.

Our publicly-funded scientists must be unrelenting in search of identification of contributing causes. Instead, after virtually hiding for more than five weeks, regional DFO staff emerged on Friday December 30th. (That link is to national CTV coverage. This link is to local coverage: by listening to one story and letting it run onto the next and next, you can get a good chronology of the past week.) DFO comments appear dismissive: there is nothing to be concerned about, the event appears to be over, it is not “environmental,” etc., while they are unashamed to say it’s “perplexing.”

DFO has made some huge mistakes in the past, as post-mortem analyses of the collapse of the Cod fishery shows. (Please note the comment in there about DFO’s “failure to recognize environmental changes and their impact on the groundfish fishery”). Does DFO now know how to listen for alarm bells? Sadly, it does not seem so. On both coasts, and in every province between (see comments on our petition), people report DFO’s outright dismissiveness of community concerns. It appears that sometimes DFO goes even further and deliberately misinforms. Deliberate action or lack of capacity, you leaders MUST step in to prevent DFO from fumbling the ball any longer.

The November/December 2016 Fundy fish crisis is terrible beyond words, but we are not just concerned about that event. We certainly do not want to see you leaders get yourself off the hook by throwing individual staffers under the bus. You cannot blame the staff. It is the political leadership that sets the tone and determines expectations about priorities, so our sights are set for a larger and more significant goal.

We watched the previous federal government, under Stephen Harper, conduct a war on science and environmental protection regulation. This article, La recherche fédérale sur la pollution décimée par le gouvernement Harper (Federal Pollution Research Decimated by the Harper Government), published in Quebec’s Le Soliel in June 2012, provides some insight on this matter. The remaining staff in the “decimated federal government’s DFO had to learn to shut up to keep their jobs. For scientists and nature advocates, this means shutting down their brains and closing their hearts.

Prime Minister Trudeau, although the only federal politician addressed in our petition is your close colleague Dominic LeBlanc, DFO Minister, we added you to this Open Letter. You are really the one person with full duty of care for protection of the Bay of Fundy. In your recent Ocean Protection Plan announcement you commit to “ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come” because our coastal habitats are “rich” in “biodiversity and precious ecosystems” that “offer unparalleled economic, recreational, and tourism opportunities.” Step up and put muscle behind that promise. The past six weeks show that staff in departments such as DFO do not understand you are serious about this.

Prime Minister, your government has recently held all manner of public consultations about laws that need to be revised, reinstated, and/or upgraded to increase protection of our precious water and land and air in Canada. Now we understand you have funded the World Wildlife Federation to do some “buffer” consultations on related matters, such as “ocean zoning” for competing marine uses. It is obvious that “ocean zoning” is not a panacea. While it may work for industries of various types, the fact is water and marine life move around constantly.

Valid and inclusive terms of reference and resourcing are needed to create a wide-view research analysis such as this one from British Columbia. The fact that the Harper regime decimated this BC process makes it clear this is close to what we really need. It could lead to the logical and positive outcome of the entire Bay of Fundy region being officially recognized as a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, instead of the existing smaller region of the Fundy. We need the big picture validly consolidated, with sustainability as the first objective from here on. While gearing up for that, we also need answers to some of the questions citizens have been asking for weeks now. In a crisis of this proportion, no stone should be unturned:

  1. How soon can DFO provide a map of all sites where water was tested and cameras were sent to the Fundy, in the Bay, in estuaries, and in freshwaters leading to the estuaries, with appended results from those tests, as well as numbers of mortalities seen at each site on each day?
  2. DFO keeps saying they should have more test results in two weeks, etc. What are the outstanding tests, why are they taking so long, and when will be they be available?
  3. Have the dead herring been examined for symptoms of swim bladder damage, specifically: ruptured bladders, emphysema in the heart ventricle, emboli in the rete mirabile, emboli in the head kidney?
  4. Is there a clear correlation between temperature drops and major mortality reports for any or all species?
  5. Have provincial authorities in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick taken a careful and exhaustive look at possible land-based toxins that could have seeped into the water?
  6. What studies have been done to determine that the Cape Sharp turbine noise, vibrations, and pressure changes do not factor into these mortalities in any way? Because the two events began on the same day, what consideration has been given to stopping the turbine to see if that makes a difference?
  7. What research colleagues were contacted or studies were done to determine that whales were not part of this event? We ask this because of the dead whale on the same shoreline, which was not detected in DFO’s “flyovers.”
  8. Fundy Fishermen say “everything is out of whack.” True and will continue to be truer with dramatic climate and weather changes due to anthropogenic/industrial causes. Despite global climate and ocean chemistry issues, we can protect against exacerbating factors that make Marine Life more vulnerable. One related study would be to analyze why there is such an unusually large number of herring in the affected areas. Has DFO looked at this and if so, what have they learned?

