Cohen’s Countdown on Disease Time-Bomb
Mark your calendars and set your alarm clocks for 10am on 25th August – the fateful moment when the lid is finally lifted on the Cohen Inquiry's public hearings on infectious diseases and salmon farming in British Columbia.
The evidentiary hearings on salmon farming’s dirty big secret are scheduled to run through until 9th September – with witnesses expected to include Dr. Kristi Miller (the DFO expert on Salmon Leukemia), Clare Backman from Marine Harvest, veterinarians Dr. Gary Marty and Dr. Mark Sheppard, and Alexandra Morton.
It promises to be 'The Bomb'. If the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) is to be believed the public can expect a “media circus” and the explosive revelations will cause irreparable and irrevocable “reputational and economic damage”.
Cue the music and Tom Jones singing the S Bomb with the prescient line “Now you found the secret code”.
Such is the high level of secrecy at the Cohen Commission that you won’t find this information available yet to the public via the Cohen Commission’s web-site (no information is available after 17th August). This is how a “not so public public inquiry” works under the Harper Conservatives’ arrogant contempt of public scrutiny, transparency, and accountability.
The Cohen Inquiry was famously dubbed the “Star Chamber” – an ancient symbol of the misuse and abuse of power by the courts – last month by lawyer Greg McDade. In modern usage, legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings are sometimes called, metaphorically or poetically, star chambers.
Last week, Justice Cohen ruled to keep a lid on information relating to the infectious diseases riddling B.C.’s salmon farming industry. Mark Hume, writing in today’s Globe & Mail in an article “Cohen commission’s calm hides turmoil behind scenes”, reports:
“Before getting access to the tens of thousands of documents gathered by commission investigators, participants are required to sign a letter agreeing not to disclose “any document or information.” But in studying the vast file of documents, Ms. Morton came across what she alleges is information showing provincial inspectors found signs of a disease, infectious salmon anemia, or ISA, had been detected in British Columbia.....Ms. Morton’s concern was that any information on the possible presence of ISA in B.C. had to be reported to the World Organisation for Animal Health. But she couldn’t do that because of the undertaking of confidentiality”.
For those who cannot wait until August (and do not have access to the secret documents via signing the Cohen Commission's gagging order), disease data is already published online every quarter via the Ministry of Agriculture’s ‘BCSFA Fish Health Database’. Infectious diseases, pathogens, viruses, bacteria and other superbugs reported by the BCSFA on salmon farms for Quarter 4 in 2010 (the latest information available) include: Lepeophtheirus Infection, Myxobacterial Infection, Viral Haemorrhagic Septicemia Virus Infection, Aeromonas salmonicida Infection, Piscirickettsia salmonis Infection and Renibacterium salmoninarum Infection.
Sadly, this information does not name companies or sites - and is the tip of a very large iceberg. At least some exorcised data is better than the “public reporting” from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans who currently have zero information on fish health or sea lice on their web-site despite claiming that it would be posted in April.
However, thanks to a ruling Justice Cohen made in November 2010, the clock is ticking down on the release of 10 years of disease data for 120 sites in B.C. If the BCSFA is to be believed the “reams of data” released to the Cohen Inquiry in January “show good health and honest reporting on salmon farms in the province”.
The BCSFA also claimed in May that an ‘independent’ audit “again confirmed the health of farmed salmon and absence of any exotic disease”. In August the game could be well and truly up.
For all those fans of the game show ‘Countdown’ you will know that at the end of each episode there’s a ‘conundrum’ - a nine-letter anagram – with a 30-second clock counting down the time for contestants to guess the word or phrase.
Occasionally, the conundrum throws up something saucy.
Here is a hypothetical conundrum for the Cohen Inquiry in August:
Can you rack your Scrabbled-brain to guess the answer?
Political junkies may be more familiar with MSNBC’s ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’.
If Keith comes to Vancouver in August to cover the Cohen Inquiry his ‘Worst Person in the World’ segment would be spoilt for choice but the former Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea would surely be in the frame. Come September, Ms Shea (who last month jumped ship to the Ministry of National Revenue) may have more than custard pie on her face.
Despite repeated requests to ban the import of potentially ISA-infected eggs and scientific evidence of vertical transmission of ISA via eggs, the shamed Minister of Fisheries allowed over 1 million Atlantic salmon eggs into B.C.
“If ISA virus is now in BC waters, I see you as personally responsible because as Minister of Fisheries you alone had the power to stop it,” said Alexandra Morton in a letter to Gail Shea in May. “If you, Gail Shea, have allowed a deadly fish virus into the North Pacific, in service of these companies, by ignoring the science and impact in Chile, your situation will be a little different from the Minister who presided over the cod collapse. This time we have brought the evidence to you that ISA virus does travel and has traveled in Atlantic salmon eggs and has had catastrophic impact wherever it appears. Your political party now has the majority, you can do as you like - will you protect wild salmon from the Norwegian salmon feedlots or not?”
In May - in a bizarre game of musical chairs by the Harper Government – Canada’s cabinet reshuffle saw Gail Shea, the Minister of Fisheries, switching places with Keith Ashfield, Minister of National Revenue. Such a strange move can only be interpreted as rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic – and a doomed attempt to wriggle out of any liability issues. Back in March, Alexandra Morton wrote to Gail Shea in her blog “Are you insured for this cover up?” and asked the multi-million dollar question:
“Are your ministry and the Norwegian fish farmers adequately insured to cover damages if we find out BC is an ISAV suspect area, no one told us and it spreads because you did nothing?”
Another game you may be familiar with is MB’s ‘Time Bomb’ - a simple, fun, and nerve-wracking game based on the old 'hot potato' idea. When the bomb's timer runs out and makes an 'explosion' sound, the person holding the bomb is out of the game.
Whoever wins or loses – it’s clear that the time’s well and truly up for the disease-ridden Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry in B.C. Just three Norwegian companies – Marine Harvest, Cermaq (Mainstream) and Grieg Seafood – control 92% of B.C.’s salmon farms. Who will be left holding the ‘Time Bomb’ when the clock runs down and the fat Viking lady joins Tom Jones in singing an unusal version of Salmon Bomb?
For more background please read: