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).

Mayday! Abandon the Christy Clark ship of fools

There is no money to help the most vulnerable citizens, but Clark’s Liberals spend billions to help their friends and financial supporters. It is a greedy, hateful style of government.
– Norman Farrell

by Bruce Mason

Let’s cut the crap and cut to the chase. Let’s quit cutting fake bait and wasting more precious time chucking good money after bad. We’ve tossed more than enough of our precious legacy and life-blood overboard, feeding the insatiably greedy sharks and their minions that float at the top of the financial food chain. Truly fed-up, it’s past time for a reset; it’s time to change course, right here, right now.

Make no mistake about it; we’re at the epicentre, caught in a perfect tsunami storm of hot air and tidal waves – the greenhouse gas regression or green revolution – on a collision course. The eyes and hopes of much of this planet are pinned on us in BC where Greenpeace first set sail. We are not only up to the task, but we also don’t have any real choice.

After 16 years hosting The Daily Show, Jon Stewart observed, “Bullshit is everywhere. The good news is bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy and their work is easily detected. So I say to you tonight, friends, the best defence against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.” And may we add, be somebody, do something?

One of my most trusted and vigilant sources is Norman Farrell, a long-time accountant with a well-developed, keen sense of smell. Dubbed “master researcher” by one of my mentors, Rafe Mair, Farrell’s outstanding blog, https://in-sights.ca/, has several thousand posts on everything from “Accountability” to “Wilderness Committee.” He told me, “People have questioned my opinion, but never my facts.” It’s well worth bookmarking and supporting.

Just before this issue of Common Ground went to press, Farrell posted “Pull down the veil of lies” (February 26), utilizing Ministry of Finance numbers to show how the record and promises of Christy Clark (Neo)Liberals are “egregious dishonesty,” in conflict with basic truth and common sense.

In the recently released 2017 Budget and Fiscal Plan, the government that got elected by promising a “Debt-Free BC” forecasted the provincial debt will grow $11 billion to a total of $78 billion over the next three years. But that last number doesn’t include $100 billion-worth of contractual obligations, as if non-existent and without impact.

BC Debt including Contractual Obligatons“Contractual obligations became a major financial commitment in the mid-2000s when BC Liberals privatized public services and moved major capital projects off balance sheets,” Farrell reports. “Schools, healthcare facilities, bridges, highways and power installations – although commissioned by and for the public and paid for by the public – were financed by private organizations and therefore excluded from direct provincial debt.

“People in need of social assistance have had benefits frozen for a decade,” he adds. “There is no money to help the most vulnerable citizens, but Clark’s Liberals spend billions to help their friends and financial supporters. It is a greedy, hateful style of government.”

To wit, Rich Coleman, the second most powerful politician in BC – he’s deputy premier, minister of natural gas and minister responsible for housing – boasted on behalf of his government’s record on poverty: “We have to remember that a person on social assistance, a single person on social assistance in British Columbia, gets double the annual income of a person in the Third World,” he huffed, adding a Trump-like insult-to-injury: “I know you don’t like it when I tell you how good this country is, but that’s fine. All I ever hear is negative, negative, negative, destructive, pessimistic attitude.”

No doubt, Big Rich would include Farrell’s honest, meticulous facts. Here’s something else to mull: if I gave you $1 every second, in one minute you would pocket 60 dollars. After 12 days, you’d be a millionaire, beyond the wildest dreams of most of us. At that rate – to hand over a billion – for you to bank the kind of numbers our politicians toss around would take almost 32 years.

Let’s get serious. Rather than investing in public retrofits, renewables, transit and care giving sectors of health and education to stimulate a rush of well-paying jobs, and instead of improving the lives of hard-working British Columbians – especially First Nations and others receiving a raw deal in an unequal economy (the highest in Canada and growing exponentially) – the BC (Neo)Liberals are attempting to bribe voters with tax money taken during Christy Clark’s term and dating back an unrelenting 16 years in office.

Interesting times. Frustrating as hell, as well, as we fall further behind, as summed up in a recent email from another former high-level politician and talk show host, Rafe Mair: ‘’Thank God for a business oriented govt. BC Hydro bankrupt – debt doubles under Christy – LNG a huge and very bad joke – Budget surplus from kids dying, ignored mentally ill, abandoned homeless – Phoney, ‘balanced budget’ – LNG at Squamish into the atmosphere, shit in Howe Sound to kill restored fish runs, whales, porpoise and dolphins, tankers to keep us all rich and dead – Kinder Morgan to pollute Burrard Inlet, Salish Sea, Gulf Islands and Straits of Juan de Fuca with bitumen leaks and spills.