These are just a few of the questions that citizen scientists, concerned scholars, marine life advocates, and others, want answered. We want them answered in a public, transparent, and collaborative information-sharing process. Think of the opportunity you have to contribute to world marine ecology science by making sure DFO staff (and whoever else is needed) understand that getting these answers is essential, and providing them with full independent mandate and resources to do the work. From these answers will come some of the terms of reference for the large urgent study.

Messieurs Gallant, LeBlanc, McNeil and Trudeau, do you recall what happened recently in the United States and in England when their populaces became convinced that their governments were not listening?

You all have to set the example for the DFO staff who have been psychologically “decimated” by the previous federal government regime. You need to show them it is not just “ok” but expected that they will function at top-speed, transparently, respectfully to concerned citizens, etc., in a crisis such as this. Canada’s public service scientists need to be convinced that the reign of terror is over. They need to know that the public and environmental good is what you expect them to diligently research and advocate, and that there will be no personal consequences or repercussions.

This is now also an international controversy. Make no mistake, Canadians and especially Maritimers, are devastated by this and angry at the slow government response but your problem is even larger than that. Most of the petitions’ signatories are from all over the world. All water is connected, so every planetary person has a valid reason for concern. As well, there have been similar unexplained die-offs recently in Iceland, England, Chile, and elsewhere. Do Canada’s federal and provincial Liberal governments want a reputation of not caring to mobilize resources to investigate this huge crisis? Suppose awareness slows tourism and seafood contracts? Instead of deepening the disaster, we could have a reputation as world leaders in the fight to protect the humble herring, an unsung true hero in marine and human food chains.

As leaders, you need to be seen to be acting, and you must also act effectively. We need good governance, transparency, accountability, responsiveness, appropriate prioritizing, and evidence that you are listening to concerned people. We invite you to visit our petition site and read the text of our call to action as well as the comments of signatories, who believe we are at an exceedingly fragile moment in human history. You must lead in a way that seeks to restore ecological balance as the highest priority. Are you up to the job?

Respectfully yours,
Ann Pohl, Council of Canadians – Kent County NB Chapter
Jean Louis Deveau, Council of Canadians – Fredericton NB Chapter
Ken Kavanagh, Atlantic Representative/COC Board of Directors (St. John’s NL Chapter)
Marion Moore, Council of Canadians – South Shore NS Chapter
Leticia Adair, , Council of Canadians – Saint John NB Chapter
Leo Broderick, Council of Canadians – PEI Chapter
Pamela Ross, Council of Canadians – Moncton NB Chapter

Brent Patterson, Political Director, National Office, The Council of Canadians

cc.
Catherine Blewett, Deputy Minister, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO)
Morley B. Knight, Maritimes Regional Director General, DFO

***Endorsing chapters updated as of January 5th.***

 

 

What’s Happening to the Humble Herring?

herring-6

For the past three weeks, a great tragedy has been unfolding along the eastern shores of the Bay of Fundy. Dead herring are washing up on beaches from east of Yarmouth to north of Digby. For those from “away,” this is in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, which since time immemorial is unceded Mi’kmaq territory.

Darren Porter, a local weir fisherman, is an informed advocate for the health of the Fundy, Minas Basin and Cobequid Bay. Porter is a founding member of the Fundy United Federation, 1 a think-tank of scientists, people with profound experiential knowledge, and allied organizations concerned about regional marine life conservation, protection of habitat and sustainable and traditional fisheries, and food sovereignty.

For almost three weeks, Porter has been Fundy United’s “point-man” for people concerned about the future of the humble herring in western Nova Scotia. His phone has been ringing non-stop. He is bombarded with emails and texts from ordinary people alarmed at seeing the beached dead herrings. Porter estimates that more than 100,000 herring have already been found dead along the shore.

The Government of Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is the agency responsible for protection of the Fundy shore and fisheries. DFO began investigating on November 22nd, after several reports of dead and dying herring. Darren Porter has been in daily contact with them, reporting on this awful situation.

The beautiful Bay of Fundy has a magnificently abundant marine life. Many people make a portion or all of their livelihoods from sustainable fisheries on the Fundy. It is also a tremendous eco-tourism attraction for both provinces abutting the Bay, as well as the north coast of Maine. Many come to the Fundy to see the “highest tides in the world,” and enjoy the beaches, trails, ferry ride, views, quiet resorts and bed-and-breakfasts, farmers’ markets, and gourmet wineries. There are also many recreational fishers on the Bay.

Whatever happens to marine life and health on one side of the Fundy impacts the economies and communities in the provinces on both sides. And, both the Government of New Brunswick (GNB) and the Government of Nova Scotia (GNS) have fisheries and environment departments.

Although one might assume that DFO or GNS would inform GNB, so far there is no evidence that GNB is concerned about this crisis.

Perhaps even worse, GNS does not seem deeply invested in the future of Humble Herring, Bay of Fundy fisheries in general or food sovereignty. On August 23, 2016, GNS Environment Minister Margaret Miller was nonchalant on fishery issues, telling Fundy United 2 that “Resources evolve – there was once 3000 farms in Nova Scotia and now there are only 300.” The question arises: is GNS forgetting that local fishers, farmers and tradespeople are what keep communities together in our rural Maritime areas?

