Mayday! This is Spaceship Earth

spaceship earth

Houston, we have a problem.

by Bruce Mason

It was a summer of fire, smoke and hard rain. Of nightmarish hurricanes and awakened dead reckoning. All connected and predictable, in fact, meticulously forecast for decades. Equally predictable is how quickly we forget the lessons and how easily we fall into death traps, exacerbating rather than mitigating. And it’s all down to a tiny, but global, cabal of fossil fools and liars and their financiers, followers, cheerleaders and enablers.

In late August, the real costs and consequences of inaction were on full public display, complete with smoking guns and dark, watery scenes of crimes against Nature, as fires and floods increased exponentially.

Surely, it’s time to stop naming hurricanes after people. How about Hurricane Exxon, Koch, Chevron and Shell, amongst the 90 companies responsible for two thirds of human-caused catastrophe? The 1 percent scooping virtually all new income, world-wide, while playing a losing game of chicken with Mother Nature.

Forty years ago they knew and fully understood the science, spent billions on government and so-called Think Tank disinformation, promoting the very technologies warming the planet, making disasters inevitable.

Just as the US National Weather Service introduced new colours on satellite maps to show the unprecedented magnitude of the 50+inch Houston downpour, we must make adjustments to fathom the cataclysmic scale of our collective problems.

“Global warming” morphed into “climate change” and “climate sceptics” have become “climate deniers.” It’s now time to call it what it really is: “climate crisis.” The World Health Organization conservatively warns it will be killing millions within a decade if left unchecked.

It’s tragically ironic that Harvey and its aftermath touched down in Houston, pounding the very centre, and quintessential symbol, of fossil fuel. A handful of scientists huddled in a small section of Mission Control, not underwater, to bring three astronauts – two American, one Russian – back to Earth.

As the trio of anxious space travellers slipped into gumboots on Texas tarmac, stark space images of dystopian flooding and fires were fresh in their minds, including BC’s continuing “season” of 1,000 fires. One million hectares – an area the size of half of Vancouver Island –burned, and in LA’s biggest-ever fire, it was much the same, while deadly smoke eerily returned: Seattle, to Denver, and Greenland, linking up, obscurring, more and more of the planet.

“It looks like an atomic bomb when you see the big billows of smoke,” 150 Mile House fire-chief Stan McCarthy reported, expressing his heartfelt concern for firefighters’ mental health.

The astronauts also witnessed historic rainfall affecting 41 million people in Asia, more in Africa; Europeans dubbed their searing heatwave “Lucifer” and regions of Australia were suddenly uninhabitable. Bangladesh was two-thirds underwater as floods ravaged Northern India, Nepal, the basin of the Himalayas and the financial capital of Mumbai, crossing the border into Pakistan.

Those particular events were all but missed in the America-centric corporate media, not wanting to “politicize” human catastrophe. “Unprecedented” and “record-breaking” became clichés, flavours of the week or hour, amid endless echo-chambers that all regulation is harmful and stunts economic growth.

Instead of clarity, we’re handed a prism of suffering; heroic man vs. nature narratives carved from the rubble, with no view or discussion of causes, let alone policy. Our attention capriciously re-focused on panicked speculation of nuclear war and endless examples of democracy, devolving into distracted idiocracy. Ignorant hubris, staring into an eclipse with naked eyes, praying for blind luck.

As flood waters subside, disease is becoming rampant. Irma has struck and other hurricanes are poised to strike, as more of the West catches fire. We are literally witnessing the end of the world as we know it. Look around. Where are the birds, insects? Why are trees and plants dying. Five-hundred-year floods don’t necessarily happen once every five centuries. They are events with a one-in-500 chance of occurring in any given year. Houston has now had three in the past three years.

While Fort McMurray burned, Justin Trudeau shilled for his elite donor class, who are now little more than arsonists. Their disaster capitalism is sure as hell amplifying damage, fundamentally altering everything in its insatiable, predatory path. As a species, we must take hold of our destiny and plan for something infinitely better.

“Talking honestly about what’s fuelling this era of serial disasters –even while they’re playing out in real time – isn’t disrespectful to people on the front lines,” observes Naomi Klein. “In fact, it’s the only way to truly honour their losses, and our last hope for preventing a future littered with countless more victims.”

Pope Francis pleads, in God’s name, “Listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most because of the unbalanced ecology.” We must re-visit consequence, the only way to break the cycle of ignorance and denial. Stop refusing to hold the negligent accountable, strike back with adequate force at toxic climate denial and corruption. The costs of engaging and heeding scientific guidance are nothing compared to the probability and gravity of coming loss, not even close.

Our strength is collective. It resides in the vast majority of people for whom homelessness is just an injury, an illness, a bad season, bad luck or one pay cheque away. We aren’t as disposable as the 1% treats us. It’s time to fight back against the greed, pipemares and other fossil fuel evils. To stand up for a better BC, in a better world.

Remembering Gwen Barlee

Gwen Barlee

Activist, ally, mentor, leader, friend

Gwen BarleeThe Wilderness Committee is deeply saddened by the passing of Gwen Barlee on June 21, 2017. As one of Canada’s leading environmental advocates, Barlee worked as the Wilderness Committee National Policy Director since 2001 and she was an invaluable member of the organization’s executive leadership. For more than 15 years, Gwen guided both this organization and its community of allies through many hard-fought environmental campaigns.

She touched hundreds of lives as a mentor, ally, activist, leader and friend. Wild rivers, forests, meadows, all creatures big and small including western toads, mountain caribou, sage grouse, killer whales, spotted owls and bees, these were Gwen’s passions. She stood for the public good, defending parks and waterways against all those who would exploit them for personal profit.

Her loss has left a hole in our hearts. But her positive impact on environmental preservation in BC is undeniable. Through the Gwen Barlee Memorial Fund, her legacy will continue. The Wilderness Committee will continue Gwen’s work. Will you join us? We have established the Gwen Barlee Memorial Fund to honour Gwen’s memory and to continue the vital public policy work that was Gwen’s passion:

Parks: Gwen fought fearlessly to protect the wild. She defended BC parks from industrial development and devastating government funding cuts. In her sights was the protection of key contiguous lands for a new national park in the South Okanagan Similkameen. This fund will continue her work preserving the wild nature of BC and Canada’s parks.

