Fraser River sockeye Judicial Inquiry off with a flash…

So, finally, some information on the judicial inquiry into the decline of Sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. Let the branding begin… is this another commission/plan/inquiry/investigation/audit that will gather the detritus of spider legs, flaked epidural layers, and meteorite fragments on some shelf? Or, is this a multi-million (estimates suggest $20 million) process that will garner real action and real results?

The inquiry has been named the — “Cohen Commission” — with a website to match www.cohencommission.ca

Unfortunately, there are a few early hiccups. A press release earlier this week suggested that anyone interested in having “standing” with the commission needed to have applications in by March 3, 2010. A period of just over two weeks from the announcement. Oral hearings in relation to whether someone has “standing” or not would begin around March 10th.

Seems the Commission has backed off now and a visit to the site suggests that the deadline is now actually March 10 with oral hearings around March 23rd.

Now, not being one overly familiar with “judicial inquiries” I’m a bit confused by the language. What does it mean to have “standing”? The press release states:

Standing is necessary to participate in the commission’s hearings, and represents one of the various opportunities that will be available for involvement in the commission’s work.

OK, so if “standing” is one of the opportunities — what are the other “various opportunities”? And what is the difference? Does “standing” infer more weight to submissions?

And the sentence sounds like a contradiction — first it is necessary to have “standing” to participate – but then, it’s suggested there will be various opportunities for involvement. Further into the press release it is suggested that this Commission is: “committed to facilitating public discussion and input on the issues…”

Yet, if you read the information on the website — anyone who applies for “standing” and is accepted; then needs to secure a lawyer. There is an application process to secure financial support if one is unable to secure a lawyer.

So, I’m curious, how is this: “facilitating public discussion and input on the issues”?

There is also a concerning phrase that jumped out at me in reading the press release from the Commission. If one wants to apply to get “standing” they need to fill out an application (no more than 10 pages) that demonstrates “they have a substantial and direct interest in the subject matter of the inquiry”.

I have read through the application guidelines and can not find anymore explanations of how “substantial and direct interest” is defined.

My question is: who in British Columbia does not have a “substantial and direct interest” in healthy salmon runs?”

Apparently, I’m not the only one with questions regarding this matter. As I searched around the internet looking for definitions of “standing” and “substantial and direct interest” — I found a blog post on the Tyee website, which led me to a blog post by West Coast Environmental Law about the “substantial and direct interest” phrase.

West Coast Environmental Law has submitted a nine page letter to the Commission looking for clarification on “substantial and direct interest”:

the Documents [on the Commission website] give little direction as to what is meant by this important term and whether that requirement can be met by an individual or group whose interests focus largely on the conservation or ongoing health of the Salmon run or other primarily public concerns

Similar to my question on who does not have an interest:

According to the common law, all members of the public have a right to fish in ocean waters. The BC Legislature, to the extent it has jurisdiction to do so, has confirmed or extended this common law right… Thus all British Columbians have a legal interest in respect of sockeye salmon and their continued health and protection.

I’ve sent an email to the Executive Director of the Commission to get further clarification. The response is that the Commission’s legal council will get back to me on my questions regarding “standing” and “substantial and direct interest”.

So away we go on salmon commission number….

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