Yesterday the Cohen Commission — Public Inquiry into the Decline of Fraser River Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River — released its Ruling on Standing. Twenty groups out of fifty applicants have been granted Standing — suggesting they have a “substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the inquiry”. Only these twenty groups are considered “participants”, and only they can formally participate in the hearings.
Persons who do not receive a grant of standing may become involved in several ways; for example, by submitting written comments to the commission about any matter relevant to the Terms of Reference, submitting written comments or suggestions to the commission in response to scientific or policy reports posted on the commission’s website, and attending the formal public hearings.
I, personally, applied for standing with the Cohen Commission. I was denied along with 30 other individuals and/or groups that applied. And fair enough; I wasn’t holding my breath. However, reading through Justice Cohen’s Ruling on Standing, I’m certainly left pondering particular pieces…
Apparently, this Commission ‘owns the podium’. A new Canadian Commission record has been set: 50 applicants beats the previous record of 24 applicants, which was the torture commission regarding Maher Arar. 21 was the record before that for the Air India bombing, and 15 for the Gomery Commission into the Liberal sponsorship scandal.
So, great, a new Commission record… yet somewhere around 2.5 to 3 million people live in the Fraser River watershed —- And, only 50 individuals or groups figure they have a substantial or direct interest in the declines of Fraser River sockeye? What’s that, about 0.002% of the watershed population?
Ok, so some of the “groups”/”alliances”/”coalitions”/”corporations” granted standing in the Cohen Commission are representing a larger cross section of the population. For example, First Nation organizations represent their communities and members. And, apparently, the BC Wildlife Federation — which was granted standing — represents 38,000 individuals.
The fact that Rio Tinto Alcan, a multi-national corporation was granted Standing simply because they may have to shift their policies to better protect sockeye salmon in the Nechako watershed, as Justice Cohen suggests:
RTA [Rio Tinto Alcan] indicates that changes in DFO management practices may affect its ability to generate power and sell it, which depends on water being diverted from the Nechako Watershed.
This is a bit disturbing. A corporation granted more power than citizens strictly on economic principles…
Well, apparently poop is also going to come under inspection — as in sewage treatment plants. Should the poop processors have also applied for standing, as the poop processing practices will come under criticism? I recently heard estimates (at the Simon Fraser University Sockeye Summit) of over $1.5 billion as a bare minimum to get the City of Vancouver up to snuff on poop processing and disposal.
Apparently, baby sockeye and adult salmon are mired in a cloud of shit as they migrate through the mouth of the Fraser River…
However, moving along…
Reading Justice Cohen’s Ruling on Standing I was quite struck by the grouping of applicants granted standing:
- Recreational and Sport Fishers
- Commercial Fisher Associations and Unions
- Environmental Organizations
- Industry Organizations
- First Nation and aboriginal organizations; and
I certainly hope this grouping was not pre-ordained — and flows more from the reality of who actually applied for standing. I tend to believe in the latter; however, this is inherently a political process — not a “public” process. About the only “public” part will be the news media reports and the seats being kept warm at actual hearings by anyone who wants to try and translate, decipher, and understand a litany of charts and graphs, my science vs. your science, and a general all out blitz of bumpf, bureaucratic bafflegab, and well… sadly in some cases… maybe even bullshit.
Justice Cohen states early in his Ruling that:
This is an inquiry, not an adversarial process with traditional parties or litigants.
I am wishing he and his staff best of luck with that statement, and certainly hope that Justice Cohen’s abilities in keeping order in an unruly courtroom are strong. The grouping that is listed above and within the ruling is largely the same grouping that has guided the all-out war between various combatants competing for rights and privileges to harvest salmon.
Personally, I think there was a poor job of communicating the fact that this is not an adversarial process — especially when there was so much legal-ese and talk of applying for funds to get lawyers, in the application material. In my discussions with many individuals, there was a strong belief that anyone wanting to participate in this “public” inquiry required lawyers.
I am trying my best to refrain from reaching conclusions on the Commission before it’s even a few months into its work. There has to be some semblance of hope in this multi-million dollar exercise largely coordinated and run by lawyers; yet, I still have various pondering in how this inquiry is shaping up.
To be continued…