Now, ICBC’s massive losses from their monopoly insurance company. And to top it all off, a self-styled beauty queen for a premier, who keeps airlines and photographers prosperous with our money, never answers questions and is incapable of telling the truth. BC is in the very best of hands, don’t you think?”

A last word from Norm Farrell: “Because corporate media does not report the above figures, it is up to citizens to correct the record. Do so at every opportunity during the election campaign. Blow up the myth that Liberals, while pandering to special interests, are competent financial managers.”

Do more than just vote, which is every citizen’s right and enviable responsibility. Google the platforms and join the campaigns of the optional parties: the opposition and our best chance, NDP, the Green Party and even the Conservatives. Ask questions, become informed, talk it up. Be able to honestly look anyone in the eye, including future generations, and say, “This is what I did, up to, and including, May 9th, 2017.”

Bookmark Norman Farrell’s site, in-sights.ca, sign-up for his emails and support IN-SIGHTS through donations, a wise investment in your/BC future.

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. brucemason@shaw.ca

The hero behind the thalidomide exposé

Frances-Oldham-Kelsey

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey 1914 – 2015

by Roxanne Davies

When Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey (photo, above) applied for post-doctoral work at the University of Chicago, the employer mistook her name for that of a man’s. Sharing with a professor she thought she might be accused of depriving a man of his capacity to support a wife and child, her professor replied, “Don’t be stupid, accept the job. Sign your name and put ‘Miss’ in brackets.”

Thankfully, Dr. Kelsey followed the advice and accepted the job. With an outstanding combination of character and career skills, she would eventually save countless pregnant women and their babies in the US from the thalidomide disaster. Tragically, Canada allowed the drug to be prescribed to Canadian women between 1960 and 1962.

In 1959, the American Food and Drug Agency (FDA) tasked Dr. Kelsey with reviewing thalidomide, a new drug synthesized in 1954 by the German drug manufacturer Chemie Grünenthal. Touted as a wonder drug in Europe to treat insomnia and alleviate morning sickness, which, in some severe cases can last for hours, thalidomide was available over-the-counter in at least 46 countries under many different brand names, from October 1, 1957 into the early 1960s.

Skeptical about the manufacturer’s clinical studies, Dr. Kelsey refused to authorize it for market in the US, noting the company’s arguments for safety were not convincing. Executives from the drug manufacturer wrote, phoned and showed up at her lab to try and persuade her to approve their application, but she would not budge. They called her an obstructionist nitpicker.

In early 1961, Dr. Kelsey spotted a letter in the British Medical Journal written by a Scottish physician who cited incidents of nerve damage among his patients taking thalidomide. Dr. Kelsey asked why the drug’s manufacturer had never mentioned the troubling side effect; she also began to press company officials about the effects of thalidomide on a fetus, for which the drug makers had not done any testing. By November 1961, she was vindicated when the full scope of the thalidomide tragedy began to unfold. News from Europe linked the drug to birth defects, including stunted or missing limbs, heart malformations, deafness and blindness.

Dr. Kelsey was instrumental in ensuring that thalidomide was never prescribed to any pregnant woman in the US. Although thalidomide was withdrawn from the West German and UK markets by December 2, 1961, it is shameful it remained legally available in some Canadian pharmacies until mid-May 1962.

It has been estimated that thalidomide maimed 20,000 babies and killed upwards of 80,000 worldwide. Many families with surviving children filed civil suits, but all the victims had to wait years without support because the criminal trial took precedence. When the criminal trial of employees of Chemie Grünenthal opened in the town of Alsdorf, in the district of Aachen, on May 27, 1968, it promised to be comparable in scale and emotional intensity to the post-war Nuremberg trials. Nearly 700 people crowded the biggest space in the region: a casino. Every day, the judges, lawyers, scientists, press and witnesses passed by three deformed children nursed by Red Cross sisters while their mothers waited inside hoping to learn the cause of their children’s affliction. The trial lasted two and a half years. The trial ended in April 1970 when proceedings were halted because it was deemed there was little public interest in securing a conviction.