Quite simply, more than three weeks after of massive die-offs, the abutting provinces are not really engaged in solutions. DFO appears no closer to identifying the cause of this mysterious crisis.

This backgrounder compiles information from community members, especially from the Fundy United organization. It is being shared to help the Humble Herring, on whom so much depends.

About the Humble Herring

Atlantic Herring usually travel in huge, fast-moving schools around fishing banks and near the coast. These migratory fish feed on plankton and small sea creatures found near or on the surface of ocean waters. Larger surface fish follow and feed on the herring, so during the day, they swim below the surface. The herring move close to the surface when night comes and the danger of predators lessens.

herring-1“Herring feed everything,” says Darren Porter. “Without herring, we have a catastrophe on our hands.” Predators of herring include seabirds, marine mammals, and larger surface fish such sharks, tuna, salmon, striped bass, cod, and halibut. People also eat this oily fish: raw, fermented, pickled, smoked, salted, etc. Herring roe is valued by some. Herring are commercially important in another way: they are used for shellfish traps and pots.

“Based on work I have been doing in the Bay,” says Porter, “here is the breakdown on the stock:

  1. “The Bay is the nursery area for four stocks (populations), three of these spawn here, and one spawns along the Maine coast, which all contribute juveniles to the Bay.
  2. “A small stock, estimated at 500 metric tons spawns inside Minas Basin in Spring (April-May). These are the large herring caught in weirs and gill nets inside the Basin in spring.
  3. “A larger stock estimated at 50,000 metric tons spawns in Minas Channel (off Scots Bay) in August-September. These are the large fish the herring seiners go after in that region.
  4. “The largest stock of 100,000+ metric tons spawns on Lurcher Shoal off Yarmouth in the fall (October-November). These also are the herring that seiners and gill-netters take in that region. They want them for their eggs to ship to Japan.
  5. “Finally a stock spawns on the Maine coast south of Grand Manan, and make their way to the Bay of Fundy. I do not know much about this population but could find out if needed.
  6. “The adults of each stock are more or less in their spawning area once a year to reproduce. Then when it is not spawning period these stocks mix together and move all over the Bay and north along the Nova Scotia shore to Chedabucto Bay, where most overwinter.
  7. “The young from each stock hatch out and the larvae largely remain near their spawning site until they become small juveniles or ‘brit’. As the juveniles grow, they migrate around the Bay of Fundy concentrating for longer periods of time in the regions of upwelling (Minas Channel and Passage, the Passamaquoddy Bay Channels, and off Brier Island).
  8. “At this point, the stocks are mixed together but individual schools are largely stock and size discrete. For example, in Minas Passage there is a large concentration of ‘brit’ (1 year old juveniles) during fall, winter and spring (probably many stocks). In late winter and spring the adults that spawn inside Minas Basin migrate through both in and out. From May to July, a huge migration of what we call ‘June Herring’ migrate through the Passage, moving inward and outward, and very occasionally penetrating as far as Cobequid Bay. ‘June’ herring are 2-3 year old juveniles and probably a mixture of all the spawning stocks in the Bay of Fundy. It is these fish that concentrate around Passamaquoddy Bay in late summer-fall and are taken in the weirs there for the sardine factory at Blacks Harbour.

“In short though, I want to emphasize that our herring has been in the best shape lately that it has been for years. I know that the World Wildlife Fund found that two herring stocks in the Gulf of St. Lawrence are in trouble, saying that predators are not being addressed adequately by DFO. However, those herring communities are quite distant from the current die-off.”

The Herring Troubles

Darren Porter estimates that well over 100,000 dead herring have beached on the eastern shore of the Bay of Fundy in the past three week. From what he has seen, it is pretty much all adults that are coming on the beaches dead or dying.

Many concerned people have commented that the number of dead herring in Nova Scotia is much higher than what has been reported, because many dead animals would have disappeared beneath the waves or been eaten by crows and gulls.

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In an November 30 2016 Digby Courier article, University of Saskatchewan wildlife biologist Dr. Ted Leighton poses the question, “What percentage of the fish is washing up? Is this one percent, five percent? No one knows. But it’s a lot of fish. What part of St. Mary’s Bay is affected? And now the Annapolis Basin? It could be millions. It could be much more.” 3

“This amount of mortality doesn’t look like a parasite to me, but that will be easy to determine,” continues Leighton. “It could be some kind of toxic algal bloom, the Gulf of Maine is crazy warm right now. But again DFO will be able to test for all the known marine toxins. If it isn’t one of those easy to test for causes, we may never know.” One of the issues raised by Leighton and others is that it appears only the one species is affected. “But we don’t know if herring is the only species dying because we don’t know what is behind this or where it is happening,” he said. “Are other animals washing up in other places? We don’t know.”

Two shallow divers within the affected area have told Darren Porter they could “touch the herring in the water.” This is extremely abnormal for such a fast moving fish with evident awareness of the hazards of predation. As well, fishermen in the Minas Passage area report seeing fish swimming strangely. Other reports have noted seeing seagulls pick up herring in open water. Clearly, the herring are not behaving normally.herring-2

Community members who are reporting the beached dead herring are confounded by why so many are just lying there, not being eaten by scavengers. As some have pointed out, often an animal can tell if something is not fit to eat. Most agree it probably just looks like they are not being eaten because there are so many of them. Perhaps the gulls cannot keep up?

What We Know

Although we do not know what is causing this die-off, informed observers have listed a wide range of possible causes. These include:

  1. parasites
  2. noise from explosions such as seismic testing
  3. fishery by-catch or a dumped catch at sea
  4. predation, pushing them to shore
  5. contamination through toxins in the water, such as algae bloom, pollution runoff from herbicides and/or pesticides, an industrial sewage or chemical dump; leakage from Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, etc.
  6. bacterial disease
  7. viral disease
  8. pressure on the species due to ocean acidity or higher temperature, due to climate changes
  9. lack of food
  10. environmental stress from in-stream tidal industry, including noise, vibrations, and pressure changes from turbines

Possible Cause 1 – Parasites

Parasites were strongly suspected by some because of the 1956 parasite infection that devastated the western Bay herring and some of the fish that eat the herring. In this case, the first round of tests done by DFO did not confirm parasites. DFO has now sent off samples to external labs with greater capacity. However, it looks unlikely that this is the cause.

Possible Cause 2 – Noise from Seismic Testing, etc.

Aside from the in-stream tidal turbines, it is not known if seismic activity or other very loud, very vibrational, industry has been occurring in the Bay of Fundy. There was some mention of work planned or underway to prepare the site on the other side of the Bay for the proposed TransCanada EnergyEast pipeline terminus, however it is not known if that could be relevant in any way, or if it is ongoing. The International Fund for Animal Welfare‘s research marine animals sensitivity to sound and vibration is summed up with “Anthropogenic noise interferes and overwhelms.” 4

Possible Cause 3 – Fishery By-Catch or Dump

Not likely a cause after three weeks of continuous beachings. Art MacKay from Fundy Tides 5on the New Brunswick side of the Fundy comments that he has seen research on “illegal catches, which are sold at sea, and if released, they can live for some time before they die.”

Possible Cause 4 – Predators

“I would go for ruling that out now, given the scope of the problem,” Biology professor Shawn Craik from Sainte-Anne University in western Nova Scotia said.6 Common sense also says it is not likely that predation is the cause. The herring are not reacting normally. As Porter said, divers have been able to reach out and touch herring, and fishermen have watched seagulls pulling live fish out of the ocean. This indicates a much more complex problem than predators.

Possible Cause 5 – Contamination through Toxins in the Water

Porter asked DFO if tests had been done on the water. He was told “that is the protocol,” but was not told if they had been done or not – nor, if so, what the results were. Hopefully this information can be forthcoming very soon. Dr. Craik also observed, “If there was a toxin getting into these fish and being passed on the scavengers, you would expect that someone, somewhere would find some dead gulls,” he said, adding that no such reports have come in (see footnote 6). MacKay also commented that Lepreau contamination is not a likely cause because Fundy Tides “did the current circulation for this, and it goes to Grand Manan on the ebb and the inner Bay on the flood.” However, all possible causes need thorough investigation.

Possible Cause 6 – Bacterial Disease

DFO has sent off sample fish for further study, but to date no one has suggested a bacterial infection that might actually have the seen effects. The point has been made by some concerned citizens that we may indeed be looking at something completely new. There is, however, a huge fish farming industry in Nova Scotia, accidents have been known to happen, and fish farms too frequently have problems with bacterial infections, which can spread to wild populations.

Possible Cause 7 – Viral Disease

This is another cause that some people strongly suspect. Viral Haemorrhagic Septicaemia Virus (VHSV) is also often a by-product of fish farms. On August 25, 2016, The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) confirmed that VHSV has been detected in wild Atlantic herring in Newfoundland and Labrador. 7 It remains to be determined by the further tests commissioned by DFO whether VHSV is the culprit, however most people who have reported seeing dead herring say they look healthy. Animals sick with VHSV usually do not look healthy.

Possible Cause 8 – Effects related to Climate Change on the Ocean

Prof. Ted Leighton was quoted above talking about the “crazy warm” temperatures we have been experiencing and it is well known that the ocean is rapidly becoming more acidic, for example. If this is the cause, it falls into the category of something entirely new and not seen before in human history. At this stage, Porter says, he has been assured by DFO that “nothing has been ruled out.” No stone can be left unturned with this crucial marine food-chain fish population.

