Cohen Commission 101 - The A to Z Guide to the Salmon Inquiry
Here’s an A to Z guide to the Cohen Commission (formerly named ‘The Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River’). In George Orwell’s book ‘Nineteen Eight Four’, Room 101 was a torture chamber where prisoners were subjected to their own worst nightmare. The Cohen Commission is actually being held in Room 801 at 701 W. Georgia St. in Vancouver but for the Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry it could turn out to be Room 101.
“Perhaps we should change the date on our newspaper to 1984,” wrote The Courier-Islander in an Editorial - ‘A Date Change to 1984’ - in July. “That would seem to be in order after the Orwellian revelations of bureaucrats in Ottawa muzzling a leading fisheries scientist whose work may reveal why so many Fraser River sockeye disappeared in 2009. The bureaucrats, of the equally Orwellian named Privy Council Office, put a stop to scientist Kristi Miller talking about what could be one of the most significant discoveries in fisheries in years.”
If the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) is to be believed, the forthcoming evidentiary hearings on ‘Diseases’ (August 22-24) and ‘Aquaculture’ (August 25 – September 8) will reveal a graveyard full of skeletons in their closet.
The Cohen Commission may turn out to be the BCSFA’s very own ‘Truth Commission’.
This A to Z guide gives an idea of what to expect when the B.C. salmon farmers’ Room 101 is finally opened. For more background read “Cracking the Cohen Code, Deciphering the Disease Conundrum” and follow online.
A is for Aquaculture, August, Alexandra Morton, Aquaculture Coalition, Ashfield and Atlantic salmon
‘Aquaculture’ will be discussed starting August 25 through until September 8. For a list of witnesses, exhibits and transcripts click here.
Dr. Alexandra Morton, an award-winning scientist and biologist with an honorary degree from Simon Fraser University, will be giving evidence during the evidentiary hearing on ‘Aquaculture’ on September 7 & 8. Follow her blog online here. In October 2010, Alexandra Morton rafted through Hell’s Gate to Hope and then paddled down the Fraser River to Vancouver to the first day of the Cohen Inquiry to ask that Justice Cohen demand the complete disease records from every salmon feedlot site on the Fraser sockeye migration route.
August 17 is the first day back after the summer recess with ‘Effects on Habitat in the Marine Environment’ and starting on Monday August 22 ‘Diseases’ with ‘Aquaculture’ starting on August 25. For a full schedule visit the Cohen Commission’s web-site.
Alexandra Morton has standing at the Cohen Commission via the ‘Aquaculture Coalition’ along with Raincoast Research Society and Pacific Coast Wild Salmon Society.
Keith Ashfield, in a move reminiscent of rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, switched jobs in May with Gail Shea and became Canada’s Fisheries Minister (leaving his post as Revenue Minister). “Justice Cohen's work is ongoing and we are committed to allowing him to conduct this inquiry free from outside influence,” said Minister Ashfield in July. “We look forward to his report and recommendations in June, 2012.”
In her blog – “Feds miss mark in scientist muzzling saga” (July 29) - Margaret Munro (the journalist who reported on how the Canadian Government had muzzled DFO scientist Dr. Kristi Miller) stated: “One wonders if Federal Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield can read”.
Atlantic salmon, an alien species,constitute “more than 90%” of the salmon farmed in the Pacific waters of B.C. 92% of the salmon farms in B.C. are controlled by Norwegian companies who almost exclusively farm Atlantic salmon.
B is for Bruce Cohen, Beamish, BC Salmon Farmers Association and Bullshit Bingo
Bruce Cohen, a judge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, was appointed as Commissioner in November 2009 and must submit his final report by June 30, 2012.
Dr. Dick Beamish, former head of DFO’s Pacific Biological Station, saw his career torn to shreds at the Cohen Commission in July as his scientific credibility was shattered by the publication of a memo from one of his DFO colleagues Dr. Brent Hargreaves calling him “unethical” and “unprofessional”.
The BC Salmon Farmers Association (BCSFA) was granted standing at the Cohen Commission in April 2010 and in January 2010 handed over “reams of data” on diseases to the Cohen Commission. The BCSFA are using Twitter and their web-site to provide updates on ‘The Fraser River Sockeye Commission’.
Bullshit Bingo is the exciting game played at the Cohen Commission (normally when DFO take the witness stand). As the Salmon Guy explains: “Standard Bingo rules apply: when you black out a line, or an entire card, you shout out “Bullshit”!”. Download your Bullshit Bingo card here.
C is for Cohen Commission, Cancer, Confidential, Conservation Coalition, Captain Condom and Carla Shore
The Cohen Commission is charged by its ‘terms of reference’: “to investigate and make independent findings of fact regarding: the causes for the decline of Fraser River sockeye salmon including, but not limited to, the impact of environmental changes along the Fraser River, marine environmental conditions, aquaculture, predators, diseases, water temperature and other factors that may have affected the ability of sockeye salmon to reach traditional spawning grounds or reach the ocean.”
A ‘cancer-causing virus’ called ‘Salmon Leukemia’ will be discussed at the evidentiary hearings between August 22 and 24.