More than half a century after the pill’s threat to an embryo was proven, the company that produced the first disaster continued to sell the drug in parts of Latin America, through prescription only, and babies continued to be born with malformations similar to the survivors from the 1960s. Initially Grünenthal had insisted that it was blameless, claiming the thousands of abnormal births were an act of God. The company now admits its role in the drug disaster and that the thalidomide tragedy will forever be part of their history. Grünenthal would eventually provide approximately 100 million marks as compensation for the victims.

Thalidomide is making a comeback as a strictly regulated drug prescribed by doctors to combat serious skin conditions such as leprosy and is being explored as an HIV/AIDS or cancer drug. Celgene Canada, based in Mississauga, Ontario, provides biotech therapies and has rebranded thalidomide as Nightmare Drug to Celgene Blockbuster.

In 2010, the British government officially apologized to people hurt by the drug, after earlier agreeing to pay £20m (US$31m) to thalidomide’s victims. In 2013, a class action suit by Australian and New Zealand victims of thalidomide against the drug’s British distributor Diageo Scotland Ltd. was settled for $89m.

It is unknown how many Canadian women and children were harmed by thalidomide, but in 1991 there were 109 Canadians who could prove they were thalidomide damaged. In May 2015, the Canadian Conservative federal government announced details of the compensation package for the 92 remaining Canadian survivors. They would receive annual pensions of up to $100,000 depending on the severity of their disability for the remainder of their lives. An additional $500,000 was placed in in a medical assistance fund to be accessed by individuals to help with mobility and adaptive tools as required. Prior to the government compensation package, the average thalidomide survivor “survived” on $14,000 a year.

I was humbled by the personal stories and photographs of our Canadian survivors who showed tremendous grit and grace in their daily struggles. It is a sad irony that Dr. Kelsey was not able to save her fellow Canadians, however, remaining survivors have graciously thanked her for her life’s work. Mercedes Benegbi, executive director of the Thalidomide Victims Association of Canada, said the tribute to Dr. Kelsey is deeply deserved: “To us, she was always our heroine even if what she did was in another country.” Dr. Kelsey was born in Shawnigan Lake on Vancouver Island and was a dual citizen for most of her professional life, visiting often, but returning to Canada in her late 90s.

Compassionate, courageous truth-tellers often are responding to a higher calling, a sense of duty and justice. Sadly, many of these men and women end up experiencing long-lasting problems. An Australian study looked at 35 men and women from various occupational backgrounds, who had uncovered harms to the public. “Although whistleblowing is important in protecting society,” the report reads, “the typical organizational response causes severe and long-lasting health, financial and personal problems for whistleblowers and their families.”

Dr. Kelsey showed strength and courage by refusing to bend to pressure from drug company officials and her actions saved countless American women and their babies. Hailed as a hero, she was the second woman only to be honoured by president John F. Kennedy for distinguished federal civilian service.

On her 101th birthday in 2015, Dr. Kelsey received the Order of Canada in a private ceremony in her daughter’s home in London, Ontario. She died less than 24 hours after receiving the award.

Christy, Justin, Kinder Morgan – Take a hike

Stanley Park seawall

The Burrard Inlet is a damn good reason to say “No” to the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. It’s our living room, meeting place, our Malecón and public square.

by Bruce Mason

Whenever our Premier (or PM) crave something “world class,” we recommend Vancouver’s Seaside Greenway, which includes the Stanley Park Seawall. As the planet’s longest, uninterrupted waterfront path, it’s one of humanity’s most inspiring Commons. Awe-inspiring, priceless and free, experiencing it does one a world of good.

But it’s never free from threat, much like many irreplaceable regions – the Peace, Prince Rupert and Haida Gwaii, Howe Sound, the once-mighty Fraser – and too many places where Clark recklessly proposes deadly fossil-fuel mega-projects. One has to wonder why anyone would risk screwing up, as the world embraces cheaper, renewable options and better jobs.

Long walks through sacred spots – in ‘our moccasins,’ work boots or flip-flops – should be leadership prerequisites. Contemplate before judging those who Christy calls the “Voices of No.” See clearly why her “Path to Yes” is the wrong direction and a sacrilege.