Possible Cause 9  Lack of Food 

MacKay comments this is unlikely, having observed “Populations of copepods and krill in the Bay have been impacted in recent years, causing serious shifts in some marine species. Right Whales are actually the best indicator along with Phalarops. When they don’t arrive there is trouble. Actually this seemed like a good year.”

 Possible Cause 10 – Environmental Stress from In-Stream Tidal Power Industry

This is a difficult cause to assess for likelihood. On one hand, the dead herring we can see on the shores are quite distant from the location of the new Cape Sharp turbine installed at Minas Passage in early November. Some say this is irrelevant: we need divers to look at the Cobequid and Fundy bay floors to see how many dead fish have fallen down there.

Most significantly, the die-off started right after a new turbine was lowered into the Bay at Minas Passage area. So this possibility must be seriously investigated. To date, it seems to not be duly considered. “Fish die for many reasons when interacting with tidal turbines,” says Darren Porter. Although mortality from direct strike is a major issue, “actually the blades don’t have to hit the fish to kill them.”

Two years before the new turbine at Minas Passage was installed, the Vice-President of Fundy United Dr. Mike Dadswell challenged claims from the government and industrial proponents (GNS, FORCE, and Cape Sharp) that the installation would be environmentally friendly. In an October 2014 interview, Dadswell said, “there is no such thing as a ‘fish-friendly’ hydroelectric turbine,” and he “asks why Nova Scotia would risk collapsing a $100 million fishery.” 8

Dadswell is very familiar with the older tidal energy installation at Annapolis Royal. Regarding direct strike mortality, he recalls you can see a “wall” of seagulls come in when the turbines are in generating mode. 9 “Regardless of what they say” these two installations are very similar. Both are “axial-flow hydraulic-lift turbines,” although the one at Minas Passage spins a little slower. One difference is that Annapolis Royal has a tube entrance, where the Minas Passage turbine is open, but the opening is 16 metres across, backed by something with the impact of 1000 tonnes, moving at about 30 kph at the tip of the blades. From the herring’s perspective, he likens this to a person being hit by an 18-wheeler at 30 kph.

Herrings are particularly sensitive to noise, vibrations, and pressure changes.

  • Sound waves can have a multitude of negative effects on the herring’s sensitive physostomous swim bladders. They can create lesions or rupture swim bladders, which is what fish use to control the depth at which they are traveling in the water. For a general discussion of the impact of sound waves on fish with swim bladders, see this footnoted article from the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 10
  • Herring are also very susceptible to the pressure itself. Turbines generate power using a “pressure drop across the blade,” as Dr. Dadswell explains. “When fish are moving in the water, they have a certain amount of gas in their swim bladders, and when they come to turbines, pressure changes cause their gas bladders to expand rapidly” (see footnote 9). A report from Washington State University observes:

“If the pressure change happens too quickly the fish would be unable to control their buoyancy and, like an inexperienced scuba diver, would either sink to the bottom or float to the surface. During this time the fish would become disoriented and risk being caught by predators. In a worst-case scenario, severe pressure changes could cause internal hemorrhaging and death.” 11

  • The industry has designed the turbine to set off a warning noise, which they say will keep the animals out of the turbine. However, this noise could have another very serious outcome, if the herring get stressed and disoriented by the decibel level, etc.

The Minas Passage acts as nursery for the herring. Herring populations all the way up and down the Atlantic coast are at risk when the nursery area no longer has suitable habitat, and “one way or another” this turbine is “eventually going to crash the stock” (see footnote 9).

The crux of the matter, explains Darren Porter, is that DFO is not set up to monitor the impact of the new turbine that was installed less than two weeks before the die-offs began.

  • A major problem with evaluating the impact of the new tidal energy turbine in Minas Passage is that the proponent’s baseline data for the 2016 federal science review was very incomplete. 12
  • As well, the proponent’s monitoring plan to assess adverse environmental impacts was so poor that DFO issued a directive to submit a new and better monitoring plan by January 1st, 2017.

Why did the project go ahead without that baseline data and monitoring plan? GNS makes the decisions on project approval. Basically, DFO is in an arms-length consulting role to GNS on proposals like this. All questions from Porter about environmental monitoring – such as how well cameras are working, if the corporation has people walking the beaches as it is supposed to do, if the water has been tested for toxins, when divers will be sent to investigate the floor of the Bay, etc. – are met with evasive answers and/or a corporate statement that they are not obligated under the regulations to provide public information until three months after the turbine is in operation.

Many of those concerned about the herring say they know the reason that government officials are not pushing the panic button to stop the turbines and evaluate further: the province has invested a huge amount of financial and political currency in this demonstration project. GNS remains enthusiastic about the possibilities of tidal power, even though the new turbine is producing what some call the most expensive energy in the world. 13 A CBC report said, “The electricity being generated is some of the most expensive ever produced in Nova Scotia, costing $530 per megawatt hour versus the current average of $60 per megawatt hour.” 14

herring-4As Porter says, “It does not look likely that turbines are the cause, because of the distance between the new turbine in Minas Passage and where the herrings are beached, but to not assess a factor that could be causing this kill is irresponsible, regardless of what factor that is. DFO has told me this could be related to food supply, predator avoidance, viruses, water conditions, etc. – all of which are not monitored or studied on a regular basis. For the turbines, we know the possible pathways of effects and can assess the likelihood based on the evidence collected.” Yet it appears that the turbines are not being properly evaluated.