The confidential nature of proceedings has been one of the many criticisms of the Cohen Commission. In June, the Cohen Commission made a ‘Ruling on Undertakings of Confidentiality’ which ruled against releasing publicly documents relating to infectious diseases.
“Farmed Salmon Confidential” read the headline of a news article in The Common Sense Canadian in August: “Largely thanks to the Cohen Commission into collapsing Fraser River sockeye stocks, significant new information has been trickling out over the past year, which – when one assembles the pieces of the puzzle – reveals a coordinated cover-up by the industry of this damaging information, aided by both the BC and Canadian governments. As the aquaculture portion of the Cohen Commission in late August and September draws near, The Common Sense Canadian will attempt through a two-part feature this week to connect the dots and reveal the nature of this cover-up to our readers.”
The ‘Conservation Coalition’ has standing at the Cohen Commission and includes the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform, Fraser Riverkeeper Society, Georgia Strait Alliance, Raincoast Conservation Foundation, Watershed Watch Salmon Society, Mr. Otto Langer and David Suzuki Foundation.
Captain Condom, from the Superheroes 4 Salmon, will be at the Cohen Commission asking the salmon farming industry to adopt closed containment and stop the spread of STDs (Salmon Transmitted Diseases).
Carla Shore is the Director of Communications for the Cohen Commission. Watch a video of Carla Shore explaining why aquaculture is an issue for the Cohen Commission. “Along (Fraser sockeye) migratory routes both out (to Alaska) and back they pass by Vancouver Island where there are quite a number of aquaculture operations,” said Carla Shore.
D is for Diseases, DFO and Decade
‘Diseases’ is the issue at the evidentiary hearing from August 22 to 24. In March, DFO’s Dr. Laura Richards gave a glimpse into the disease ‘Salmon Leukemia’ – DFO’s Dr. Kristi Miller, an expert on salmon leukemia will testify on August 24.
A Technical Report on ‘Diseases and Parasites’ has already been written by Dr. Michael Kent – but this is still not available to the public. Another Technical Report – ‘Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon’ “will be available before the conclusion of evidentiary hearings”.
In December 2010, the Cohen Commission ruled that ten years of disease data for 120 salmon farms be disclosed by the BCSFA by January 2011. Eight months after the BCSFA handed “reams of data” over to the Cohen Commission, the public will be able to judge for themselves when the data is published during the evidentiary hearings on ‘Diseases’ (August 22-24).
The latest disease data for Q1 2010 (2011 information is still not publicly available) published via the BCSFA ‘Fish Health Database’ includes: Lepeophtheirus Infection, Myxobacterial Infection, Viral Haemorrhagic Septicemia Virus Infection, Aeromonas salmonicida Infection and Piscirickettsia salmonis Infection. Disease data for 2009 is available publicly online with the ‘Fish Health Report 2009’ which was published in September 2010 (2010 data is expected to be published in September 2011).
DFO staff will be appearing at the evidentiary hearings on ‘Diseases’ and ‘Aquaculture’ in August & September. DFO staff on the witness stand for ‘Diseases’ (August 22-24) include Dr. Stewart Johnson (Head, Aquatic Animal Health), Dr. Kristi Miller (Head, Molecular Genetics), Dr. Christine MacWilliams (Fish Health Veterinarian – Salmonid Enhancement Program) and Dr. Kyle Garver (Research Scientist). DFO staff appearing in the ‘Aquaculture’ evidentiary hearing (August 25 – September 8) include Andrew Thomson (Director, Aquaculture Management Directorate), Trevor Swerdfager (formerly Director General, Aquaculture Management Directorate, DFO (NHQ)), Brian Atagi (Area Chief Aquaculture, Conservation & Protection), Kerra Hoyseth (Senior Aquaculture Biologist, Aquaculture Environmental Operations) and Dr. Simon Jones (Research Scientist).
Canadian Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield stated on July 28:
“Dr. Miller will also present her research findings at the Commission in the coming weeks along with several other scientists and officials.”
“The common denominator — and perhaps the common enemy — is the great, unwieldy, moves-at-the-pace-of-molasses bureaucracy known as the DFO,” commented Christie Blatchford in her article - “Common denominator at Cohen Commission is antipathy for DFO” - in The National Post in June.
Representatives from DFO including the Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea were shamefully in Norway at a trade show promoting salmon farming when Fraser River sockeye salmon stocks crashed in 2009. Watch the video from Damien Gillis: “DFO at Aqua Nor Whilst Fraser Sockeye Crash”.
Decade is the time period for which Justice Cohen ordered the BCSFA to submit disease data Alexandra Morton argued for 18 years of data whilst the BCSFA argued for five years. Writing in ‘Cohen Inquiry Concerns’ Sabra Woodworth concludes: “The Cohen Commission is tasked with getting to the bottom of a very old story: one recent decade’s data on semi-regulated salmon feedlots that have confidential arrangements with governments regarding self-monitoring for pathogens and sea lice could just leave us perpetually wondering what went wrong.”
E is for Extension, Evidentiary, Exhibits, Empty, Ecojustice and Elena Edwards
In January, it was announced that the Cohen Commission was “granted an extension by the Governor General in Council to complete its work”. The 13-month extension means that the final report will be completed by the end of June 2012 not the end of May 2011 as originally planned.
