Canada and mass surveillance

Trump’s election should prompt Canada to rethink its complicity in US spy activities

photo of David Christopher

by David Christopher

President-elect Donald Trump. It’s still a phrase that takes some getting used to. Trump’s pronouncements on issues of online privacy, surveillance and net neutrality – among many other topics – should send a shiver down the spine of anyone who cares about preserving basic democratic freedoms in a digital age.

For Canadians, these concerns strike particularly close to home. Already, federal government ministers are grappling with the implications of the impending Trump presidency, and for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, these implications are especially profound.

For many years, Canada’s spy agencies have worked extremely closely with their US counterparts, not least as part of the decades-old “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance between the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. This cooperation is so tight that, over the years the Five Eyes have evolved into what whistleblower Edward Snowden describes as “a supranational intelligence organization that doesn’t answer to the laws of its own countries.”

Reread that last sentence and juxtapose it with the words “President-elect Donald Trump” – it should be clear to all Canadians that it’s not just our southern neighbours who have a huge problem on their hands.

We have only to look to Trump’s own words to gauge the likely trajectory of his presidency and its impacts on our freedoms. Trump’s public statements reveal a man who advocates torture, who muses about using presidential powers to punish his political enemies, who proposes a dramatic expansion of surveillance powers, and who wants to unleash his security forces on peaceful groups such as Black Lives Matter.

No matter what your political stripes, we should fear the consequences of his approach. We know all too well from cases such as that of Maher Arar that terrible human consequences flow from handing over the private information of innocent Canadians to a US government with little respect for our democratic values or norms.

Nor is this extensive cooperation restricted to the Five Eyes spies. Take the Ontario Provincial Police, which over many years shared large quantities of private, personal information of law-abiding Canadians with their US counterparts who, in turn, passed it along to border agents, resulting in dozens of innocent Canadians being refused entry into the US for trivial reasons.

With Trump’s ascension to power imminent, Canada cannot afford to continue allowing government agencies such as CSIS, the CSE and the RCMP to routinely hand over our private information to the US government.

Ministers Goodale and Wilson-Raybould should be working to protect Canadians – starting by making all future cooperation with US spy agencies contingent on the US’ compliance with international human rights principles. At a minimum, that means ending all programs of suspicionless online spying, including the bulk collection of metadata. No Canadian should need worry about being placed under a microscope by spy agencies answerable only to Donald Trump.

Above all, it’s past time for a complete rethink of how Canadian agencies engage with their US counterparts. Rather than being complicit in the machinery of US-led mass surveillance, our government needs to set a new course designed to protect the security of all Canadians from Trump’s powerful and unaccountable spy apparatus.

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

GE salmon not worth the risk to health and environment


Adam S. Sealey

Call of the River
“The Call of the River.” An original painting by Autumn Skye Morrison.

• The wild salmon that return to us every year, offering their nourishment, inspiration and beauty, are a miracle of creation. Autumn Skye Morrison’s “The Call of the River” inspired Salmon Wisdomon the back of 7”x9” versions and was shared with friends, family and colleagues. People were inspired by it!

It reads, in part, “Salmon are an important part of the wheel of life, a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and a teacher of self-sacrifice. To indigenous cultures of the Northwest, salmon are highly respected and appreciated, symbolizing instinct, determination, prosperity and renewal. The Celts believe salmon to be one of the wisest and most ancient of all animals, representing wisdom, transformation and inspiration.”

In September, the US company AquaBounty, started by two Canadian men with the goal of developing and marketing genetically engineered salmon, stated in an FDA document that they would very soon apply to  Health Canada for market approval in Canada where they feel that “the key” to worldwide acceptance of genetically engineered salmon lies. According to the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, CBAN, “AquaBounty does not yet have permission from Environment Canada to commercially produce its GE salmon eggs at its PEI facility. Environment Canada refuses to disclose if the department is already assessing a request from AquaBounty.” Their plan is to ship these ‘Franken-salmon’ eggs to a facility high in the mountains of Panama to be grown to market size in tanks, harvested, packaged and shipped back to us to eat. Does this sound crazy? It gets worse.

In 2009, the DFO reported to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency that Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA) virus had been found in the GE salmon in the supposedly secure AquaBounty research facility on PEI. What if these infected salmon were to escape their tanks in PEI or Panama through flooding or some other disaster? AquaBounty says that 95% of the salmon would be sterile females and the rest males. But they can’t guarantee ISA infected male salmon wouldn’t escape into the biosphere. It’s yet another pending environmental disaster and the entire process of assessing the environmental risk is being done in secret without public consultation. Canada has not even ratified the UN protocols on bio-safety for international transport of living modified organisms.

There are also the health implications of eating GE salmon to consider. Dr. Mercola already lists conventional farmed salmon as the worst in his top 10 foods to avoid. Add in transgenic engineering of Atlantic salmon with genes from an “eel-like creature” the “Ocean Pout” and a Chinook, and then feed it a diet of God only knows what GMO-derived feed, antibiotics and drugs and this plan is a health train-wreck right out of the gates.

Please write to the Minister of the Environment and Health Canada and express your concerns. For an easy to use form letter that will be sent to the right people, visit and click on “No GM Fish” and follow the links. Raise awareness in your community about GE salmon. It could be approved or rejected any day now in the US where there have been delays and considerable push-backfrom the public and lawmakers.

Rather than engineering Franken-Salmon to feed people we should be exploring ways to help wild salmon populations remain strong, sustainable and understood by the people. We should be having a conversation about how to take care of the environment in which they are born, the ocean in which they mature and the path they swim to reach their ocean feeding grounds. Instead of blaming climate change, ignoring the salmon farming which are spreading diseases and parasites into our oceans, and basically giving up on wild salmon, we should be looking to nature and ourselves for clues as to how to create the conditions for long term wild salmon health. This autumn, the Pink salmon returns from the Fraser River all the way up to the Skeena were massive. How did that happen and what clues does it give us to answer these questions?

On September 12, Mark Hume wrote in the Globe and Mail: “The massive return of one species – pinks – coming on the heels of a disastrous run of another –sockeye – may be linked to a dramatic shift in ocean conditions last year. And it has raised questions about the possible role of a controversial experiment that took place when the Haida Salmon Restoration Corp. dumped iron materialin the ocean last summer, stimulating plankton growth just as the pink salmon were moving through the area.”

People in the know about this have told me that “dumping” is not what they did, but rather they strategically dispersed 100 tons of the iron-rich rock dust over a large area to find out if they could fertilize that part of the ocean for increased plankton growth, and thus nourish all marine life, many species being food for wild salmon among a myriad of other creatures.

What about the totally unexpected 2010 Sockeye return to the Fraser River – nearly 40 million? How did that occur? That’s a conversation that needs to happen and the reason why the Artists Response Team, with musicians Kevin Wright and Holly Arntzen, along with artist and ocean ecologist Russ George, are presenting a new musical show and tour called 40 Million Salmon Can’t Be Wrong, which hopes to inspire a national conversation about the phenomenon of those 40 million sockeye. Scientists were predicting only one million would return, but there was a 4,000% increase, after the Kasatochi volcano in the Aleutian slands erupted in 2008, dispersing mineral-rich volcanic ash over the North Pacific ocean. The plankton bloomed and ocean life exploded. That summer, the baby Sockeye that swam out to sea from the Fraser River, along with all other marine life, were treated to a feast of plankton nourished by the volcanic dust. They grew and grew and returned to our rivers, 40 million strong. Read theCBC article about the researchers at the University of Victoria who pieced the story together here

Find out when this show is coming to your community at

Let’s talk about how we can ensure wild salmon for generations to come not how we can genetically engineer them in such a way that we get to run away from our shared responsibility to take care of the life systems that naturally gift us with this precious food and source of cultural and personal inspiration for all, especially our indigenous cultures.

Whether it’s GMO corn, soy, canola, cotton, non-browning apples, alfalfa or salmon, people all over the world are finally coming to the understanding that taking care of our food system is each person’s responsibility. Government agencies have proven that they cannot be trusted with this sacred duty. People the world over have the ability and the survival imperative to create a better food system than big agribusiness interests can or ever will. More food is currently being grown by small to medium sized farm operations than big agri-corporations. We can build on this and we are!

We can clearly see genetically modified and engineered foods are only about the corporate monopoly of the food system through patents and selling lots of pesticides, etc. They are only about shareholder profits. GMO crops are damaging human, animal and environmental health to an extent we just don’t know, bankrupting farmers with patent infringement lawsuits and stealingfood sovereignty from all of humanity and nature. The promise of GMO crops producing an increased yield have been de-bunked. They don’t. They are a crime against all life on earth. People are finally dumping Monsanto stock as the world wakes up to the crimes against nature, people and common sense these big agribusiness corporations are committing.

People are standing up, finding their power and their voices and taking unprecedented actions to re-imagine and remake our food systems healthy again, with justice for farmers and truth for all.

On October 12, UN World Food Day, millions around the world will take to the streets again in the March Against Monsanto. In Vancouver’s March starting at 10AM at the Vancouver Art Gallery one of the highlights will be a live performance of Michael Jackson VS GMOs –– Don’t Eat It, an anti-GMOmockumusic video set to the music of Jackson’s Thriller and Beat It. Created and performed by our very own Raamayan Ananda (Swami G) and Tha Truth IS Media Alliance, this flash-mob performance and music video will engage andinspire generations of Michael Jackson fans to get involved in this cause, spread the message about stopping GMOs and perform the templated flash-mob dance in their community. Like Michael Jackson says in his song Man in the Mirror, “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change.” Check out the preview video at Search Don’t Eat It and please support the production with a donation. The video is set to be released on Friday, October 11th as part of Vancouver’s march!

Common Ground salutes everyone doing such amazing work for a better world though art, science, activism and principled business.

We are the change we want to see in the world! Come and stand with us!


Canada’s natural health industry under siege

Canadian access to vital nutrients theatened by trade deals


by Dee Nicholson, co-executive director, Natural Health Federation Canada (NHF)

Canadians who prefer healthcare the natural way need to take a stand, and fast, before their freedom to choose their own medicine (and a whole lot more) evaporates under their very noses.

The natural health product (NHP) industry across Canada is caught in a squeeze play that threatens its very existence: it has already cost Canadians their access to about two-thirds of the products that used to be on the shelves and shows no sign of letting up. Meanwhile, many of us are completely unaware of the multifarious tentacles poised to crush what remains and have not connected the dots to see them choking off our rights.

Producers and retailers of NHPs have been fighting for years against Health Canada’s infamous “Health Protection Branch,” which has “protected” us all with SWAT-style, guns-drawn raids on vitamin sellers and their families, using the RCMP as enforcers. There have been over 20 such raids in recent times. And with a slew of newly-hired “inspectors” eager to bring home a few scalps, we can soon all look forward to being really, really “safe.”

Interestingly, under the Constitution Act, healthcare is the responsibility of the provinces, not the federal government, which means that Health Canada has absolutely no legitimate mandate to regulate anything at all. Health Canada is therefore practising medicine without a license, but somehow continues to operate with seeming impunity. What’s up with that?

It doesn’t take much of a nose to sniff out the rotting fish in this scenario, but here’s the bad news: it gets worse.

Lurking in the language of Bill C-36, the Canada Consumer Product Safety Act, was a clause stating the Minister of Health may take direction from unnamed foreign authorities. That threw open the door to control of our health legislation and regulation by a committee of foreigners, with Canada having only one vote at whichever table it happened to be. Take our membership in the WTO, for example: there, we have one vote against nearly 200 others. And Prime Minister Harper gave up our prized bank regulations (the same ones he said saved us from the “recession”) to the G20 last year, and quipped that, while it was a loss of sovereignty, it was “a simple fact of life,” too bad, so sad.