Disagree? Well, the Burrard Inlet is a damn good reason to say “No.” It’s our living room, meeting place, our Malecón and public square. It’s the stage for Vancouver’s 40th Annual Folk Festival and boasts championship fireworks, decades of polar bear swims, carolling ships and the Kit’s Showboat. Our outdoor rec room for beach volleyball, picnics or just chilling out, where a glimpse of one of 80 endangered orcas – our NHL team logo – is as thrilling as any overtime goal.

I count the freighters constantly at anchor in the port (a raison d’etre for Confederation). Fifteen, 20, more? Start at the head of the Kinder Morgan/Trudeau Black Snake. Christy says it’s now safe to triple pipeline-terminal capacity and increase tanker traffic seven-fold. All converging at the foot of a mountain and major university in a seismic zone. Yet someday, somehow, greenhouse gases will be cut. Highly unlikely (or is it Notley).


stop the pipeline start the music


The Burnaby Fire Department reports, it’s “…not the appropriate location for expansion…” noting, “…significant constraints to emergency/fire response, including safety and effectiveness of firefighters, evacuation, sulphur based gases, toxic smoke plumes and property protection.” Wise advice, recalling 2007 when the existing pipeline ruptured, spewing sludge 40 feet in the air, covering homes, trees and wildlife. It dumped 78,000 litres of crude and poisoned 15,000m of shoreline, requiring the evacuation of more than 220 residents.

Over four hundred Aframax tankers have been approved annually, each 245m long, 100m longer than the Spirit of Vancouver Island ferry at 167m. Longer than Vancouver’s tallest building, the Living Shangri La (200m). Try fathoming that between an index finger and thumb.

Other structural landmark comparisons include the ever-enlarging Alberta tarsands footprint, now the size of Florida. In Calgary, where many cheer the approval of more pipelines, the Husky Tower is only 191m tall, compared to the length of an Aframax tanker (245m). South of the border, outraged resistance rapidly grows in the shadows of the Seattle Space Needle, 60m shorter (184m).

The tankers’ huge mass, inertia and steering difficulty necessitate three tugs, a turning diameter of 2km, and 15 minutes to stop. Depth and beam restrictions restrict their travel to daylight hours and they must have a minimum one-mile-visibility, at a maximum six knots, at high tide, with a volume capacity of maximum 80 percent. They sit 13-metres deep, perilously close – 1.5m – to the prescribed maximum draft. Double-hulls, despite Rachel Notley’s assurances, are little comfort, having breached elsewhere.

According to the independent group, Concerned Professional Engineers (www.concernedengineers.org), it is “a gross negligence of decision makers to not evaluate risks and consequences of hitting Second Narrows Bridge.” Warning of a catastrophic severing of our main transportation artery, they remind us of previous “collisions with the railway bridge by much smaller vessels; twice knocking out service, requiring re-building.”

The possibility conjures up the nightmarish collapse during construction of the Second Narrows Bridge on June 17, 1958, indelibly etched in the minds of those alive then; 19 workers plunged 30m (100 ft) to their deaths. In honour of the lives lost, it was named Ironworkers Memorial Bridge.

Now, the cargo: dilbit. Short for bitumen (asphalt) diluted with petro-products to enable pipeline flow. The exact mix of ingredients is an unexamined trade secret, but tankers hold 30 Olympic-size pools of highly corrosive toxins that sink, unrecoverable, in inevitable spills.

“New approvals are problematic… bordering on irresponsible,” says Wendy Palen from SFU’s Biological Sciences. From universities across North America, she’s just one author of new peer research of more than 9,000 studies.

Their conclusion: claims that a spill can be effectively cleaned up or mitigated are unfounded. No ocean-based studies exist of how dilbit behaves in marine environments, rough seas and changing temperatures.

Christy? Justin? “World leading” science? Is Trudeau’s promised $1.5 billion taxpayer-funded response and recovery a deceitful fantasy? “Permission granted” is a surprise to disapproving mayors and First Nations. Two-thirds of those along the 1,150-kilometre route also disagree; 120 nations from both sides of the border drafted a Treaty Alliance Against Tarsands Expansion. As Trudeau/Clark “conditions” are studied – carefully, this time – numerous court cases are prepared.

This shortsighted, national economic fix is just that: a quick shot-in-the-arm for oil addiction, from stranded assets. From the tens of thousands of jobs promised – mere mumbo-jumbo – 50 permanent may materialize. Millions of dollars for the Canadian economy boast foreign owners, who would turn a barely contained trickle through Canada’s third largest city into their very own gusher, shipped through the Georgia and Juan de Fuca Straits to foreign markets.