“Due to the complexity of the topic at hand, a difficult and time-consuming document disclosure process, the large number of participants in the inquiry, and a comprehensive evidentiary hearings schedule, Commissioner Bruce Cohen requested the extension to ensure he could properly fulfill his mandate,” said a press release.
Evidentiary hearings are the public part of the Cohen Commission and started in October 2010 – and are expected to conclude in September or October 2011.
Exhibits are supposed to be posted online immediately on the Cohen Commission’s web-site but sometimes take 5 days (especially when they are controversial in nature). When the Cohen Commission convened for the summer recess there were already 1360 exhibits marked. Interesting exhibits include a presentation by DFO’s Dr. Kristi Miller:
Empty seats in the public gallery and an empty media room is dumfounding for journalist Mark Hume of The Globe & Mail. “Hume is confused and concerned as to why he is one of the only journalists following the story,” reported The Martlet in February. “I’m dumbfounded by it,” said Hume. “The place is empty. The media room is empty. There are a few [non-governmental organizations] sitting there taking notes. That’s it.”
Ecojustice represents environmental groups at the Cohen Commission and has been fighting for years to force salmon farming companies to disclose disease data. “It is irresponsible at best for the salmon farming industry to have withheld data on their operations in public waters,” said Judah Harrison, Ecojustice staff lawyer. “Canadians have the right to know the full extent of the impacts salmon farming practices are having on the marine environment.”
Elena Edwards has followed the Cohen Commission since the first public forum at Cheam Beach in August. Read her blog “Cohen Inquiry Notes” and her live postings via Facebook’s ‘Salmon Inquiry – Cohen Commission Watch’.
Her latest blog – “The $25 Million Dollar Question” (July 27) – includes:
“It has been a long hard journey to get the release of disease records as part of aquaculture at the Cohen Commission, but through the perseverance of Alexandra Morton, her colleagues and supporters, the health records from 120 farms over the past ten years will be up for examination this August 25 - September 8. The nine days which will see the many issues pertaining to aquaculture are not be missed, nor the three days examining diseases August 22-24 when Dr Kristi Miller will no longer be muzzled from speaking out.”
F is for Fish Farms, Fraser River, First Nations, Feedlots, Fuzzy, Farce and Facebook
The Fraser River is the longest river in British Columbia flowing for over 2,000 km into the Strait of Georgia. In 2009, more than nine million salmon went missing prompting ‘The Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River’ (later renamed the Cohen Commission).
First Nations groups who have standing at the Cohen Commission include: Musgamagw Tsawataineuk Tribal Council, Sto:lo Tribal Council, Cheam Indian Band, First Nations Fisheries Council, Aboriginal Caucus of the Fraser River Aboriginal Fisheries Secretariat, Fraser Valley Aboriginal Fisheries Society, Chehalis Indian Band, Secwepemc Fisheries Commission of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance, Adams Lake Indian Band, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, Council of Haida Nation and Cowichan Tribes.
Feedlots are another name for farms. “Salmon feedlots kill wild salmon” says Salmon Are Sacred. “The salmon feedlot owners are now refusing to allow the provincial government of British Columbia to test the fish in their pens for disease as of April 1 2010, they will not even permit access to their dead fish,” wrote Alexandra Morton in August 2011. “I don't know how these feedlots are getting away with this, but they must have reasons for such extreme secrecy”.
Fuzzy is how Dr. Laura Richards, Regional Director of Science at DFO, described her brain when asked to define ‘vertical transmission’ at the evidentiary hearing in March. “Every sixth-grade student, teenage single mom, Sarah Palin and even her 3-year old grandson knows that vertical transmission is also known as mother-to-child transmission,” reported the Superheroes 4 Salmon. “Doh – maybe that’s why Fisheries Minister Gail Shea has allowed the import of farmed salmon eggs potentially infected with Infectious Salmon Anaemia to British Columbia?”
“Farce” is how John Cummins (former MP for Delta – Richmond East) views the Cohen Commission.
Facebook provides live updates on evidentiary hearings – follow online via ‘Salmon Inquiry – Cohen Commission Watch’.
G is for Gallery, Georgia Strait, Get Out and Greg McDade
The public gallery in the courtroom has 130 seats. Since the Cohen Commission started in October the average audience has been less than 10 people and “mostly, the courtroom’s 130 seats have sat empty”. The address is Room 801, Federal Courthouse, 701 West Georgia St. The morning session is from 10am to 12.30pm and afternoon session is 2pm to 4pm.
“Having sat in that courtroom for hours on end, I can tell you it is a sad sight seeing the future of wild salmon being discussed in a room empty of people who want to protect them,” writes Elena Edwards in her blog ‘Justice for Wild Salmon’. “Yes, it is a tiresome process to sit in such a stale room, and yes, it is sickening hearing how fragmented and ineffective DFO is. But what of the wild salmon and all that they endure for us?”
The Georgia Strait is where out-migrating wild salmon smolts (juvenile salmon) leaving the Fraser River run the gauntlet past a hangman’s noose of salmon farms. The Georgia Strait Alliance (members of the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform) is campaigning to remove all salmon farms from the ‘Wild Salmon Narrows’.