And now comes CETA, the “Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement” with the European Union. The perceptive among us have spotted the snake that can easily slither through that gaping doorway in Bill C-36, accepting direction from these particular “foreign authorities” whose publicly announced task is to “level the playing field with our trading partners.” And why might our government need to place that portal in C-36, when trade agreements are enforceable contracts anyway? One answer might be that we could hardly refuse what we have already legislated, could we?

Now, another interesting link in this chain: our North American preoccupation with Codex Alimentarius, the “food code” being promoted by the World Health Organization, eventually to be enforced worldwide by the WTO through cross-sector trade sanctions. Health freedom advocates have been screaming loudly for years about how it endangers our free choices, and rightly so. But while most focused on Codex Alimentarius, a nearly identical threat was looming in Europe, unnoticed, because there seemed to be no mechanism by which these standards could ever be forced on Canada.

CETA is the glue to this plot: the European Union Food Safety Directives, effective as of 2005, dubbed “Codex Alimentarius’ Evil Twin,” will most certainly become the trade standard, the “level playing field,” for the industry in Canada under the terms of CETA. And Health Canada’s recent tyrannies over perfectly safe products have just been the slow boiling of the frog, to ease the transition into global standards that funnel all profits into the pockets of the particular corporations who stand to benefit: Big Pharma.

CETA allows multinational corporations to bid freely on things we need to control for ourselves, from our municipal water utilities, to provincial energy policies, Canada Post, and, as amply noted, our healthcare choices. And once they’ve got them, just try to get them back. At every level, CETA intrudes, and in its aftermath is a ravaging of our natural health industry, as well as all other major economic sectors. Via CETA and similar agreements, Canada is being subsumed into a sea of other people’s rules.

Shockingly, across the country, neither city councillors nor provincial or federal representatives have the first clue what is going on.

Meanwhile, from October 17 to 21, CETA negotiators in Ottawa will be accepting final submissions “from the provinces,” which translates to “from the Premier’s secret committee that has prepared these submissions, without the oversight even of his own caucus.” This despite the fact more than half of the provinces are going to the polls.

This cluster bomb of an agreement is hurtling towards completion so one is naturally led to wonder why the CHFA (Canadian Health Food Association), supposedly the voice of the natural health industry, is conspicuously silent on the matter and why its membership remains largely in the dark. Since they claim a good relationship with Health Canada, why are they not active in slamming the door on CETA and stopping the SWAT raids ordered up by the ministry as “drug busts?”

In the absence of real representation, the natural health industry needs to fend for itself, organize and take action on its own behalf. Suppliers, retailers and consumers alike stand to lose far too much to knuckle under now.

If ever there was a time to stand up and be counted, this is it. This is the moment. No matter who you are, write, phone, fax or email your representatives at all levels of government – local, provincial and federal – and tell them you want full disclosure on CETA, you want your democratic rights and sovereign laws upheld and you want free access to the NHPs you choose, period. Support those groups that are speaking out and speak out with them.

Do it now. There is no time for polite discourse. They serve you, don’t they?

Are the best interests of Canadians being served or severed?

by Bruce Dales, president, Dales Product Development and Regulatory Specialists

Have you ever wondered why you don’t see more innovative health food and natural health products (NHPs) emerging on the Canadian market? I have 18 years’ experience in product development and the Canadian food and drug regulatory compliance area involving new and innovative health foods and natural health products (NHPs). I have also qualified and testified within the Canadian judicial system as an expert in the area of Canadian food and drug regulations. The following perspectives are based on what I have witnessed and experienced:

1. One of the main problems I’ve experienced within the present Canadian Health Food and NHP regulatory model is the frequent lack of adequate feedback from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) and the Natural Health Products Directorate (NHPD) regarding the status of new and innovative health food and NHP applications. Often, it’s not given in a timely way, not given at all or doesn’t adequately answer the questions asked. Consequently, companies wanting to produce innovative products in this regulatory area are being asked to comply with regulations that are often confusing and they have difficulty determining what the compliance standards actually are. In my experience, this has been very damaging.