From the seawall – built to buffer, but also to enjoy, nature – their deal resembles the long-ago sale of Manhattan for $24 in beads and trinkets when public land, like air and water, wasn’t considered saleable by native inhabitants. A decade ago, a storm devastated Stanley Park. Now, oceans and winds are rising. To risk people’s livelihoods for something that few people (customers) want is way, way too risky. Especially since Trump has approved Keystone XL.

In 1986, I wrote a feature for the Province entitled, “Miles of sea and sand.” I had the incredible experience of talking to folks at many of our beautiful beaches – Wreck Beach, Spanish Banks, Locarno, Jericho, English Bay, Ambleside, Dundarave, Eagle Harbour and Whytecliff. Over and over, people expressed the importance of these landmarks in their everyday lives. For me, these conversations are as memorable and transforming as Expo 86.

Some people know the price of everything, but the value of nothing. With all due – but decreasing – respect, take a hike!


Change agents worth following

Poll after reliable poll shows that the majority of people in BC oppose the Christy Clark/Justin Trudeau fossil fuel mega-projects, as much as two-to-one.

by Bruce Mason

The 1% who have pocketed, and hidden, half of the world’s wealth are delighted by people who think nothing will ever change. In that context, mere optimism is a political act. So, too, is pessimism; acquiescence is one form of obedience. To look at the myriad difficult problems facing humanity directly in the eye, as challenges and opportunities to create a better world to leave to our grandchildren, is somewhat radical in these dark times.

Some say we are in a tomb; others think of it as a womb and suggest we breathe and push. One bright light to follow in our ongoing global rebirth is Stewart Phillip, Grand Chief of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), afnd spokesperson for the international Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion.

Recently, in the fight against pipelines, he has wisely warned: “This is a global movement and not just a fight against another dirty pipeline… This is not simply an indigenous issue; climate change and the catastrophic impacts that we have witnessed to date and the potential impacts that will manifest in the future, are a matter of grave concern of all people around the world.”

The UBCIC

For their rapidly growing number of friends and allies, the UBCIC have created the “Coast Protectors Pledge” at coastprotectors.ca. Another site is RAVEN (www.raventrust.com). However, once again, Phillip notes, “People shouldn’t become too focused on the indigenous efforts and the dimension of the issue and court battles. It creates a false sense of security amongst the general population that they don’t have to be overly concerned because the indigenous people will take the lead and save the day.”

Another person to pay attention to and support is the seemingly indefatigable Shirley Samples whose non-stop posts reached some 20,000 followers on two Facebook pages: “Stop Kinder Morgan” and “We Love This Coast.” Her posts are a clearinghouse of current news and opportunities to fight back.

It is past time to do more than just share information, sign petitions and hit send. Show up and donate as well. Poll after reliable poll shows that a majority in BC oppose the Christy Clark/Justin Trudeau fossil fuel mega-projects, as much as two-to-one.

Here are just some of the organizations to look up on the Internet: Sierra Club of BC, Greenpeace, STAND (previously ForestEthics), Dogwood Initiative, Georgia Strait Alliance, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Living Oceans Society, Raincoast Conservation Foundation and the Council of Canadians, as well as smaller grassroots groups such as BROKE (Burnaby Residents Opposing Kinder-Morgan Expansion) and NOPE (North and West Vancouverites Opposed to Pipeline Expansion).

Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola-Island based five-string banjo player, gardener, freelance writer and author of Our Clinic. brucemason@shaw.ca

seawall photo © Steve Smith

People power will stop Woodfibre LNG

protesting the proposed Woodfiber LNG project

Last month, MLA Jordan Sturdy and MP Jonathan Wilkinson hosted a meeting in Squamish with local government and indigenous leaders with the goal “to enhance transparency with respect to progress of the (Woodfibre LNG) project.”

More than 150 supporters stood outside to voice their opposition to Woodfibre LNG, as their representatives walked into the meeting at Squamish Municipal Hall, with banners reading “No Pipelines, No Tankers, No Woodfibre LNG.” People travelled from as far away as Vancouver, Bowen Island, Whistler and the Sunshine Coast, taking time off work on a Friday morning.