Greg McDade is Alexandra Morton’s lawyer at the Cohen Commission. “There is a very substantial public interest in ensuring full reporting of ISA indications,” wrote Greg McDade in May. “An ISA epidemic could prove devastating to wild salmon stocks. In our submission the public interest in proper reporting must outweigh the interest in confidentiality.”
H is for Harper, Hume and Healthy
Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially announced the setting up of the Cohen Commission in November 2009. “The Government is establishing a public inquiry to take all feasible steps to identify the reasons for the decline of the Fraser River sockeye salmon population,” said the Prime Minister. “It is in the public interest to investigate this matter and determine the longer-term prospects for sockeye salmon stocks.”
Mark Hume from The Globe & Mail is the only mainstream media reporter to have regularly covered the Cohen Commission. Hume reported in March in an article – “Researcher suggests ‘salmon leukemia’ is to blame for decline of Fraser sockeye” – in The Globe & Mail that: “Of all the theories heard so far by the Cohen Commission, the most intriguing involves new research by a molecular scientist who is pointing to the possibility of an epidemic of salmon leukemia. Kristi Miller hasn’t been called to testify on her research yet, but her work is already causing a buzz at the inquiry, in part because it seems an effort has been made to keep it under wraps.”
Hume reported in June in an article – “Cohen commission’s calm hides turmoil behind scenes” – in The Globe & Mail that: “Behind the scenes, the debate over how open the proceedings should be was fierce. One can only wonder how long it will be before those tensions erupt in Judge Cohen’s tightly composed court room.”
‘Healthy’ is how the BCSFA describe the state of farmed salmon. In various press releases the BCSFA claims ‘healthy fish’, ‘a strong record of good health’ and that ‘B.C.'s farmed salmon are healthy’.
I is for Infectious, Irrevocable, Irreparable and Iron Curtain
Infectious Salmon Anaemia (ISA) is a deadly disease which caused $2 billion in losses in Chile. The billion dollar question is whether B.C.’s salmon feedlots are harbouring ISA.
“The Infectious Salmon Anemia virus (ISAv) is a ticking time bomb that could explode under BC's salmon farming industry and their open net-pens,” wrote Ray Grigg in The Courier-Islander in July in an article: “Infectious Salmon Anemia: A Ticking Timebomb?”. “If this industry has imported such a disease into the ecology of the Pacific Northwest via infected Atlantic salmon material, the results could be an ecological catastrophe.”
The Globe & Mail reported in May in article – “Cohen called on to release information on salmon virus” - that: “There are approximately 35 indications of the existence of ISA identified in these records to date”.
‘Irrevocable’ and ‘Irreparable’ are the words used to describe the impact should damning documents on diseases are released publicly. In May, the BCSFA conceded that there would be a “likelihood of misuse and irrevocable damage to the economic interests and reputations of participants and individuals”. In another submission to the Cohen Inquiry in May, the BCSFA admitted that “irreparable damage will occur to the reputations and economic interests of the BCSFA’s member companies and their shareholders”.
Iron is the curtain of confidentiality drawn by the Conservative Government in Canada. “An iron curtain has been draped over communication of science in the last five to six years,” Jeffrey Hutchings, a senior fisheries scientist at Dalhousie University in Halifax told Postmedia News in August.
J is for Justice, Jail and John Cummins
Justice Cohen is the Supreme Court of British Columbia judge charged by Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, with investigating the causes of the decline of Fraser River sockeye.
The ‘Justice League for Wild Salmon’ visited the Cohen Commission in April. Sadly, the Cohen Commission laid down the law and banned Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman et al from attending in costume. In an email dated 11th April, John Lunn (Hearings Coordinator) said: “Unfortunately, costumes are not appropriate attire for attending court. Costumes may not be worn onto the 8th floor.”
Jail is where Justice Cohen posed for photographs in Lillooet at the public forum in August along with Brian Wallace (Senior Commission Council) and Carla Shore (Director of Communications).
John Cummins (former MP for Delta – Richmond East) has been highly critical of the Cohen Commission from the beginning. In June 2010 he stated that “The Cohen Inquiry has turned into a farce with DFO insiders investigating themselves”. His successor as MP for Delta – Richmond East is Kerry-Lynne Findlay QC who has standing as a lawyer representing the BC Fisheries Survival Coalition at the Cohen Commission.
K is for Kristi Miller, Kick-Ass and Kent
Dr. Kristi Miller is an expert on ‘Salmon Leukemia’ and will testify on August 24 during the evidentiary hearing on ‘Diseases’. Dr. Miller is the DFO scientist muzzled by the Government and banned from speaking to the media following a paper – “Genomic Signatures Predict Migration and Spawning Failure in Wild Canadian Salmon”- she co-authored published in Science in January (download in full here). In March her presentation – “Epidemic of a Novel, Cancer-Causing Viral Disease May Be Associated with Wild Salmon Declines in BC” – was marked as an exhibit at the Cohen Commission.