2. Based on my and the understanding of other members of industry I have spoken to in December of 2010, the NHPD was supposed to provide updated standards of evidence, but it never did. For the most part, with regard to the most innovative new natural product number (NPN) products, there’s no proper guidance from the NHPD and no consistent standards of evidence. Nor does a standard exist as to when submissions will actually be reviewed. Companies are expected to submit their applications without any idea as to if, or when, their applications will be reviewed or any knowledge of what the standards are under which they’ll be reviewed. Many experienced people within the industry, with whom I’ve spoken, claim it’s simply “the luck of the draw.” It appears the level of evidence required by a company, with regard to any NHPD application, is dependent upon which NHPD reviewer is assigned to it. Furthermore, it appears that, if a unique and innovative product does get regulatory approval, the NHPD doesn’t allow competing companies’ access to information regarding the level of evidence that was required for that approval.

3. On the basis of my experience, over the last few years, I’ve consistently found it very difficult to get clear and reliable feedback from the CFIA regarding whether or not a new innovative product can be put on the market as a food. I have also found the present Minister’s office for the CFIA ineffective in making the CFIA provide the appropriate information in a reasonable time frame, if at all.

4. Over the years, I have seen that when companies are challenged by Health Canada for not complying with these confusing standards, no scientific standard is required by the Minister of Health from the Health Canada officials who challenge the particular company’s product. With regard to such challenges, I have frequently seen Health Canada officials reference science documents that aren’t consistent with the subject of the challenge. They also seem to consistently refuse to provide a level playing field for all companies in this industry.

5. Furthermore, even when such actions have brought about disturbing consequences for a company and incompetence on the government’s part has been pointed out, neither the Minister of Health’s office nor the CFIA Minister holds anyone accountable for the damage done to the company. They seem unwilling, or unable, to clearly articulate and uniformly enforce the regulations.

6. Companies that want to put new and innovative health products on the market need transparent and clear guidelines to feel the confidence to invest. Lack of such guidelines diminishes innovation and competition and, for the consumer, diminishes product choice while increasing the costs of products already on the market.

7. I’m frustrated with the present regulatory system for the above-mentioned reasons and I believe the availability of food and NHP’s for Canadians is being significantly negatively impacted. Given everything I have outlined, Health Canada’s motto seems ironic to me: “All decisions will be based on good science.” Just as ironic is the fact our government spends money on departments whose job is to encourage companies to be innovative (like the NRC IRAP program), while at the same time maintaining a regulatory system that obstructs innovation.

8. If, like me, you want this situation to change, I believe the power to do so is in your hands. Contact the Ministers responsible for the CFIA and Health Canada as well as your local MPs and tell them you’re not satisfied with the way things are and you want to have the issues dealt with fairly. Feel free to send them a copy of this article as well.

9. Also bear in mind the senior-level people are the people we need to be dealing with and contacting; phoning your local Health Canada or CFIA offices and complaining to the receptionist or field inspector isn’t likely to be effective.

10. Finally, I want to confirm that I empathize with many of the Health Canada and CFIA employees working under the current regulatory system. I think many of them are intelligent and well meaning, but they’re unfortunately caught up in a discordant regulatory system. In my view, we need such people working with us for any constructive and effective changes to occur.

Jack Layton’s Legacy of Hope – A Letter to All Canadians

August 20, 2011
Toronto, Ontario

Dear friends:

Tens of thousands of Canadians have written to me in recent weeks to wish me well. I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughtful, inspiring and often beautiful notes, cards and gifts. Your spirit and love have lit up my home, my spirit and my determination.

Unfortunately, my treatment has not worked out as I hoped. So I am giving this letter to my partner Olivia to share with you in the circumstance in which I cannot continue.

I recommend that Hull-Aylmer MP Nycole Turmel continue her work as our interim leader until a permanent successor is elected.

I recommend the party hold a leadership vote as early as possible in the New Year, on approximately the same timelines as in 2003, so that our new leader has ample time to reconsolidate our team, renew our party and our program and move forward towards the next election.