Other Contemporary Herring Die-Offs

There have been other recent dramatic herring die-offs in the more eastern Atlantic.

In England, just the past week or so, “thousands of dead fish have washed up on a beach in Cornwall and nobody quite knows why…” apparently “mostly herring with a few mackerel.” 15 It may or may not be relevant, but two companies, OpenHydro (owned by naval defence and energy corporation DCNS based in France) and Emera (a publicly traded energy and services company based in Nova Scotia, specializing in renewable/alternative energy) have partnered to form the Cape Sharp corporation that installed the turbine at Minas Passage. OpenHydro has apparently installed two similar turbines in Ireland. Everything must be considered in this crisis situation for the humble herring, on whom so many others depend. It’s odd that concerned citizens on both sides of the Atlantic are saying they have never seen kills like these before. Further, they are happening in two separate places across the ocean where new tidal energy turbines from the same manufacturer have been deployed. It at least deserves some investigation.

In December 2012 and February 2013, in Iceland, there were two massive die-offs of herring. One expert estimated that 50% of the herring were wiped out. Various reports have attributed this to causes as diverse as local building, overcrowding of the population in one spawning fjord, related oxygen starvation, etc. However, for most informed observers, there really has been no satisfactory conclusion on cause, making it impossible to learn from this instance. Perhaps this could be the result of changes in the ocean arising from global climate alterations? In any event, it would behoove government to immediately consider the parallels of the Iceland die-off in regards to the current Bay of Fundy die-off. 16

Can We Help the Humble Herring?

DFO began conducting tests more than two weeks ago. Their preliminary results found no evidence of a virus or parasites. As the crisis has deepened, DFO decided to send some of the dead herring for external bacteriology, virology and histopathology analysis. There are different timelines for getting results from the various types of tests, some of them quite lengthy.

In general, it often seems to grassroots people that it can take years to get answers from government departments about the simplest things. As the situation stretches towards a month of beachings with no answers, fishermen, Mi’kmaq traditional knowledge experts, environmentalists, and other concerned people are becoming more and more critical and skeptical about whether DFO still has any capacity for responsible management and protection of life in the ocean.

Some people are concerned that DFO is too subject to the politics and hidden agendas passed down to them from Ottawa. This was very evident under former Prime Minister Harper’s regime. Not only were environmental regulations tossed out, but libraries and archives were destroyed and personnel stripped from relevant branches concerned with protection of marine life. Most people working in DFO now are survivors of Harper’s 10 year reign of terror on environmentalists; many who could not accept the regime’s decrees left, or were let go.

The current government’s new Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) does not offer much reassurance. Touted as a stewardship initiative, a careful read of federal government announcements shows something different. A lot of emphasis is put on additional resources being put towards mopping up environmental crises that may occur as a result of oil and gas industrial development in the water, or transportation over the water that has gone wrong. 17 This is not a bad thing, but protection starts with prevention.

Overall, fishermen and outdoors enthusiasts do not remember ever seeing so many dead fish on eastern Bay of Fundy shores. Some say that Government of Nova Scotia has prioritized industrial development over the wellbeing of the water and those whose lives depend on being in or near healthy water. Community members often point to the case of the salmon farms as the cause of the end of our wild salmon: DFO swore the farms were safe, but now we see viral and bacterial contamination of the indigenous species from these farms.

As mentioned above, rural life is hugely important to Nova Scotia. However, the government does not seem to understand that by allowing the “resource” to “evolve” – possibly towards extinction – it will destroy the capacity of rural areas to sustain themselves. This bodes disaster for food sovereignty and many other facets of holistic sustainable economic development.

One deeply alienated citizen said “government response is basically the Monty Python one: those fish are not dead they are just sleeping!” Politicians in power must read these frustrations as a warning sign. Consider the upheavals recently in England and in the United States, when ordinary community folk were convinced that big government was not listening and addressing community concerns?

By contrast, Dr. Bradley Walters, a professor of geography and environment at Mount Alison University, did a critical reading of the draft of this document. Walters’ view is too much attention is paid to the “highly unlikely possibility” the tidal turbines could be causative. It is his hope that the assistance of DFO’s Rob Stevenson, an expert on Atlantic finfish including herring and the Fundy weir fishery, is sought on this matter.

Leighton rejects “notions of government scientific incompetence or conspiracy,” but seems to be concerned that the issue is not being taken seriously enough. He says he would like to urge “someone get out on the water and try and find out how big a problem this is, how widespread is it, what are we dealing with?”

While we wait for government to do the job they are supposed to do, Porter emphasizes, “The biggest thing needed is continuous reporting of sightings. People are getting slack, thinking enough have been reported or possibly the kills they see are already reported. The message must be, ‘Report every single kill you see.Here is what citizen scientist beach-walkers are asked to document with photographs and in writing:

  • The exact location of the beach you walked, how much of the beach you covered, and the date and time of day;
  • The approximate number of fish you saw on the beach, per yard or metre;
  • The approximate number of fish you saw in the shallow water at the shore, per yard or metre;
  • Whether the dead or dying appeared to all be herring and if not what other species were present;
  • Percent of fish still alive when observed;
  • Any other dead birds or mammals found, and if so which ones and how many;
  • Were scavengers present to eat the dead fish?

When you have done your beach walk, and have photos and text to share, MacKay (from the western Fundy) and Porter (from the eastern Fundy) are teaming up and eager to share all their information with involved government agencies and non-governmental bodies:

There is a third way to report as well, if you are comfortable with computers:

One more thing: contact your provincial and federal politicians and ask them: “What are YOU doing about helping the Humble Herring, and thereby all of us?”

We need to get this crisis resolved and hopefully find some way to really help the herring. This humble fish is truly a crucial part of both the marine and terrestrial food chain. In the western Fundy, MacKay comments, “In general, the herring industry over here has undergone big shifts for many reasons, which all deserve more research. All the pressures are here in one form or another. We are not seeing similar mortalities right now, but we have observed huge impacts on prey species such as Calanus, krill, etc., from, I believe, aquaculture.”

On the plus side, people on the ground with the most to lose or gain from successful resolution are alarmed and motivated. This emergency effort could break “silos” and foster better collaboration

The document is intended to bring awareness and encourage everyone to work together for all our sake’s. It was prepared as a social action research report: ie., community information assembled and packaged to encourage social action.

Most often crises that affect ordinary peoples’ way of life or livelihood are reviewed and decided by people with more power and who are at a distance from the disaster. Following the priniciples of Freirean popular education, the opinions and concerns of grassroots people who live close to the situation, or in the midst of it, are given a lot of weight. Popular education social action research honours the input of those on the ground, as well as those who are specialists.

I have the support of the Kent County NB Chapter of the Council of Canadians to post this discussion document on the Chapter’s blogspace. If you want to contact me, the author of this document, email Ann Pohl at coc.kent.county.nb@gmail.com. Due to lack of time, I will have to leave it at that. I hope this helps. Please leave no stone unturned for the Humble Herring. 

16 The herring apocalypse: Fish worth millions in exports die in Icelandic lake after building work ‘starves them of oxygen

Remarks to the Hon. Brian Kenny, the Most Important Cabinet Minister in New Brunswick Government

On March 2, 2016, 17 member groups in the New Brunswick Environment Network (NBEN) attended a 1.5 hours meeting with Brian Kenny, Minister of the Environment for New Brunswick, and three of his senior staff. Thank you to NBEN’s Mary Ann Coleman and Raissa Marks for organizing this opportunity for an exchange of information and issues.

Major items discussed included: how “regional planning” might help with environmental protection (eg. through increased mandates to the regional service district committees); water protection legislation – including wetlands, and enforcement of riparian buffer regulations; the Environmental Trust Fund; and, the urgency of climate action and moving on to renewables.

During this session, the Ministerial staff set out their current major priorities and here is what I recorded from their remarks in approximate order of urgency:

  • modernizing municipal legislation (now 50 years old apparently)
  • updating the regulations associated with this legislation
  • working with other departments to define priorities and capture these in “statements of interest”
  • a comprehensive water strategy
  • improvements to wetlands policies

Concurrent with all that is making the department’s work more transparent, and various digital information enhancements that are already underway.

While looking at this list, it is important to remember that Brian Kenny is Minister for the Environment AND Local Government (one department). On reflection, it appears that they are putting their eggs in the basket of local government as their approach to improving protection of the environment. An interesting idea – not adequate certainly, but might well help if done properly. A lot can be accomplished through land use planning tools if used properly. So folks, if you want to make a point on municipal or regional planning systems, policies, issues, concerns, etc. — now’s the time!

DSCN1536

I took this photo so am not in it. That’s the Minister at the head table, on the left in front of the screen. I attended on behalf of the Kent County Chapter of the Council of Canadians. As always, when I have the chance to speak truth to power, I think about which of my closest allies are not “At this Table,” and what they might like me to communicate that seems appropriate to the situation.

Here is a picture of me and my confrere Mark D’Arcy who attended on behalf of the Fredericton Chapter of the Council of Canadians. image
Mark used his allotted time to speak about climate change issues and the need for the Government of New Brunswick to do its own EIA on the Pipeline proposal. Mark strongly emphasized the Minister’s Duty of Care in regards to the possibly serious, even lethal, risks related to both these issues. This photo was taken by Caroline Lubbedarcy, who represented Stop Spraying in New Brunswick, and used her alloted time to press for a full review of health and environmental hazards of herbicide spraying by forestry companies and NB Power, as well as an end to the spraying.