The Vancouver Sun reported in July (26th) in an article – “Ottawa silences scientist over West coast salmon study” - that: “Top bureaucrats in Ottawa have muzzled a leading fisheries scientist whose discovery could help explain why salmon stocks have been crashing off Canada's West Coast, according to documents obtained by Postmedia News. The documents show the Privy Council Office, which supports the Prime Minister's Office, stopped Kristi Miller from talking about one of the most significant discoveries to come out of a federal fisheries lab in years.”
‘Silencing Science’ reported in March: “DFO has banned Dr. Miller from giving any media interviews about the subject. In a time when the information is of significant importance and the idea is still fresh in the minds of the scientific community, the spokesperson is barred from reaching her audience. Likely, the issue will again gain some momentum once Dr. Miller is forced to testify in front the Cohen Commission into the response of Fraser River Salmon depletion, in the coming months.”
Kristi the Salmon was named in honour of Dr. Kristi Miller and escorted Alexandra Morton on her ‘Vote Salmon’ campaign in April in the run up to the Federal Election.
‘Kick-Ass Canadian’ Alexandra Morton will be attending the Cohen Commission along with the Superheroes 4 Salmon featuring new superhero ‘Kick Ass’ Kristi.
Michael Kent, Professor of Microbiology & Biomedical Sciences at Oregon State University, will testify on August 22 & 23 in the evidentiary hearing on ‘Diseases’. Professor Kent is the author of the Technical Report on ‘Diseases and Parasites’ which “will take a broad view of sockeye diseases and parasites that span the life cycle from egg to adult, and will evaluate the full spectrum of diseases that occur at all life history stages”.
L is for Leukemia, Laura Richards, Lawyers and Lawsuits
Leukemia is an “intriguing” issue to be discussed at the evidentiary hearing on ‘Diseases’ (August 22-24).
“Never Heard of Salmon Leukemia? Chances are you won’t… for a while” reported Silencing Science in March: “Salmon Leukemia could be the great puzzle piece in the disaster that has been Fraser Sockeye in recent years. Even with an incredible run of sockeye like in 2010 it is estimated that as many as 70% of sockeye died on route to the spawning grounds and that this viral disease could be the major culprit”.
The Tyee reported in June in an article – “Is a Virus Ravaging BC's Sockeye?” – that: “The Miller article had a considerable impact, both scientifically and politically, and led to an interesting exchange at the Cohen Commission on March 17, when Dr. Laura Richards, the regional director of science for DFO was testifying. On page 29 of the transcript of her testimony, Brian Wallace quoted from an email by Dr. Miller: "Laura does not want me to attend any of the sockeye salmon workshops that are not run by DFO for fear that we will not be able to control the way the disease issue could be construed in the press." (He did not quote the last sentence in her email: "I worry that this approach of saying nothing will backfire.")
Dr. Richards responded: "Well, that's very much a misrepresentation," and went on to say it was a departmental decision, not hers, and that more information was being gathered; hence the reluctance to go public with incomplete data.
When The Tyee wrote to Dr. Miller to ask about this, she replied: "Unfortunately, I am not given permission to speak with anyone affiliated with the media until after I testify at the Cohen Commission. "Please be aware, however, that past research on salmon leukemia, often termed plasmacytoid leukemia or marine anemia, had not actually identified a specific viral agent associated with this 'syndrome' (not considered a disease until a disease agent is discovered), hence it is very difficult to determine if the as yet unidentified virus associated with salmon leukemia [is] the same as that purported to associate with our genomic signature, but we are working on this. We have made some inroads, but I am sorry I cannot discuss these at the present time."
Dr. Laura Richards is the DFO’s Regional Director of Science who memorably (or not as the case may be for the poor Dr. Richards) testified in March that her “brain went fuzzy”. A blog - ‘Inquiry Into the Art of Avoidance’ - by Elena Edwards stated that Dr. Richards “showed a skill set that can only come from years of DFO-associated avoidance, cover ups and denial.” Dr. Richards “was as credible a witness as O J Simpson” reported the Superheroes 4 Salmon and refused to have her photograph taken.
Lawyers working for the Cohen Commission include Keith Hamilton, Wendy Baker, Brock Martland, Patrick McGowan, Meg Gaily and Lara Tessaro. Lawyers representing those with standing include Tim Leaden (Conservation Coalition), Brenda Gaertner (First Nations Coalition), Alan Blair (BCSFA), Greg McDade (Aquaculture Coalition), Don Rosenbloom (Area D Salmon Gillnet Association), Tim Dickson (Sto:Lo Tribal Council and Cheam Indian Band) and Krista Robertson (Musgagmagw Tsawataineuk Tribal Council).
Lawsuits are expected when the Cohen Commission publishes damning data on infectious diseases. A class action lawsuit on sea lice was launched in 2010. “Are you insured for this cover up?” asked Alexandra Morton in a letter to Canadian Fisheries Minister Gail Shea in March. “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?”.
M is for Marine Harvest, Mainstream, Mortalities and Media
Marine Harvest and Mainstream (a subsidiary of the Norwegian Government-owned company Cermaq) are the world’s #1 and #2 salmon farming companies and represented in the Cohen Commission via the BCSFA. Together they control 79% of the salmon feedlots in B.C.