A few additional thoughts:

To other Canadians who are on journeys to defeat cancer and to live their lives, I say this: please don’t be discouraged that my own journey hasn’t gone as well as I had hoped. You must not lose your own hope. Treatments and therapies have never been better in the face of this disease. You have every reason to be optimistic, determined and focused on the future. My only other advice is to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer.

To the members of my party: we’ve done remarkable things together in the past eight years. It has been a privilege to lead the New Democratic Party and I am most grateful for your confidence, your support and the endless hours of volunteer commitment you have devoted to our cause. There will be those who will try to persuade you to give up our cause. But that cause is much bigger than any one leader. Answer them by recommitting with energy and determination to our work. Remember our proud history of social justice, universal health care, public pensions and making sure no one is left behind. Let’s continue to move forward. Let’s demonstrate in everything we do in the four years before us that we are ready to serve our beloved Canada as its next government.

To the members of our parliamentary caucus: I have been privileged to work with each and every one of you. Our caucus meetings were always the highlight of my week. It has been my role to ask a great deal from you. And now I am going to do so again. Canadians will be closely watching you in the months to come. Colleagues, I know you will make the tens of thousands of members of our party proud of you by demonstrating the same seamless teamwork and solidarity that has earned us the confidence of millions of Canadians in the recent election.

To my fellow Quebecers: On May 2nd, you made an historic decision. You decided that the way to replace Canada’s Conservative federal government with something better was by working together in partnership with progressive-minded Canadians across the country. You made the right decision then; it is still the right decision today and it will be the right decision right through to the next election, when we will succeed, together. You have elected a superb team of New Democrats to Parliament. They are going to be doing remarkable things in the years to come to make this country better for us all.

To young Canadians: All my life I have worked to make things better. Hope and optimism have defined my political career and I continue to be hopeful and optimistic about Canada. Young people have been a great source of inspiration for me. I have met and talked with so many of you about your dreams, your frustrations and your ideas for change. More and more, you are engaging in politics because you want to change things for the better. Many of you have placed your trust in our party. As my time in political life draws to a close, I want to share with you my belief in your power to change this country and this world. There are great challenges before you, from the overwhelming nature of climate change to the unfairness of an economy that excludes so many from our collective wealth and the changes necessary to build a more inclusive and generous Canada. I believe in you. Your energy, your vision, your passion for justice are exactly what this country needs today. You need to be at the heart of our economy, our political life and our plans for the present and the future.

And finally, to all Canadians: Canada is a great country, one of the hopes of the world. We can be a better one – a country of greater equality, justice and opportunity. We can build a prosperous economy and a society that shares its benefits more fairly. We can look after our seniors. We can offer better futures for our children. We can do our part to save the world’s environment. We can restore our good name in the world. We can do all of these things because we finally have a party system at the national level where there are real choices, where your vote matters, where working for change can actually bring about change. In the months and years to come, New Democrats will put a compelling new alternative to you. My colleagues in our party are an impressive, committed team. Give them a careful hearing; consider the alternatives and consider that we can be a better, fairer, more equal country by working together. Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic.
And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Canada’s biggest tree

Celebrate the International Year of Forests and protect our ancient giants
by the Ancient Forest Alliance


Canada’s largest tree, a western redcedar named the “Cheewhat Giant” stands in a remote location near Cheewhat Lake west of Lake Cowichan. The tree is over six meters (20 feet) in trunk diameter, 56 meters (182 feet) in height and 450 cubic meters in timber volume (or 450 regular telephone poles’ worth of wood). Luckily, the tree, discovered in 1988, is just within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve, which was created in 1971.

Extensive logging of the last unprotected old-growth forests adjacent to the national park is taking place in the “West Coast Trail Wilderness” of the Klanawa, Rosander, Upper Nitinat, Upper Walbran, Gordon, Hadikin Lake and San Juan Valleys as the market for cedar rebounds.