Wildlife: Gwen stood up for some of Canada’s most endangered species on the ground and in the courts. Advocating for endangered species legislation in BC was one of her most important causes. This fund will ensure Gwen’s work continues, fighting for at-risk species from grizzlies to wild bees and pollinators and all those in between.

Wild rivers: Gwen’s ferocious defence of wild rivers was one of her defining campaigns. When corporations dammed and diverted BC’s wildest rivers for costly, irresponsible private power projects, Gwen joined forces with community groups and citizens to stop the BC government’s “ruin-of-river” policies. We will keep up that fight in her memory.

Freedom of Information: Strategic use of provincial and federal Freedom of Information laws was Gwen’s trademark tactic. She created persuasive campaigns based on data gleaned from the government’s own files. She held decision-makers’ feet to the fire, releasing facts to the public to increase government accountability on environmental matters. This fund will support a new generation of environmental activists conducting investigative research.

Strong environmental and economic policy: Gwen’s activism was motivated by the public good. Whether it was eliminating provincial park user fees so that everyone could enjoy the park or opposing the Site C dam to protect family farmland and First Nation sacred grounds, as well as managing hydro rates, Gwen always believed the best environmental policy should be the best policy for people. Help us continue that legacy.

Gwen was a strong leader and a tireless activist for social change

Over the past 16 years, Gwen distinguished herself as an extraordinarily talented and determined defender of Canadian wild nature, especially in her home province of BC. She showed a passion beyond compare for the defence of the land and the species that call it home. She was a YWCA Women of Distinction nominee in 2016.

She was a fierce defender of species at risk. Gwen laboured for years to push the case for standalone endangered species legislation for British Columbia. She was instrumental in convincing the BC government to set aside tens of thousands of hectares of land for the protection of the northern spotted owl, one of Canada’s most endangered species. She continued to call for an even greater amount of protected forest habitat, not just for the spotted owl, but for other species at risk including BC’s southern mountain caribou, marbled murrelet and goshawk.

Gwen fought for the establishment and protection of provincial and national parks. She helped stop government plans to put large private resorts in provincial parks. She was a ferocious defender of wild rivers since the mid-2000s against the government’s policy of giving them away for private power projects. She helped mobilize thousands of BC residents to protect the Upper Pitt Watershed, Bute Inlet rivers and Glacier and Howser Creeks from industrial power projects.

What distinguished Gwen as an environmental advocate was her research ability and her commitment to enhancing government accountability, upholding the right for British Columbians to scrutinize government activities and promoting transparent, fair and inclusive decision-making through filing freedom of information (FOI) requests.

She worked hard to create unique alliances of people and facilitate a common vision for coming together on environmental issues. Whether working with union leaders, park rangers, First Nations communities, beekeepers or kayakers, she was committed to working with people who loved BC’s spectacular wilderness and wildlife.

www.wildernesscommittee.org


An invitation to honour Gwen Barlee

Wednesday, July 26

6pm reception, refreshments, appetizers, cash bar.
7PM tributes. Vancouver Rowing Club, 450 Stanley Park Drive.

On behalf of Gwen’s family and friends, the Wilderness Committee invites people to honour the life and legacy of their colleague, partner, activist, friend, sister and daughter. Please join us in remembering her compassion, determination, tenacity, humility, fearlessness and strength.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the Wilderness Committee’s Gwen Barlee Memorial Fund.

The Powers of GO – The Green and Orange evolution

happy about green and orange

by Joseph Roberts

Sixty-five years is a lifetime without a minority government in BC. Now we have, just by the slimmest of margins, one! It is 41 NDP and 3 Greens vs. 43 Liberal Members of the Legislative Assembly.

A blessed granddaughter was born the day of the election. And like a new born baby this relationship between the Orange and Green needs TLC and nourishing. We dedicate this edition of Common Ground to all of us finding common ground to grow a better democracy.

This is not the first Orange and Green agreement, but certainly the first here in BC.

The Irish tricolour flag (Irish: bratach na hÉireann) is Green White Orange. The green represents the older Gaelic tradition while the orange represents the supporters of William of Orange. The white in the centre signifies the lasting truce between the ‘Orange’ and the ‘Green’.

The Quare Fellas sang The Orange and the Green in 1960’s, later sung by the The Irish Rovers. The song’s lyrics tell the humorous story of a lad born into a mixed religious and political family.

“My father he was Orange and me mother she was Green” the son born of a Protestant dad and a Catholic mom. “My father was an Ulster man, proud Protestant was he. My mother was a Catholic girl, from county Cork was she.” It brought a smile to my heart, you can listen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=63m-6zxfUyE

Making peace and forming agreements takes courage, creativity and also forgiveness in order to make our lives better.

We have friends in both the New Democratic and the Green parties. Prior to the election there was a lot of friction and animosity. Suspicion and animus raged between the two parties now in agreement. A number of NDP’ers were troubled by the Greens because they saw them as splitting the vote and keeping them out of power against the neo-liberals. Some Greens disliked the NDP.

Both sides have their stories to tell, their blame games, and their personal pains. No person or party in this situation is perfect, but then perfection can get in the way of progress. To have a progressive, democratic, environmentally aware governance of BC things had to progress.

The Greens have a lot to learn from the NDP and the NDP have a lot to learn from the Greens. Rekindled appreciation and respect will allow this now.

For 16 years the extractive capitalist and the donor class of the ruling Liberal-Conservative-Socred coalition, renamed BC Liberals, had free-rein to feed the profits from our land to the 1% while the middle working class watched powerlessly as Gordon Campbell-Christy Clark governments sold our province to the highest bidder. Big money ruled the body politic. There was no proportional representation. 39% of the vote took 100% of the power from the people, leaving 61% with no real representation.

We had taxation and exploitation without fair proportional representation. The NDP felt the impotence of sitting across from a ruling party that voted down any progressive motion they presented, such as taking big money out of politics which was crushed by their first-past-the-post (FPTP) overlords.

The sting was personal for John Horgan and the NDP who previously voted against electoral reform when the Single Transferable Vote STV referendum was offered.

Since then, the NDP realized while sitting in opposition how FPTP condemned them to democratic poverty with no real power against a BC Liberal majority government who, with only 39% of the popular vote, pushed through egregious legislation and slashed health, social or education budgets.

After watching the Christy Clark train-wreck in slow motion, they have realized that in order to have a government for the people the system has to be unrigged from the infrastructure and process that served the Liberals donor class. Get big money the hell out of politics and instill a proportional representation electoral process.

The Greens had already built these two principles into their platform and so the common ground was in place for John Horgan and Andrew Weaver to cooperate in order to better serve the people of BC.

And the magic happened. A minority government with the Greens holding the balance of power! The first time in Canada’s history. So, we stand before this amazing opportunity to bring real democracy and fairness into the governance of BC.

It has been said that when the people lead the politicians will follow. And the only real safe place for democracy is in the hearts and minds of the people themselves. So lets take out some life insurance for this new and fragile unity by getting to know each other whether you are Orange or Green.

We at Common Ground invite the members of the NDP Party and the Green Party to actually party together and meet each other face to face, share food and joy.

Of course, all are welcome who voted Green or Orange to come out and really get to know each other.

We really have more in common than we know. It is through connecting in person that friendship is built. With direct experience of each other we can develop the necessary trust to grow strong. Let’s be resistant to the divide and conquer techniques of the previous FPTP divisive electoral rules. Yes, we can move beyond hostile partisanship into a joint appreciation. We can cooperate together and better operate the levers of political power through a fairer, more democratic process to serve the 99% rather than just the 1%.

This may seem radical but at one time it was deemed radical to have women vote, or, it was unthinkable if one was a slave, to be truly free. Such is the moment we live in now.

But our effort did not end when we cast our single vote. Rather, the recent election has given us this golden opportunity. Now let’s solidify our goodwill. We can reverse the economic and environment damage done by former government’s controllers, who, being in power for too long, became arrogant, entitled and corrupt.

This is a new day for British Columbia and a beginning of a new era for Canada and what better time than on Canada’s 150th birthday. Just as UN-Habitat I and Greenpeace were born in BC and spread east across Canada, then across the globe, we at this time can stand for a truly people-focused democracy based on our shared values and common goals. And done well, this will be BC’s greatest gift to the rest of Canada on our 150th birthday. Implicit in this renewal is the honouring of those whose cultures were here long before the most recent 150 years, and to work together in the spirit of reconciliation with First Nations for the betterment of all.

Here is the opening section of the agreement signed by the leaders and caucus of both parties. Please do take the time to read the whole document on-line at the NDP or Green Party’s website, or at commonground.ca

2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement between the BC

Green Caucus and the BC New Democrat Caucus

This agreement between the BC Green Caucus and the BC New Democrat Caucus is effective [2017], for four years, or until the next fixed date election as set by the BC Constitution Act.

Section 1 – Foundation of Relationship

This agreement establishes the basis for which the BC Green Caucus will provide confidence in a BC New Democrat Government. It is not intended to lay out the full program of a New Democrat Government, nor is it intended to presume BC Green support for initiatives not found within this agreement.

Both the BC New Democrats and the BC Greens campaigned for a government that put people at the centre of their decision-making. Our policy proposals included many points of agreement, including:

1. Making democracy work for people

2. Creating jobs, acting on climate change, and building a sustainable economy that works for everyone

3. Fixing the services people count on

4. Making life more affordable for people

This agreement sets out a new relationship between the two parties, founded on the principle of “good faith and no surprises”.

Both parties agree that the legislature works best when all MLAs are able to put forward good ideas – and come together – to support those that advance the public good.

Remember, this is only the beginning. May we all find common ground and make our province, country and world a better place for peace and prosperity from this day forward.

Erin is a derivative of the Irish word for Ireland – “Éire”. Erin used for both sexes, is principally a feminine forename. Erin is also a name for Ireland in Welsh and one of the most popular girls’ names in Wales.

The baby mentioned at the beginning is named Erin.

So host a Orange and Green house party, block party, musical concert, improv flash mob, country fair, farmers market or any other place where people can gather together. Get creative and initiate you own celebration to bring both Green and Orange together. It is up to each one of us now.

What Health Canada won’t tell you about their NHP proposals

pill bottle

– but you should tell your MP

Health Canada (HC) never changes! They say one thing when behind the scenes their true motivations are completely different. With the media in tow, they have launched another round of consultations attempting to whitewash their proposals for the regulation of Natural Health Products (NHPs).

See: “Report of Online Consultation on Modernizing the Regulation of Self-care Products in Canada” (March 2017): www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/programs/consultation-regulation-self-care-products/full-report.html

Make no mistake; the sole purpose of these consultations is to ‘manufacture consent’ from stakeholders, the public and politicians for what HC is actually attempting, which is to provide a mechanism for pharmaceutical companies to monopolize NHPs for serious chronic diseases, as drugs derived from natural constituents appear, protected by use-patents.

As has been the case for over three decades, Health Canada’s policies on NHPs are being heavily influenced by the Therapeutic Products Division (TPD), which regulates prescription drugs. The TPD acts as an ambassador(s) for Big Pharma. It is all part of an international alliance between pharma and regulators called ICMRA, the International Coalition of Medicines Regulatory Authorities. (See www.hc-sc.gc.ca/dhp-mps/intactivit/drug-medicament/icmra-eng.php)

ICMRA is looking to internationally harmonize regulations on all medicines, an agenda Health Canada has ardently supported and prime in their sights are NHPs. The current HC proposals boil down to a purely bureaucratic and corporate agenda that has absolutely nothing to do with the benefit of Canadians.

How can such statements be made? In light of examining what Health Canada is actually doing, what they are saying doesn’t hold water.

Firstly, their most prominent theme is that they are committed to “modernizing” the current regulations.
Fact: Canada already has the most modern NHP regulations on the planet! This is like saying you are committed to modernizing a car that automatically drives itself. There isn’t anything more modern. Our regulations are light years ahead of any other country, with mandatory Good Manufacturing Processes and testing of ingredients. As a result, Canadian-made NHPs are in high demand in international markets. So what is HC so intent on changing??