Marine Harvest is tracking the Cohen Commission via their blog and “expect many news stories and public demonstrations to be about the suspected impacts to the sockeye from salmon farms”.
Marine Harvest’s Clare Backman (Director of Environmental Compliance and Community Relations) will appear on the witness stand in the evidentiary hearing on ‘Aquaculture’ alongside Alexandra Morton on September 7 & 8. Mainstream’s Dr. Peter McKenzie (Veterinarian and Fish Health Manager) will appear on August 31. Mainstream can be seen speaking about the Cohen Commission via ‘Salmon Farm Open House, Mainstream’ and ‘ISA is an East coast disease’.
Pre-spawn Mortality may be killing 95% of the Fraser River sockeye.
Media coverage of the Cohen Commission has been abysmal save for the reporting by Mark Hume at The Globe & Mail and occasional reporting by Christie Blatchford. Finally, on August 20 there was coverage on Global News, CTV and The Canadian Press.
N is for No, None, Nothing and Norway
‘No’, ‘None’ and ‘Nothing’ claimed Cermaq’s Communications and Corporate Sustainability Manager Laurie Jensen when questioned in June whether symptoms of ISA had been reported: “No. None. And actually, if you look at all the research, even the stuff going through the Cohen Commission, there is no......they have tested hundreds of times and there's nothing. ISA is an East coast disease, it's not a West coast disease. No – and we don't want it”. Watch the video – “ISA is an East Coast Disease”.
Norway controls 92% of the salmon feedlots in B.C. via the three Norwegian-owned companies Marine Harvest, Cermaq (Mainstream) and Grieg.
O is for Oncorhynchus, One Hundred and Twenty and Out-Migration
Oncorhynchusnerka is the scientific name for Sockeye salmon.
One Hundred and Twenty is the number of disease-ridden salmon feedlots that could be affecting out-migrating Fraser sockeye salmon – see the names of the farms via Justice Cohen’s ruling in December 2010 which demanded that the BCSFA release disease data.
The Outmigration route for Fraser River sockeye takes juvenile salmon past a hangman’s noose of disease-ridden and sea-lice infested salmon farms littering the Georgia Strait, Johnstone Strait and Broughton Archipelago.
P is for Public, Photos, Press, Parasites and Paddle
Publicis not a word used to describe the Cohen Commission. “The proceedings of this $25 million public inquiry have been far from public,” wrote Elena Edwardsin July, echoing the view of many observers. “There is enough secrecy to this commission to warrant an ‘Inquiry into the Secrecy of the Cohen Commission’.”
An Editorial - “Not So Public Public Inquiry” in The Courier Islander newspaper in May ended with: “Not making that information public seems to be in direct contrast with the purpose of the inquiry. The information should be made public. It's vitally urgent.”
Greg McDade, Alexandra Morton’s lawyer, said in April: “There’s a matter of urgent public interest here. Nobody I know has ever seen a public inquiry conducted in this way. It seems to me the commission should be making its decisions public”.
Public forums took place during 2010 with meetings at Cheam Beach, Lillooet, Campbell River, Victoria, Kamloops, Victoria, Prince George, Steveston, Prince Rupert, Nanaimo and New Westminster.
Photos are not allowed to be taken inside the courtroom – and the Cohen Commission changed the rules in March when they also banned photos from the corridors and even the lift. A warning letter from John Lunn, Hearings Coordinator at the Cohen Commission, stated: “Taking unwanted photographs, as well as posting them to websites without permission, does not further the safety and dignity of those participating in our proceedings” (read letter in full here).
Press have a room to report on proceedings but it has rarely been used.
Parasites (not to be confused with the press or lawyers) include sea lice. A Technical Report on ‘Diseases and Parasites’ “will be available before the conclusion of evidentiary hearings”.
The Paddle for Wild Salmon took place down the Fraser River in October – with a dozen canoes and over 100 paddlers (including the Mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson and Alexandra Morton) paddling into Vancouver to the opening of the Cohen Commission. Watch a video 'Rise of the Salmon People'.
Q is for Questions and Quipp
Questions not answers characterize the Cohen Commission. “Judging by the cryptic nature of the Cohen Inquiry, Justice Cohen must have a penchant for puzzles and spend his spare time playing Scrabble and Sudoku,” reported the Superheroes 4 Salmon in June.
June Quipp, a councillor with Cheam Indian Band, organized the first public forum of the Cohen Commission in August 2010.
Councillor Quipp testified at an evidentiary hearing in December 2010 on ‘Aboriginal Worldview, Cultural Context and Traditional Knowledge’.
R is for Riddler, Ringtail, Redaction and Rally
Such is the level of secrecy that The Riddler would have difficulty breaking ‘the Cohen Code’.
RingtailLegal is the secret database where at least “395,000 documents” (as of May) are stored and only available to people who have signed an ‘Undertaking of Confidentiality’. According to the Cohen Commission: “Extensive use of Ringtail enables the commission to provide documents and exhibits electronically through monitors located at counsel tables and to the courtroom audience through data projection”.
In January, the Cohen Commission reportedthat: “Canada continues to produce disclosure documents to the commission through Ringtail Legal, the automated document management program specified by the Attorney General of Canada. To date, the Government of Canada, through the Department of Justice, has produced more than 293,000 documents, which includes more than 140,000 emails”.