“Woodfibre LNG has donated more than $60,000 to the BC Liberals in 2016 alone. That’s pretty cheap to buy a rubber stamp for your environmental assessment. But Woodfibre LNG is not a done deal. Every community around Howe Sound has expressed their opposition to Woodfibre LNG. More than 10,000 people have signed the Howe Sound Declaration in opposition to Woodfibre LNG. People power will stop this project,” said Tracey Saxby, one of the co-founders of My Sea to Sky.

Following the demonstration, supporters wrote messages to their representatives in chalk:
“BC LNG is one big lie.”
“Focus on renewable energy.”
“Save Howe Sound.”
“For our kids.”

LNG tankers put Howe Sound residents at risk

Based on International Safety Standards, we know that Howe Sound is the wrong place for an LNG export facility. Canada still doesn’t have any safety regulations for LNG tankers and the information being used by the Technical Review Process of Marine Systems and Transhipment (TERMPOL) to develop LNG tanker regulations is old or flawed. Public safety is not being taken seriously.

Woodfibre LNG threatens the recovery of Howe Sound

Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent cleaning up the toxic legacies of previous industries, such as the Nexen chemical plant, the Woodfibre pulp mill and the Britannia Beach mine. As a direct result, Howe Sound is slowly recovering: the herring and the whales are coming back. Woodfibre LNG threatens this recovery through underwater noise, which impacts herring, salmon, whales and other wildlife.

Air pollution from Woodfibre LNG will impact public health at a social cost of over $20 million per year.

Even though Woodfibre LNG is using electricity as the main power source, there will still be significant air pollution during operation. Woodfibre LNG is estimating air pollution emissions of 295.7 tonnes of nitrous oxides (NOx) and 43.8 tonnes of sulfur dioxide (SO2) every year.



Source: My Sea to Sky, a volunteer organization that was started in early 2014 in opposition to the proposed Woodfibre LNG project. More than 10,000 supporters have signed the Howe Sound declaration. www.myseatosky.org

photo by Les MacDonald

Internet freedom: a make-or-break year

photo of David Christopher

INDEPENDENT MEDIA
by David Christopher

2017 is here and it’s clear it will be a make-or-break year for Internet freedom. Around the world, our digital rights are under threat as never before. Let’s take a look at some of the big challenges ahead.

In Canada, the federal government will soon be publishing its response to the National Security consultation that closed in December. It’s abundantly clear Canadians want the government to repeal Bill C-51 and deliver strong privacy rules to make us safe – but will the government listen, especially against the backdrop of a full-on RCMP propaganda campaign calling for even more invasive spy powers?

Also in Canada, the government is under pressure from industry lobbyists pushing a costly, new Internet Tax, a proposal that expert Michael Geist has called a “digital tax on everything.” This is a terrible idea that will deepen the digital divide and force even more Canadians offline, in a country where low-income and rural residents are already struggling to stay connected. If the government pursues this, expect a big fight ahead.

South of the border, Donald Trump’s recent inauguration as president means he has secured, not just the keys to the Oval Office, but also sweeping, new powers to shape the future of the Internet for generations to come.

Based on Trump’s statements, we can expect to see a dramatic expansion of NSA and FBI spying powers. Worryingly, there are very few oversight mechanisms or limitations on what Trump can do with this power. And given that so much surveillance activity takes place under a veil of near-total secrecy, it will be extremely difficult for citizens to hold Trump effectively to account.

With Trump in office, we’re also anticipating a full-on assault on the hard-fought Net Neutrality consumer protections that millions fought so hard for at the Federal Communications Commission just two years ago. Net Neutrality rules ensure that Internet users get to decide what to watch online and when, rather than having giant telcos make those decisions for us.

Without Net Neutrality, your telecom provider could decide which websites to speed up and which to slow down – effectively creating an Internet Slow Lane for everyone except deep-pocketed conglomerates. Put simply, Net Neutrality is essential for a free and open Internet and we’ll need to pull out all the stops to defend it.

Elsewhere, MEPs in the EU are considering controversial proposals from the European Commission to impose a new ancillary copyright fee – effectively a Link Tax – on anyone who shares links and accompanying snippets of information online. The Link Tax will have a devastating impact on access to information and freedom of expression and we’ll be working hard to convince MEPs to block this reckless idea.