The answer involves the fact that when HC formed the NHP Regulations they never thought so many NHPs would be able to support their claims with scientific evidence demonstrating efficacy. In fact, it was assumed by both HC and the natural health industry that scores of products would be eliminated. One prominent HC inspector was quoted during a plant inspection as estimating that up to 70% of the NHPs on the market would vanish. But the NHP industry rose to the challenge.

As new science on NHPs continued to mount, HC was faced with a new problem: that a large number of claims were being approved by the HC directorate in charge, for example, the Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD). These claims were/are based on peer-reviewed scientific or traditional evidence. Hence, large amounts of information have been disseminated to the public about what NHPs are capable of. The pharmaceutical industry began to complain NHP claims were not supported, when in fact most were and the NHPs were approved by Health Canada.

Yet the HC document above states the following: “…Many participants from the NHP sector are not supportive of this proposed requirement for scientific proof to support health claims, fearing that it would negatively affect the affordability, availability, and diversity of these products.”

This is doublespeak. The direct inference that NHP claims do not have to be proven is totally false and a major deception being purported by both Health Canada and the media. Presently, to be licensed, a
product must make a claim and it must support it using at least two peer-reviewed human trials or show it has been used for at least 50 years for the claim in question. Also, every ingredient in a formula has to provide a scientific or traditional rationale for its inclusion. The Natural Health Products Directorate (still operating within the larger NNHPD framework) routinely rejects submitted studies for inadequacy because of poor design or small sample size, etc. So it is untrue that the new proposals are just trying to ensure that NHPs prove their claims because they already have to prove their claims, as per the Natural Health Products Regulations.

What HC is actually proposing is that if any NHP claim involves a medical condition, the company in question would have to run clinical trial(s) to be approved, just like pharmaceutical drugs, regardless of how many peer-reviewed third-party studies there are supporting the NHP claim.

This is ludicrous. Firstly, with zero Canadian deaths on record from NHPs in over 60 years, their safety
levels eclipse that of prescription and [over-the-counter] OTC drugs, virtually every one of which has caused death. Further, many NHP ingredients have been used for centuries and intensely scientifically studied for decades. So if both the safety and efficacy of an NHP have already been firmly established, what purpose do further clinical trials serve, other than making it more expensive? The answer: a scheme to keep NHP companies out of the market. This is where the pharmaceutical industry is planning to exert their patents, such as this one on apigenin from chamomile (or celery) for cancer: www.google.com/patents/EP2403497A1?cl=en

Other falsehoods being purported by HC are that they are taking a “Risk-based Approach” and the more serious the condition, the “higher risk” the product in question. This is totally invalid. For example, there is ample evidence that quercetin, derived from citrus or onions, is effective for allergies and is anti-cancer. But what you use it for doesn’t change quercetin’s inherent safety! By this logic, eating a teaspoon of cinnamon on porridge isn’t dangerous, but taking the same amount of cinnamon, at the same meal, in a capsule for high blood sugar is. This is not a “risk-based” approach, it is a “USE-BASED” approach and the only thing it protects is pharmaceutical dominion over disease. If HC was really taking a risk-based approach, they wouldn’t be lumping NHPs together with OTC drugs because their risk levels are not comparable. This exact point was already considered and decided on by the Standing Committee on Health and was one of the driving forces behind establishing a separate set of regulations for NHPs.

HC says it combined the two directorates to save money. Yet if they were really trying to save money, why would they abandon a set of regulations that took 10 years to complete, and at the same time create an entire new directorate, the Marketed Health Products Directorate (MHPD), just to monitor product claims?

Is this how Canadians want their tax-money spent? Inspectors roving all over the country inspecting NHPs who have killed no one? Just think about how disproportional the concern and resources that HC has spent policing NHPs is compared to the low level of harm they have caused, not to mention their benefits or how much money they have saved our health care system. Does this make sense? No, it doesn’t because that’s not what its about. It’s about money and market control.

It is critical that you provide your viewpoint to both Health Canada and your elected officials in Ottawa. The best form of communication is a letter mailed to your MP. But whether by letter, fax, phone, or e-mail, concerned Canadians need to communicate with the MPs and express their views.

Take action at www.citizensforchoice.com/action-page
Source: Citizens for Choice in Healthcare,
www.citizensforchoice.com

Citizen assisted genetic testing

photo of David Suzuki

SCIENCE MATTERS
by David Suzuki

Since I started working as a geneticist in the early 1960s, the field has changed considerably. James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins won the 1962 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Researchers then “cracked” the genetic code, which held promise for fields like health and medicine. It was an exciting time to be working in the lab.

More than 40 years later, in 2003, an international group of scientists sequenced the entire human genetic code. Researchers can now find a gene suspected to cause a disease in a matter of days, a process that took years before the Human Genome Project. As of 2013, more than 2,000 genetic tests were available for human conditions. Forty years ago, I never dreamed scientists would have the knowledge and manipulative capabilities that have become standard practice today.

Inner engineering

In a couple of decades, genetics has allowed for systematic inventorying of the world’s biodiversity. Canada’s Centre for Biodiversity Genomics at the University of Guelph has the genomes of more than 265,000 named species identified with barcodes in its database. The cost to analyze a sample against this free public database is about $10.

Young citizen scientists in San Diego were recently able to help compile information about the area’s biodiversity through their local libraries. Kids signed out genetic testing kits… through Catalog of Life @ the Library.

People in Canada can also help identify seafood fraud with the LifeScanner service. Genetic testing helps consumers identify the species and possibly the origin of fish they buy, important for people who care about sustainability and health and nutrition.

Identifying and tracing seafood has long been a challenge, especially because about 40 percent of wild-caught seafood is traded internationally and labelling is often inadequate. Once fish are skinned, cleaned and packaged, it’s not always easy to tell what they are. If you buy something labelled “rockfish” in Canada, it could be one of more than 100 species. Often, labels don’t indicate whether the fish were caught or processed sustainably. Although the European Union and US require more information on seafood labels than Canada, one study found 41 percent of US seafood is mislabelled.

A European study found stronger policies combined with public information led to less mislabelling. People in Canada have demanded better legislation to trace seafood products. More than 12,000 people recently sent letters to government asking for better labelling.

SeaChoice (the David Suzuki Foundation is a member) is working with LifeScanner to register 300 people in Canada to test seafood, in part to determine whether labels are accurate.