“Pacific Rim is a very narrow, linear park just a couple kilometres wide along much of the West Coast Trail. Old-growth logging adjacent to the park is silting up salmon streams that flow into the park, diminishing the contiguous wildlife habitat and undermining the wilderness experience for hikers who hear the roar of chainsaws through the narrow buffer of trees,” states Ken Wu, Ancient Forest Alliance co-founder. “However, more importantly, the last unprotected ancient forests adjacent to the West Coast Trail unit are literally the grandest forests left in Canada. They must be protected and we need a forward thinking government to do so.”

Former Member of Parliament for the riding of Juan de Fuca, Keith Martin, proposed to include these adjacent old-growth forests within an expanded Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

“Keith Martin had a very visionary proposal and I hope other politicians will also rise to the moral imperative to protect our ancient forests,” states TJ Watt, Ancient Forest Alliance co-founder. “Future generations will look back at the majority of BC’s politicians today who still sanction the elimination of our last endangered old-growth forests on Vancouver Island, despite the second-growth alternative for logging, and see them as lacking vision, compassion and a spine. We desperately need more politicians with courage and wisdom to step forward.”

Satellite photos show that about 75 percent of the original, productive old-growth forests on Vancouver Island have been logged, including 90 percent of the valley bottoms where the largest trees grow and most biodiversity is found.

The BC government regularly inflates the statistics on the amount of remaining coastal old-growth forests as part of its public relations spin by including vast tracts of stunted “bonsai” forests in bogs and high subalpine reaches with small trees of low or no commercial value.

“It’s like counting your fake Monopoly money with your real money and claiming to be a millionaire, so stop worrying about your runaway spending habits,” stated TJ Watt.

Despite new markets in China, BC’s coastal forest industry is still a shadow of what it once was. The coastal industry’s 20-year decline at its root has been driven by resource depletion as the largest ancient trees in the valley bottoms and lower slopes have been largely logged-off. This has resulted in diminishing returns as the remaining trees get smaller, lower in value and more expensive to reach high up mountainsides and far away in valley headwaters.

The resulting loss of tens of thousands of rural jobs has also been paralleled by the increasing collapse of BC’s old-growth ecosystems, with plummeting salmon, steelhead, black-tailed deer, cougar, mountain caribou, marbled murrelet and spotted owl populations (only five individuals left in BC’s wilds today).

“The depletion of BC’s biggest, best old-growth stands and the resulting collapse of ecosystems and rural communities has parallels throughout the history of resource extraction. We’ve seen it with countless fishing-down-the-food chain examples, such as the collapse of the Atlantic cod stocks. Why would we let this destructive history of blind greed repeat itself in BC’s forests?” asked Ken Wu. “It’s time for politicians to understand that the consequences of supporting callous resource depletion policies are not born out only in rural communities and the demise of millions of living creatures, but also in their own political careers.”

The Ancient Forest Alliance is working to raise funds for a fall campaign in provincial swing ridings calling on the BC government to protect our endangered old-growth forests, ensure sustainable second-growth forestry and end raw log exports to foreign mills.

Source: Ancient Forest Alliance founders Ken Wu and TJ Watt,

2011 International Year of Forests

Celebrating forests for people

The UN-designated International Year of Forests is an open invitation to the world community to come together and work with governments, international organizations and civil society to ensure that our forests are managed sustainably for current and future generations. Forests are home to 80 percent of our terrestrial biodiversity globally. Three-hundred-million people live in forests around the world. They cover 30 percent of our total land value. More than 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods. Thirty percent of the world’s forests are used for the production of wood and non-wood products.


Call for Royal Commission on nuclear power

by Gordon Edwards, CCNR and Michel Duguay, MSQN


Three Mile Island taught the world that nuclear power is inherently dangerous. With Chernobyl the entire world witnessed the awesome power of a total meltdown. At Fukushima we have seen simultaneous partial meltdowns in three reactors and four spent fuel pools. Canada’s reactors have a different design, but the potential for catastrophe is ever present. It was not an earthquake and tsunami that caused Japan’s nuclear catastrophe, it was a total electrical blackout. Such a blackout can be caused in a variety of ways. Like other countries, Canada needs to take stock and reassess the risks and benefits of nuclear technology.