With so many tough fights ahead, 2017 will be a pivotal year for digital rights. But if the history of the pro-Internet movement can teach us anything, it’s that the more challenging the times, the more inspiring the response – and there’s no doubt we’ll need to mobilize millions of people around the world if we’re to successfully protect our basic rights over the weeks and months to come.

Keep in touch at OpenMedia.org and on Facebook https://facebook.com/openmediaorg and see our Twitter https://twitter.com/openmediaorg feeds for all the latest.

David Christopher is communications manager for OpenMedia, which works to keep the Internet open, affordable and surveillance-free. openmedia.org

Diluted bitumen unsafe in any waters and should be banned

bitumen

Bitumen, the product being extracted from the Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan Tar Sands operations, is similar to bunker crude. It also must be heated to be pumped. To make it flow in a pipeline a thinning agent is added.

The faulty logic of Trudeau’s Kinder Morgan Pipeline approval

by Merv Richie

For many years now the British Columbian population has endured news, commentaries and protests regarding the prospects of petroleum products being piped across the province and shipped by tankers from West Coast ports. Missing from the debate, including the recent decisions by the government of Justin Trudeau, is the various types of product and the present day dangers the coast faces now with all vessels.

The Nathan E. Stewart, which ran aground and sank at Bella Bella on October 13, 2016, highlights these dangers. Almost every vessel, from small fish boats to dry goods freighters has all their fuel uncontained. The MV Rena, which struck a reef and broke up spoiling the beaches of New Zealand five years ago, was a dry goods freighter. Everyday there are approximately 15 similar freighters moored in English Bay, each with an average of 3 million litres of Bunker Crude in their keel holds. Only 3/4 of an inch of steel separates the bunker fuel from the open ocean and our waterfront. A full 45 million litres or as much as the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. All of this bunker crude and all fuel in almost all vessels waits to be spilled. The Nathan E. Stewart is our wake up call to demand fuel containment in all BC waters.

Most common of the refined petroleum products are diesel and gasoline. Besides the dozens of other products refined from crude oil the remaining sludge, a dirty sulphurous residue, is bunker crude. This is stored as ballast in the ‘keel hold’ at the bottom of all freighters. The consistency is such that it cannot be pumped without heating. When cold, it is like tar; in fact it is exactly the same substance we mix with gravel to pave our road surfaces. All freighters run on this filth after they leave populated harbours.

Bitumen, the product being extracted from the Northern Alberta and Saskatchewan Tar Sands operations, is similar to bunker crude. It also must be heated to be pumped. To make it flow in a pipeline a thinning agent is added. This is where the term Dil-Bit comes from; diluted bitumen. The thick bitumen is diluted with a product called ‘condensate’. Condensate is a very toxic and explosive gas. It is a by-product of wet natural gas wells. Commonly called ‘white gas’ it contains hydrogen sulfide, methanol, ethynol, cyclohexane, naphthene, benzene, toluene, xylenes and ethyl benzene. This product is being imported into Canada by ship and by rail from Kitimat to Alberta for the present pipeline system.

Therefore, we have a variety of substances to consider along with the manner in which these substances are transported. Each has their own hazards and management issues.

When the Lac Megantic disaster happened, the tragic explosion of a runaway train carrying oil, the product was not just oil. It was a mixture of oil and gas. Most adults understand one cannot light a litre of 10W30 engine oil. But if one was to add a bit of gasoline to the bottle we would essentially be creating a bomb. One wouldn’t want to stand too close when lighting it. That is exactly what was on the rails at Lac Megantic: bombs, crude oil mixed with gas.

What happened at Kalamazoo Michigan from the ‘Dil-Bit’ was a different result from the same mixture. When the Enbridge pipeline burst, a spray of pressurized ‘Dil-Bit’ hit the atmosphere. The local population suffered the effects of the toxicity. The suddenly aerosolized poisons of the condensate created neurotoxins.

Dil-Bit therefore is nothing short of an extremely explosive toxic nerve gas bomb.

Raw crude oil, without any added or present gases is difficult to transport by pipelines; for bitumen it is impossible. The added difficulty for Canadian bitumen is the corrosive sediment remaining after initial processing. The life of the pipelines is substantially reduced due to increased wear, much like sandpaper, the bitumen presents.