With the help of citizen scientists, genetic testing can offer a powerful approach to righting environmental wrongs. Combining crowd-sourced scientific data, public policy reform and consumer activism is already showing positive results. The same approach could work in areas such as testing for antibiotics, pesticide and mercury residues and more.

Excerpted from “Citizen science and genetic testing yield positive results.” David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation senior editor Ian Hanington. Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

RCMP admits to cellphone spying

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by David Christopher

Finally. After years of obfuscation, the RCMP has admitted they are using invasive surveillance devices known as IMSI-catchers or Stingrays to spy on Canadians’ cell phones. The admission came early last month, seemingly prompted by revelations from CBC News that Stingray devices had been in use in downtown Ottawa and at the international airport in Montreal.

In those instances, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale issued a strong denial that Canadian agencies, such as the RCMP or CSIS, were involved, but the controversy brought a great deal of public attention to the RCMP’s own use of Stingray devices.

Stingrays are deeply problematic for a number of reasons. About the size of a small suitcase, they operate by mimicking a wireless tower, tricking all cell phones within a radius of up to two kilometres into switching their connection to the Stingray. Once that connection is made, instead of targeting just a single device, Stingrays indiscriminately vacuum up sensitive personal information from all devices within range, essentially making them a tool of mass surveillance.

There’s no need to be a target of a police investigation to have your private information compromised; you just need to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. And when you consider just how many cell phones are located within a two-kilometre radius of, say, a downtown Toronto intersection, that gives some indication of just how many Canadians have likely been impacted.

Secondly, Stingrays are capable of collecting information on everything from your location to details of every call, email and text you make. They can even listen in on and record the content of cell phone calls. Nor should we be reassured by the RCMP saying they only use Stingrays to collect location and device identification metadata. As Brenda McPhail of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association points out, “Metadata includes location information. That is intimately personal. The fact that they only collect metadata doesn’t let them off the hook.”

For those of us working in the field of digital privacy, the RCMP’s belated admission did not exactly come as a surprise. It will, however, hopefully prompt the informed democratic debate Canadians deserve about whether the use of these surveillance devices can ever be justified and, if so, what safeguards are necessary to protect the public’s privacy?

Unfortunately, the RCMP left many important questions unanswered. Why not tell us how many innocent Canadians have had their private information compromised over the past 10 years? Or let us know whether Stingrays have ever been used to monitor a political protest? And why did the RCMP wait until just a few weeks ago before applying for permission from Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada to use the devices?

Last, but far from least, the fact that the use of Stingrays can apparently be authorized based merely on suspicion of wrongdoing is hugely worrying. Surely, a much higher standard of evidence should be required, given the serious privacy implications for the general public?

It’s clear we deserve answers to all these questions from Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale. Canadians should keep up the pressure on the government by supporting our 48,000-strong campaign at StopStingrays.org

David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Our special election issue

by Joseph Roberts
Publisher and Founder (est. 1982)

“Many (governments) make a mistake, not only in giving too much power to the rich, but in attempting to overreach the people. There comes a time when out of a false good there arises a true evil, since the encroachments of the rich are more destructive to the state than those of the people.” Aristotle / Politics

Doll house for sale cartoonModern apologists assert that arrogant politicians are generally of high moral character. That has yet to be seen in British Columbia’s last 16 years. Millions of dollars, usually from tax payers, are used to prop up the deception that the government serves the best interest of the poor, and upholds democracy.

Martin Luther King Jr gave his riveting Riverside speech 50 years ago on the day I was writing this introduction. He said “A time comes where silence is betrayal.” “That time has come for us…These are the times for real choices and not false ones.”

He suggested five concrete steps that government must take, and named “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” Please listen to his compassionate sermon posted on our Facebook page. Many closest to King called it the greatest speech of his life, telling the truth about their government, “refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that comes from the immense profits of overseas investment”. A government who takes for their personal gain instead of giving to programs of social uplift is “approaching spiritual death.”

In King’s time, the US government was expanding its military invasion of Vietnam eight thousand miles away. Today, our government is selling BC’s resources to the other side of the world at cut rate prices. Both are corrupt and only serve the very wealthy. There are big financial interests, oil and gas multinationals and land developers, seeking influence with their political donations. Large amouts of money have gone to the BC Liberals while they refused to discuss campaign finance reform seriously – until caught, and with an election pending. They had plenty of opportunities to support the campaign financing reform tabled by the NDP and Greens, but they constantly voted it down. To figure out who that serves, follow the money.

Common Ground’s front cover lists five areas the BC government could have handled better, and each category starts with the letter “E” – representing the grade they deserve:

Education

Instead of negotiating in good faith with the BCTF, the Liberals wasted $50 million of tax money defending their amoral position in court for larger class sizes and school funding reductions. In parts of Surrey, if you now want your child to go to public kindergarten, there are not enough classrooms or teachers. So parent have to enter a lottery to “win” a seat in class for their child. Two high schools in Surrey have 500 students over their maximum capacity, so they have put teachers on shifts in order to double the class room availability. This is just one reason why teachers have been deeply concerned. If someone thinks education is expensive, try ignorance. The generations of students who have already passed through the underfunded school system have lost a precious chance for a better education.

Environment

Exemplified by the largest mining dam disaster in Canadian history, where a billionaire shareholder generously donated to BC Liberals, as did Imperial Metal whose Mount Polley mining wastes poured into the pristine Quesnel Lake, upstream from rivers that flow into the Fraser River’s salmon run. But that is just a start. You have Site C Dam, Kinder Morgan pipeline and Woodfibre LNG approved by Christy Clark’s neo-liberal government.

Economy

The economy is fake, the books are cooked. Bob Dylan said “money doesn’t talk, it swears”. We are told incessantly that somehow private greedy people will help out the public the most. When you look at the real numbers and not the cooked books for voter consumption, you realize that’s a boldfaced lie. The NDP performed better.

Equality

Number one worst child poverty in Canada. Homelessness hot potatoes tossed back and forth between the various levels of government. The basic minimum wage needs to be raise to a living wage. Corruption paves the “trickle up” of money from the workers to the financial elite. Some make a big show about giving millions to various causes, seldom mentioning the tax deductions and insider trading for legislation or re-zone of their other properties.