In July, Canadian Fisheries Minister stated: “At Justice Cohen's request, the government has provided almost 500,000 documents and many hours of testimony deemed relevant by Justice Cohen to his inquiry”.
Redaction is another word for censorship which is alive and well at the Cohen Commission. Read some examples of redacted documents (where text has been blacked out) from the BCSFA here and here (more background details via ‘Cohen Clampdown on Confidentiality’). Read also “Fishy Commission Blackout”.
A rally for wild salmon will take place on August 30 at the Vancouver Art Gallery (details online here).
S is for Sockeye, Salmongate, Secretive, Star Chamber, Salmon Are Sacred, Superheroes 4 Salmon, Scrabble, STDs and Seating
Sockeye Salmonis one of five species of Pacific salmon along. The name ‘sockeye’ is an anglicization of sθə́qəy̓, its name in Halkomelem, the language of the indigenous people along the lower reaches of the Fraser River.
“Do we have a Salmongate about to erupt at any moment in Canada?,” asked The Edmonton Journal (August 2).
Secretive is a criticism levelled at the Cohen Commission by many observers. “I have become very concerned about the extent to which important aspects of the Cohen Commission are operating in secret,” said Alexandra Morton in April.
Star Chamber is becoming synonymous with the Cohen Commission. The secrecy surrounding the Cohen Commission prompted lawyer Greg McDade to tell The Globe & Mail in May that it: “is reminiscent of the criticisms of the Star Chamber”. The Superheroes 4 Salmon explained: “In modern usage, legal or administrative bodies with strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings are sometimes called, metaphorically or poetically, star chambers”.
Salmon Are Sacred organized the ‘Paddle for Wild Salmon’ which arrived at the opening of the Cohen Commission in October.
Superheroes 4 Salmon will be attending the Cohen Commission in August and September and has been blogging regularly via ‘Cohen’. Watch a video interview of the Superheroes 4 Salmon outside the Cohen Commission in April.
‘Salmon Scrabble’ is a new game devised to crack the ‘Cohen Conundrum’.
STDs are Salmon Transmitted Diseases.
Seating may be at a premium as the Cohen Commission fears a last minute rush: "Interest is being generated in the commission's hearings as they near their conclusion," states a letter sent yesterday to lawyers and those with standing at the Cohen Commission. "The commission is taking steps to ensure that participants with standing have access to seating in the event audience numbers exceed capacity in the courtroom. Beginning on Monday, August 22, a block of 30 seats in the public gallery will be allocated to participants with standing with the topic for each day's hearing" (Read letter in full online here).
T is for Twenty-Five Million Dollars, Transcripts, Twitter, Technical Reports, Tum Tum and Timebomb
$25 million is the cost of the Cohen Commission (read more details via “The $25 Million Dollar Question”). The original budget was $14 million but a further $11 million was given in January bringing the total to $25 million.
Transcripts of evidentiary hearings are supposed to be posted online via the Cohen Commission’s web-site a week after the testimony but sometimes take two weeks.
Twitter is being used by the Cohen Commission, BCSFA, Salmon Are Sacred and Superheroes 4 Salmon. The Twitter hashmark is #coheninquiry.
‘Technical Reports’ have been written relating to 12 projects including “Diseases and Parasites” and “Impacts of salmon farms on Fraser River sockeye salmon”.
Tum Tum Salmon will be visiting the Cohen Commission in August and September – he attended the public forum in Victoria in September 2010 and visited the Cohen Commission in March although had to get changed in the toilet before he was allowed into the courtroom.
Timebomb is the word used to describe the forthcoming disclosure of disease information. Ray Grigg wrote in an article - “Infectious Salmon Anemia: A Ticking Timebomb?” – published in The Courier-Islander in July:
“The salmon farming industry, meanwhile, has been doing its legal best to prevent the release of privileged information it has been forced to divulge to the Commission, arguing that this release to the public could cause them "reputational and economic damage". The public availability of such confidential information previously hidden from open environmental scrutiny, it contends, would create a "media circus". "Media circus" is the industry's term for losing control of a public relations agenda that for decades has been construing conspicuously damaging environmental practices as harmless. ISAv could blast that benign image out of West Coast waters. Indeed, a whole minefield of bombs are ticking under the industry's open net-pens.”
U is for Undertakings of confidentiality and Unanswered questions.
Participants in the Cohen Commission must sign an ‘Undertaking of Confidentiality’. According to Mark Hume, writing in The Globe & Mail in June: “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.”
The Times Colonist reported in May in an article – “Rules keep fish findings under wraps” – that: “Too many fishy secrets, buried in documents filed with the Cohen Commission of Inquiry, are being kept under wraps even though they could affect the health of wild salmon, according to the biologist and anti-fish farm activist Alexandra Morton. Morton, like other participants in the inquiry looking into the decline of Fraser River sockeye, has signed a legal undertaking not to disclose the contents of 395,000 documents filed with the commission until they become exhibits and part of the public record.”
Unanswered questions include: “Is a Virus Ravaging BC's Sockeye?” and “Is ISA lurking on salmon farms in BC?”