Transporting bitumen by rail car is not dangerous as long as it is not diluted or heated; shipped cold and raw. Bunker crude is shipped this way today. A derailment would see the product simply stay where it spilled even if a rail car broke open. A fully refined product, Dil-Bit or condensate would pollute flowing freely, vaporize or even ignite.

All these products are loaded onto vessels plying our waters completely un-contained. The rail cars or pipelines fill storage tanks next to the waters or are emptied directly into the vessel at port. This in itself presents a variety of potential for spillage. At Kitimat the condensate is reportedly spilled regularly. Tank farms are known to spring leaks including the one Kinder Morgan operates at Burrard Inlet, and spills occur while filling vessels. In fact most pleasure craft and fishing vessels are filled until the overflow spills out into the waters. All of these hazards and spillages could be resolved by a demand for containment by our governments.

In 1965 Ralph Nader wrote Unsafe at Any Speed. It was a critical examination of the Automobile Industry’s refusal to consider adding safety features such as seat belts. The industry, Nader detailed, sacrificed the lives of thousands by their combined refusal to address the very real and obvious hazards. A clear analogy is obvious here. The automobile industry complained loudly against regulation of their product, arguing the extra costs would bankrupt them or make their product unaffordable. Now safety is one of the auto industries greatest advertising features, adding airbags and protection devices wherever possible.

The petroleum and marine shipping industry could achieve the same result. Just as was required for the auto industry, regulations and changes will need to be enforced.

All vessels must be required to be retrofitted to have their fuel stored in removable containers. In the case of freighters, the rail cars presently delivering bunker crude could be redesigned to be detached from the rail bed, just as containers are today. These could then be lowered into refabricated holds on the vessel. A Panamax freighter would likely require 30 of these removable tank cars. Each could be connected to the fuel system by an electrically operated solenoid valve such that in the case of loss of power or impending disaster, the valves would secure the fuel. The very same fuel containment system must be made mandatory on all vessels. Sealed, removable fuel modules.

Just like a family going out for boating trip on a boat with a small outboard motor, the fuel is generally carried on board in a specially designed fuel tank. The hose is connected and with a couple squeezes on the fuel ball, the motor is ready to start.

Presently most vessels are unsafe in any waters. While there is justifiable outrage at Prime Minister Trudeau’s approval of the Kinder Morgan expansion plans, there is the opportunity to address the dangers present today.

If we demanded an immediate change to all fuel containment systems having bunker fuel and crude or bitumen transported cold and raw in detachable rail cars, sealed from the point of production to the destination, loaded in the same manner as ‘Sea Can’ containers are today, the dangers would be greatly reduced. An added benefit would be the reduced need for importing condensate to make toxic nerve gas and bombs. Dil-Bit needs to be completely banned. j

The Nathan E. Stewart was a wakeup call, as is the still-leaking Queen of the North; and the MV Bovec balancing on a reef off Prince Rupert in 2000 is similar to the MV Rena in New Zealand. British Columbia is just lucky to not have a disaster on its shores. And this is long before more tanker traffic arrives.

Resistance to Arctic drilling worth remembering

standing before an oil rig

From activists who scaled Shell’s rig in April or who stopped one of Shell’s ships this July, to the millions of people all over the world who signed petitions, paraded with polar bears, shared stories and helped organize for real environmental justice, this is YOUR victory.

I’m standing between Shell and the Arctic – join me

by Audrey Siegl

» Audrey Siegl, a Musqueam woman from BC, is a First Nations artist, activist, renowned public speaker and a drummer and singer. In the photo above, she stands in a Greenpeace rhib launched from the MY Esperanza holding her arm out in front her, defiantly signalling Shell’s subcontracted drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, to stop.

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Let’s mark Canada’s 150th birthday by establishing a Department of Peace

Canadian Peace Initiative logo

There is currently no strategic focus for peace in government, and there has rarely been a greater urgency or a better window of opportunity to consider the creation of a Department of Peace in our country.

by Canadian Peace Initiative

Canada has a proud history of peacekeeping. Now, more than ever, we need Canada to take leadership and open the road to peace for the rest of the world.

The call is out to establish a Department of Peace on our 150th birthday. We have the opportunity to bring a beacon of light to the fragile state of our planet, racked by war, devastation and fear.

This is not a far-fetched idea, but something tangible that the Canadian Peace Initiative has worked on for years. Right now, a unique opportunity is open: You can directly ask Canada to increase its capabilities in peace leadership.

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