It is also important to mention Jim Emberger was present, speaking on behalf of the New Brunswick Anti-Shale Gas Alliance. He addressed many of the points included in NBASGA’s Statement on the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing Report, including the lack of social license, the science case against fracking, and the urgency of NB government undertaking nation-to-nation relationship-building with First Nations . Later in the meeting, Jim spoke about the importance of government recognizing that each region of the province is very different, something he has learned through NBASGA.

Unfortunately, none of our Indigenous environmental protection allies were present. For me, a smudge and a reading of the Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth would have been a welcome addition. Next time?

In the order of our NBEN agenda, I was given the opportunity to make the final presentation, before the wrap-up. Following are my remarks…


 

“The Final Report of the New Brunswick Commission on Hydraulic Fracturing, released last week, speaks of the distrust, mistrust, and alienation of New Brunswickers regarding our provincial government. The Commission heard this loud and clear in Kent County.  In fact, Commission members seemed to stop in their tracks and feel overwhelmed by our perspectives here, about how government has betrayed us.  (∗ : in the footnote on this post are links to submissions that prove this sentiment.)

“Another example of that betrayal connects to something that was discussed at the outset of this meeting today. Our Kent Regional District Service Commission passed resolutions unanimously opposing the new Forestry Management Act, and opposing Shale Gas Fracking Exploration in Kent County (actual vote 15-1 abstention, I believe). But, Mr. Minister, as you know, there is no systemic pathway for resolutions from the Service Districts into the government here in Fredericton. The fact that the Government of New Brunswick totally ignored the only local body that represents our municipalities and local service districts contributed mightily to our sense that government deserted us to our fate of being a “Sacrifice Zone” for resource extraction industries.

“I am going to assume that you, Mr. Minister, and your three staff at the head table, have children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, perhaps godchildren… When thinking about the future they will face, it is clear and evident that your Ministry is the most important department in the Government of New Brunswick.

“At the core of your mandate is ensuring environmental sustainability in this province we all love. You have the tools and responsibilities for all manner of impact assessment, regulatory powers, inspection and enforcement services, in order to protect our environment. There is a huge urgency to bring all these into active service due to the ecoapocolypse that is lurking over our shoulders due to our rapidly deteriorating, changing climate.

“For us in Kent County, your department certainly has the most urgent and important mandate in this government:

  • We love our Acadian Forest, and all its inhabitants.  We want our Forest Relations to survive and thrive. This means stopping the rapacious clear-cutting, the softwood plantations, and the spraying of poisonous herbicides.
  • We want water protection legislation for our fresh drinking water, our inland fisheries, and our precious wetlands.
  • We want shale gas mothballed for the long term by legislation. Your department’s mandate re: “impact” and “sustainability” strengthen your hand at arguing this in cabinet.
  • We are passionate about biodiversity. The diversity of wildlife in our region — the forests, the waters, and the soils — contributes directly to the livelihoods of virtually everyone in Kent County, all the way down in scale to the bees we rely on to pollinate our fruits and vegetables in our gardens — so take a look at the neonicotinoids as well, please.
  • We fully support implementation of the Health Impact Assessment (HIA) process, proposed by the former Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eilish Cleary to the NB Fracking Commission. The Commission endorsed this approach but in an inappropriate and ineffectual manner. An HIA trumps an EIA, and as Dr. Cleary pointed out, the current EIA processes will and can be addressed and included within the broader scope of the HIA process she outlined. This is what we want to see. It will begin to restore our confidence that government is capable of looking after us over here in Kent County.

“On behalf of our group, the Kent County Chapter of the Council of Canadians, and all our united Mi’kmaq, Acadian and Anglo environmentalist allies in Kent County, I beg that you hear what I am saying. There is no time to lose on these matters. Please instruct your staff to walk into all interdepartmental meetings — and you, please,Minister Kenny, walk into all Cabinet meetings — with your heads held high, insisting on full implementation of the environmental protections your broad mandate offers.

“Yours is the most important Ministry in the New Brunswick government. Our future generations are depending on you.”

Ann Pohl, Chairperson, Council of Canadians – Kent County Chapter, March 2, 2016

 

 

DontPanicalltreatypeople

∗ See for example: “Powerless Citizen” and “Illusion of Certainty”,  Some of the Human Rights Issues Related to Fracking , Lise Johnson’s Story, No Shale…, Kent County Chapter Council of CanadiansNotre environnement, notre choix / Our Environment, Our ChoiceYvon Daigle’s Submission to the Commission, The Requirement to be InformedIt’s about Trust, To Make Critical Decisions, We Must Employ Critical Thinking, Personal Submission to the Shale Gas CommissionGroupe de développement durable du Pays de Cocagne Sustainable Development Groupe.

THIS IS GOING TO HURT

We are in a real mess.

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