Vis for Vancouver, Virus, Voices and Videos
Vancouver is where the Cohen Commission is being held at 701 West Georgia St. (corner of Granville).
Virus will be an issue in August when ‘Diseases’ are discussed. “Are new viruses ravaging BC’s wild salmon stocks?” asked Geoff Meggs in his blog in July. “Despite the Cohen Commission, no answers are forthcoming”.
‘Voices for Wild Salmon’ was launched by Salmon Are Sacred in June “with expectations of 100,000 supporters by August when the 'Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River' will investigate the impact of infectious diseases from salmon feedlots on wild salmon”.
Video is recorded at the Cohen Commission but there is no live streaming available. The ‘Rules for Procedure and Practice’ state that: “The Commissioner may impose restrictions on the video and audio recording of the hearings by the public or media and may, on application, order that there be no video or audio recording of some or all of a witness’s testimony or of the proceedings”.
Video reports available as background include “Salmon Farm Diseases and Sockeye”, “Wild Salmon People Rally in Vancouver” and “Margo French Vancouver Rally for Wild Salmon Message to Cohen Commission”.
W is for Wild Salmon, Witnesses, Walling, Wallace, Watershed Watch and Woodworth
Wild salmon are the icon of British Columbia. 95% of British Columbians named Pacific salmon as B.C.’s most iconic fish, according to a poll commissioned by the Pacific Salmon Foundation and the Fraser Basin Council. Moreover, 85% of those surveyed said they support a proposal to designate wild Pacific salmon as an official symbol of the province.
Witnesses who have already testified to the Cohen Commission include members of the public at the various forums held during 2010 such as Vivian Krause, Don Staniford, Eric Wickham, Sabra Woodworth, Celia Brauer, Elena Edwards, Daren Blaney, Eric Hobson and Holly Arntzen who sang a song for the salmon in Victoria.
Witnesses scheduled to testify at the evidentiary hearings on ‘Diseases’ and ‘Aquaculture’ (August 22 to September 8) include Dr. Craig Stephen (Director, Centre for Coastal Health & Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Calgary), Dr. Brendan Connors (School of Resource and Environmental Management, Simon Fraser University), Dr. Larry Dill (Department of Biological Sciences, Simon Fraser University), Dr. Don Noakes (Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Thompson Rivers University), Dr. Craig Orr (Executive Director, Watershed Watch Salmon Society), Mike Price (Biologist, Raincoast Conservation Foundation), Dr. Sonja Saksida (Executive Director, Centre for Aquatic Health Sciences), Catherine Stewart (Salmon Farming Campaign Manager, Living Oceans Society), Mia Parker (formerly Manager, Regulatory Affairs, Grieg Seafood BC Ltd) and Alexandra Morton (Executive Director, Raincoast Research Society).
Mary-Ellen Walling is the Executive Director of the BC Salmon Farmers Association. Writing in July in The Courier-Islander she said: “Making sure that all information is available to readers in a balanced and intelligent manner is important when you're dealing with complex scientific topics such as this one. We're hopeful that the Cohen Commission will enable just that - encouraging public debate in a way that presents the information rationally and evenly.”
Brian Wallace is Senior Commission Counsel. Mr Wallace, despite being a high profile figure in a public inquiry, takes exception to photographs being taken. Here are some offending photos of Mr Wallace posing with Justice Cohen and Carla Shore (Director of Communications for the Cohen Commission) outside the jail in Lillooet before the public hearing in August 2010.
Watershed Watch report on the Cohen Commission via ‘Salmon Leaks’. Read about “DFO’s negligence in providing timely information regarding the purported virus which may threaten sockeye” online here.
Sabra Woodworth has reported on the Cohen Commission since it started in October 2010 – read her blog “Hindsight Blurs History of BC’s Salmon Feedlots” and follow her via Facebook’s ‘Salmon Inquiry – Cohen Commission Watch’.
X is for X-rated and Xenophilius
X-rated is what the public can expect to see in August and September when the can of worms on ‘Diseases’ and ‘Aquaculture’ is finally opened.
Xenophilius Lovegood is the editor of The Quibbler newspaper in the Harry Potter films who “continued to print the truth” even after Lord Voldemort seized power. His presence is much needed at the Cohen Commission.
Y is for You Tube and You
You Tube video clips on the Cohen Commission include “Don Staniford on the Cohen Inquiry” and “Superheroes for Wild Salmon”.
You need to bear witness at the Cohen Commission. Wild salmon need YOU need wild salmon. “Most of all, be sure to show up for at least one day at the Cohen Commission between August 22nd - September 8th and the rally at the Art Gallery on August 30th,” wrote Elena Edwards in her ‘Cohen Inquiry Notes’ in July. “It will take all of us to ensure that justice is done.”
Z is for Zero and Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
Zero is the number of cases of ISA claimed to be in B.C. by Marine Harvest, Cermaq and the BCSFA.
Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz is the sound heard at previous evidentiary hearings, especially when DFO has been on the witness stand droning on and on and on (and everyone is bored playing ‘Bullshit Bingo’).
For more details on the Cohen Commission visit our web-page 'Cohen'