Ethics

It seems unfair and unethical that the biggest media corporations align with Christy Clark – who in turn runs wall-to-wall ads attacking John Horgan the leader of the NDP. These media corporations are little different in principle from their corporate owners and venture capital masters. They are rewarded with massive advertising budgets from pro BC Hydro, pro Site C Dam, pro LNG, pro pipeline, pro venture capital, pro bank, pro mega developer interests. Notice how Christy gets all the major attention, while John Hogan has been black-listed or ignored. Many people do not even know his name, so Common Ground decided to interview him to find out who he is, and even more importantly, what he stands for.

Martin Luther King Jr ended his speech that day 50 years ago with lines which still echo: “If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony… We will be able to speed up the day…all over the world, when “justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”

Here is a lesser known writer whose words also ring true today. And for BC.s sake and the sake of future generations, vote to make BC a better place for the 99 percent on May 9.

“These tremendous powers have been wielded with such a lack of scientific or financial skill, and in so narrow and selfish a spirit, that its arbiters have repeatedly plunged the commercial world into bankruptcy, and confiscated or inequitably redistributed its accumulated earnings, either for their own benefit or else to save themselves from the effects of their own blundering.”
– Alexander Del Mar

Liberals hell-bent on Site C Dam

hell-bent-on-SiteC-dam

by Ray Eagle

When the Peace River hydro-electric dam system was first conceptualized in the ‘60s, Site C was seen as just another river section that could provide additional power to augment the Bennett and Peace Canyon dams. There was no recognition of the attributes most now acknowledge: highly productive farmland, First Nations sacred sites, important animal habitat and a scenic rural landscape. There was only a determination by then premier W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit government to construct the dam; in 1971, BC Hydro began engineering studies.

Interestingly, energy Minister Bill Bennett made a recent admission, saying, “If I looked at it [the Peace] strictly as someone who loves the outdoors, it’s a beautiful place… But as somebody charged with the responsibility to help make sure we are meeting our future electricity needs, I also have to look at the valley as a very natural place for another dam.”

It was not until November 1983 that BC Hydro went before the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC), then newly created by premier Bill Bennett (W.A.C.’s son). A 315-page summary, while denying the dam’s immediate need because of BC Hydro’s abysmal forecasting ability, clearly had no concerns about eventual inundation of the valley: “While the Commission recognizes that major impacts will result from Site C, it concludes that they are not so large as to make them unacceptable… the impacts can be successfully and acceptably managed.”

BC Hydro was determined not to give up and on September 18, 1989, the Vancouver Sun reported, “BC Hydro has stepped up plans to build Site C hydroelectric dam… quietly reviving the multi-billion-dollar project shelved by the Provincial cabinet in 1983… Hydro’s move has projected needs, which may or may not be realized.”

In fact, it was merely a ramping-up of a state of readiness for when the go-ahead came from the BCUC, but controversy continued to follow the dam. On May 10, 1990, the Vancouver Sun reported remarks made by then Energy Minister Jack Davis at an Electric Energy Forum: “Power projects initiated by BC Hydro will be increasingly guided by environmental concerns because of mounting public pressure. We have the scope to be different without building Site C.” However, during a 1991 Social Credit party leadership campaign, the winner, Rita Johnston, declared in her policy statement that she wanted to accelerate construction of the ‘$3 billion’ dam. Johnston’s leadership was brief because the Socreds were defeated in October of 1991.

Despite these twists and turns, BC Hydro persisted and in the 20 years from 1990 to 2010, its staff worked diligently to keep the dam alive, continuing with advanced engineering studies. Questionnaires were distributed to assess impacts to the socio-economic life of the affected communities, studies were updated on forestry, wildlife, archeological sites and a whole range of issues, especially First Nations’ concerns. Public meetings were held and newsletters distributed to inform the citizens of BC Hydro’s intentions, as well as to offer reassurances. It was even stated, “It must be recognized that public involvement requires the provision of information, however incomplete…”

From 1990 to 2010, the public was mostly unaware of BC Hydro’s determination as its staff worked diligently to keep the dam alive, including its Northern point-man David Conway.

Through 2007 to 2009, Conway held a series of ‘stakeholders’ meetings that, again, engaged local people. At an October 20, 2008 meeting he bold-facedly told the assembly, “. . . no decision has been made yet to build the Site C project. We are in a multi-stage approach, regarding Site C as a resource option and are focused on project definition, which includes geotechnical, socio-economic, wildlife, fish studies and consultation.”

One of the concerns expressed was shoreline erosion, which, ironically, has recently become a major issue. Also while emphasizing the growing need for power, alternatives were quoted such as Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and wind projects. Conway also mentioned upgrades to both the WAC Bennett and Peace Canyon dams. Surprisingly, he admitted a good potential for geothermal, a concept dismissed by Energy Minister Bennett.

Whether the purpose was to placate the participants or to hide Hydro’s intensions, it is obvious that, back in Vancouver, company management and Premier Campbell had a different schedule.

Fast forward to April 19, 2010, when Campbell made his announcement from the W.A.C. Bennett Dam that Site C was on again, now claimed as a ‘clean energy project’ and “an important part of BC’s economic and ecological future.” Campbell’s ecological reference ignored any mention of the factors that now form today’s growing opposition.

Campbell claimed the dam would power 460,000 new homes and repeated the mantra of an increasing power demand of 20 to 40% in the following 20 years.

In 2011, Campbell faced a revolt over the introduction of the Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). It was rescinded, but with a 9% approval rating, on March 19, 2011, he resigned. However, for the wily Campbell, a sinecure awaited from Stephen Harper: that of Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom.

When the ‘gung-ho happy face’ Christy Clark won the leadership in the May 2013 provincial election, she pushed LNG as the solution to BC’s economic woes and claimed Site C was now vital to power LNG plants, Campbell’s domestic needs forgotten. Were the voters influenced by the LNG bait? The forecast NDP win disappeared, though Clark lost West Point Grey to NDP’s David Eby and had to run in a West Kelowna by-election.

No LNG plants have emerged, though two are planned, perhaps: Prince Rupert’s Petronas and Woodfibre. In a recent desperate switch, Clark is now trying to sell Site C power to Alberta.