All federal political parties are being asked to support a non-partisan Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Future of Nuclear Power in Canada. As part of that inquiry process, no new licenses for nuclear power plants in Canada, whether new build projects or refurbishment projects, or off-site transportation of nuclear wastes produced by nuclear reactors, would be granted until the Royal Commission has concluded its work.

Groups from across Canada have joined together in this appeal so that the people of Canada will be adequately consulted on the future of this inherently dangerous industry. The basic question is do Canadians wish nuclear power production to be expanded or to be phased out?

Before proceeding any further down the nuclear path, we ask the Canadian government to finally give all Canadians a chance to debate the risks and benefits of nuclear power in relation to its alternatives in a politically meaningful forum.

Further information at Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, and Mouvement Sortons le Quebec du Nucleaire,

BC’s water – sold to the highest bidder?

by Randy Christensen


For the past several years, there has been a multitude of discussion papers, extensive public consultations and big speeches from the BC government on the effort to “modernize” BC’s Water Act. It’s the law that governs who gets to use water, for what, when, where and who gets priority when there’s not enough to go around.

Everyone agrees the system is broken; it’s only a question of what to do about it.
All of the public statements from June 2008 until December 2010 were unambiguous in promising strong legal protections for environmental flows and revisiting the antiquated and highly problematic “first in time, first in right system.” More importantly, the BC government de-emphasized the potential adoption of “market reforms” such as “water rights trading” that has devastated communities around the globe.
But what was a well intentioned and well managed process seems to have fallen victim to BC’s current political turmoil. In late December, the BC government posted the “proposed framework” for new water laws that introduces water rights trading (section 5). Troublingly, the strong legal protections for environmental flows have been downgraded to guidelines that merely have to be “considered” when someone wants to take water from a stream (section 1).
In the current leadership vacuum, those managing the process have become politically risk adverse and are simply defaulting to the blueprints of conservative governments around the world. This approach downplays the need for good governance and views markets as a solution that solves any and all problems.
To understand what the BC government is proposing, think of the current water use system as a bike share. Ultimately it’s a community-owned resource that people (or companies) sometimes use for their own private purposes. And, like a bike share, the water use is supposed to be time limited and one is supposed to leave the water so that others can use it in the future. You’re definitely not allowed to take the bike and sell it in the back alley!
What the BC government is proposing is that at some point in the near future, everyone who happens to be using a bike now owns the bike (and they didn’t even have to buy it – it’s just a gift from government). Going forward, anyone who wants to use a bike will have to buy it or rent it from these now new owners.
Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the fortunate few who happen to have water rights – primarily electricity generators (including Independent Power Producers), oil and gas companies, mining companies and agriculture.
It’s not that there isn’t a potential role for using economic instruments as part of water management. But there’s a big difference between using economic instruments as a policy tool and abdicating management to market forces. Many economic instruments – such as full cost accounting, conservation oriented pricing, water rentals that incorporate a reasonable return to the public for public resources – could be valuable and of real benefit. It’s even debatable that, if BC had protections for the environment and the public interest in place, a limited water rights trading system could be implemented, but BC has a lot of work to do before it even entertains that discussion.
But I guess it’s really no surprise that in the end BC’s Water Act “modernization” is just another initiative that pays lip service to protecting the environment and the public interest while delivering the goods to the large corporate interests that have long dominated the province.
What’s most dangerous about this proposal is that it will privatize water in a way that becomes effectively irreversible. Right now, one gets a “licence” to use water that the government may alter or revoke without, generally speaking, having to pay compensation. However, once the licence to use a public resource is converted into a tradable economic right, that is held and may be sold, any changes to the system that affect that right will undoubtedly spur lawsuits against the government.
If this proposal goes forward, you can pretty much write off any chance of ever meaningfully recognizing a human right to water or a public trust over water.
This will all come to pass unless the public convinces the BC government not to pursue this misguided course of action. The new deadline for the public to get involved is March 14. Take action at

This piece originally appeared on the Vancouver Observer blog, January 26. Written by Randy Christensen. Reprinted with permission from (formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund.) For the rest of the series, check

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