With her brash style, it is difficult to gauge Clark’s popularity, but she faces negative issues such as class-size, twice lost in the courts, the highest child poverty rates in Canada and the evidence of massive funding from the business sector, much of it out-of-province. And her approval of Kinder Morgan, aided by a company financial handout, will certainly raise questions.

With regards to Site C, Oxford University professor Bent Flyvbjerg has written about politicians’ fascination with mega projects, describing the rapture they feel in building monuments: “Mega projects garner attention, which adds to the visibility they gain from them.”

This describes Christy Clark and her determination to build Site C while the call to stop it grows stronger, as proven by Peace farmer Ken Boon’s daily media bulletins. Approaching the May 9 election, opposition grows stronger (with the recent appearance of a very large white elephant!) in the determination to protect the many vital attributes along this historic river.

Ray Eagle first became aware of Site C in the mid ‘70s. He has helped fight it through the Wilderness Committee and many published letters in provincial papers. Wilderness Committee: wildernesscommittee.org, 604-683-8220. Contact Ray Eagle by email at r.eagle@telus.net or call 604-922-8507.

Trans-Pacific Partnership mistakes never to be repeated

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by Meghan Sali

By now, most of you have heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping international agreement brokered between 12 nations across the Pacific region, including Canada and the US.

Although often referred to as a trade deal, in reality, the TPP would have had profound impacts on the lives of the nearly 800 million citizens of the TPP nations, well beyond that which is traditionally within the scope of trade. It would affect digital rights, the environment, labour rights, health care, public services, even undermining the accountability of our democratic institutions by allowing corporations to sue Canada in secretive tribunals.

The TPP was negotiated in near-total secrecy; powerful corporations were given a privileged seat at the table while citizens and public interest groups were excluded from the talks.

At OpenMedia, our work on the TPP constitutes the single, longest-sustained campaign in our history. We have been deeply concerned about how the TPP’s copyright and intellectual property provisions would dramatically change how citizens use the Internet, criminalizing online activities, invading our privacy and costing our digital economy millions.

That’s why it was good news when public pressure pushed both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump into pledging to reject the TPP in the run-up to last year’s US presidential election. The subsequent withdrawal of the US from the TPP has effectively put the deal on its deathbed, although remaining TPP nations are in discussions about resurrecting it in an alternative format.

What does this mean for Canada? Why did the TPP prove to be so unpopular among the Canadian public? And what needs to be done to restore public trust in future trade processes?

High-profile trade negotiations are due to take place in the coming months: on NAFTA, with China, the UK and Pacific nations. Thankfully, Canadians have the answers.

Our recently-published Let’s Talk TPP Citizens’ Report, shaped by input from nearly 28,000 individuals who submitted feedback to the official TPP consultations, sheds light on why so many Canadians opposed the TPP and outlines what needs to be done to restore public trust in trade processes.

The most common reason given for opposing the TPP was simply that Canadians weren’t consulted. Stephen Harper’s government conducted negotiations that excluded the public entirely. The Trudeau government, on the other hand, launched a consultation process, but by then the deal had already been signed, with the result that Canadians were effectively being asked to take it or leave it.

Our report’s findings were clear: Canadians want the federal government to formally withdraw from the TPP and to ensure much greater transparency and genuine public engagement in future trade deals. Canadians’ desire for active citizen engagement to ensure the final product of any future trade negotiation reflects the broad needs of the public, rather than the narrow desires of powerful corporations.

Put simply, Canadians cannot support trade deals made in secret. And, with so many crucial negotiations close on the horizon, that’s a lesson the federal government needs to take to heart.

Read our report at LetsTalkTPP.ca/report and help by sending it to your local MP using our tool at LetsTalkTPP.ca

Meghan Sali is communications specialist for OpenMedia, a community-based organization that works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Your natural health products under illegal attack

Health Canada moves to put natural remedies in checkmate

by Shawn Buckley

We all have defining moments when it becomes clear that what we believe is simply not true. In the area of the regulation of natural health products (NHPs), I have had two defining moments that made it clear my beliefs were false. Prior to these two defining moments, I actually believed Health Canada wanted to protect us. I also believed the wishes of the people meant something to the government.

My first defining moment happened during a trial where I was defending an NHP company from Health Canada charges, such as selling their product without a licence. At the time, only the chemical drug regulations existed and such a product could not be licensed. A Health Canada inspector was in the witness box. I suggested to her that the purpose of Health Canada was to protect the health of Canadians. I thought this was a no-brainer suggestion. I fully expected her to say yes. She did not. Rather, she explained that the purpose of Health Canada was to enforce the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. People in the courtroom were stunned. We all believed that the purpose of Health Canada was to protect us. This was a false belief.

The purpose of Health Canada is to enforce the law as it is currently written, not to protect our health. Fortunately, in that case, the court acquitted the company of all charges finding it was legally necessary for the company to protect people rather than be in strict compliance with the law. This was a case in which I asked the Court to rule that Health Canada caused deaths by restricting access to a natural remedy.

My second defining moment happened when I was lobbying in Washington DC concerning proposed changes to how their dietary supplements were regulated. We had just finished meeting with a Senator. While we were packing up, the Senator’s aid asked if he could speak to us. This aid was around 50 years old and had been an aid to senators and congressmen his entire working life. In short, he was a Washington insider. He explained to us that, at that time, there were one and a half full-time pharmaceutical lobbyists for every senator and congressman. He went on to explain that the influence of the pharmaceutical lobby is so great that most senators and congressmen are aware of the share prices of the pharmaceutical companies. He was, in effect, trying to make it clear to us that we would in no way have any influence on government policy, as we could not compete with the pharmaceutical lobby. I knew that there was a strong pharmaceutical lobby in both the US and Canada. I simply did not appreciate how pervasive it was. In my defence, this was before the release of Dr. Shiv Chopra’s book Corrupt to the Core, which gave an inside view of corruption within Health Canada. Dr. Chopra’s book should be required reading for anyone who thinks Health Canada can currently be trusted to protect us.

These two defining experiences made it clear to me that:

  • Health Canada is not there to protect my health. They are there to enforce the law (regardless of the flaws in the law) and
  • I could not count on the law being drafted to protect my health where my interest in health conflicted with the interests of the pharmaceutical lobby.

My dealings with Health Canada over the years have strengthened my belief that Health Canada is not there to protect us. In every instance where I have been involved as a lawyer and Health Canada is seeking to take an NHP away, Health Canada has never taken into account the risk of removing the NHP from Canadians who may depend on it. In the court case I referred to earlier, I led evidence of deaths caused by Health Canada restricting access to a NHP. Despite warnings that restricting access to the NHP could lead to deaths, Health Canada never took into account the danger of removing the product. Health Canada was only concerned with enforcing the law, regardless of the law causing harm and death. I have never seen Health Canada do a balanced risk analysis (i.e. one that balances a risk posed by a product against the risk of removing the product) to ensure that the safest course of action is taken. Health Canada is only concerned with strict compliance with the law, even if strict compliance will lead to harm.

Because Health Canada always demands strict compliance with the law, you should be very concerned about any moves to strengthen Health Canada’s ability to take natural remedies away.

Currently, Health Canada is signalling they want to change how natural remedies are regulated. These changes may signal the endgame for any practitioner or company that is more concerned with good health outcomes than the over-regulation of natural remedies.

Currently, NHPs are regulated as a special type of drug. Much of our knowledge of natural remedies comes from experience. For example, the British Navy learned that the vitamin C in limes prevented scurvy. Limes or lime extract could be licensed as an NHP based on this learned experience. It would not be necessary to run expensive clinical trials to prove limes treat scurvy. Indeed, if it were necessary to run expensive clinical trials for a lime scurvy remedy, we would never have access to limes to treat scurvy. This is because of our intellectual property right laws.

If a chemical drug company invented a new drug they wanted to use to treat scurvy, they would have a patent on the new drug. Their patent would prevent any other company from selling a copy of the drug until the patent expired. The patent, in effect, creates a monopoly. Because there is a monopoly on the drug, the company can afford to go through the expensive clinical trial process. If they are successful, they can recover the costs of the clinical trials by charging a high price for the drug. They have a monopoly so the high price has to be paid. This is why new drugs are so expensive until after the patent expires.

An NHP company wanting to sell a lime extract for scurvy would not have a monopoly on their product. They did not invent limes and will have no intellectual property rights to limes or lime extract. In short, they cannot patent limes or lime extract. They would not be able to raise funds to go through the clinical trial process, as they would not be able to recover the cost by charging high prices. This is because they would not have a monopoly on the remedy. Any other company could copy the product and sell it at a lower price because there is no patent.

If you want to maintain your access to natural remedies, it is essential that NHPs are not subjected to the same types of evidence as is required for chemical drugs. Unfortunately, Health Canada is currently proposing subjecting NHPs to the same evidence standards imposed on chemical drugs. Not only does this ignore the differences in intellectual property rights, but it also ignores the risks of further restricting our access to natural remedies.

It is important to understand that there has never been a death caused by a NHP in Canada. Years ago, I made an Access to Information Act request of Health Canada asking for evidence of any deaths caused by NHPs going back to confederation in 1867. Health Canada could not point to a single death caused by a NHP. When our current NHP Regulations were introduced, the Regulatory Impact Statement made it clear it was inappropriate to regulate NHPs the same as chemical drugs because the NHPs had such a low risk profile.

Unfortunately chemical drugs do not share the low risk profile of natural remedies. Indeed, chemical drugs are one of the leading causes of death in Canada. Even over-the-counter chemical drugs like common painkillers and cold remedies cause a number of deaths each year. It is because chemical drugs are so dangerous that restricting our access to natural remedies will lead to death and harm.

Let me use nattokinase as an example. Nattokinase is a naturally occurring enzyme that can thin the blood. It is freely sold in the US. It used to be freely sold in Canada. Then Health Canada decided to restrict our access to nattokinase saying it was risky. I searched Health Canada’s Adverse Reaction Database and could not find a single harm event, let alone a death, caused by nattokinase in Canada. When I searched the same database for harm and death caused by the chemical drug blood thinners, there were many reports.

When Health Canada is demanding a natural product be removed and it is unsafe to follow Health Canada’s direction, the current penalties under the Food and Drugs Act are fines of up to $5,000 and/or three years of jail. Most persons or companies who have put a natural remedy on the market can survive such penalties. This enables them to act responsibly when following Health Canada’s direction would put Canadians at risk. If Health Canada’s directions are not followed, Health Canada can apply to a Superior Court for an injunction or other orders to ensure the law is followed. However, a Court will also have the opportunity to hear about the risk of removing a product, and will try to steer the safest course.

Health Canada is wanting to change the status quo. They want to be able to order recalls for NHPs without involving a Court. They also want to increase the penalties to fines of $5,000,000 a day for any violation, including for not following Health Canada recall orders. In addition, any management or employees involved in the violation could also be personally subjected to the $5,000,000 a day fines. I cannot think of a single NHP company that could withstand such fines. In effect, resisting Health Canada directions when it would be unsafe to follow them will be at an end.

Anyone who is concerned about giving a regulatory body the absolute say about what remedies are available should be concerned about the proposed changes. When new regulations and/or amendments to the Food and Drugs Act are introduced, we are all going to have to be ready for action. This is the most threatening proposal since the infamous Bill C-51. I am inviting all readers to do three things to prepare: 1) For a more thorough understanding of the proposed changes, visit www.nhppa.org and read my Discussion Paper on them; 2) Visit www.charterofhealthfreedom.org to familiarize yourself with the Charter of Health Freedom, which is a solution to the over-regulation of natural products, and 3) Financially support groups that will be resisting these changes. Advocacy for your health rights does not happen in a financial vacuum. You will either support groups such as the NHPPA or they will not have the resources to work on your behalf.

We are entering a time where unless we stand up and be counted, we will forever lose the right to decide for ourselves how we will treat ourselves or our loved ones when we/they are sick. Will you be counted?

Shawn BuckleyOriginally published in Vitality magazine, December 2016 (www.vitalitymagazine.com) Excerpted from the article “Freedom of choice threatened – again.” Shawn Buckley is president of the National Health Products Protection Association (www.nhppa.org).