Monday, April 2, 2012

Gregory McDade - “activist board” makes Vancity unique

Gregory McDade is an artist in the courtroom. Many times, he has lifted me off my feet as he represented Alexandra Morton at the Cohen Commission, instilling life through his cross-examinations in what were otherwise rather tedious proceedings. For the causes that he chooses to defend (most definitely of the underdog type) and for the manner in which he chooses to defend them (picture this: a lawyer who actually speaks his mind), that man clearly stands out of the ordinary.

So when I heard that Greg McDade was running for board member with Vancity, I was intrigued. I wanted to find out more about his personal motivations. I requested an interview which he kindly accepted. We talked about Vancity and what makes it a unique institution (answer: its board of activists), about his past tenure as a board member there, as well as his personal and professional aspirations, both in this particular campaign and in general.

My exchange with Greg McDade increased my personal admiration for him. Without hesitation I endorse his candidacy and, being a Vancity member myself (one person one vote is the rule, McDade reminded me), I shall vote for him. Below are some key moments of our interview. I invite any of you who bank at Vancity to read this and make your own mind about the man's character, and then find the time in your busy day to vote. It is critically important that we elect progressive activists of McDade's caliber to the board of Vancity.


Q: You served as a board member for Vancity in the past. Tell us about that experience, and how you became involved in the first place.

Greg McDade: I was on the board for 8 years from 1996 to 2004. I served 3 terms in total. How I got involved requires  a bit of background. Vancity is 65 years old. For the first 30 years, it ran as a pretty standard credit union, until the eighties when a group which was NDP-oriented with strong links to the environmental and social justice movements ran election after election and gradually got people elected. Eventually, all nine of the members came from the same background and worked as a unit, and they began to change Vancity into what it is. I was from the next generation, and I came about 12 years later when they were no longer eligible. Back then, I was heading the Sierra Legal Defense Fund, and so I was recruited to bring an environmental dimension into the mix.

We pushed the agenda in terms of its cooperative values, for more democracy, for donating more to groups. When I was chair, we set up the Vancity Award, which gives a one million dollar grant every year for one good cause. And we got Vancity to give away 30% of its profit to causes, which is extraordinary and unheard of – I mean, a regular financial institution is pretty happy if it only gives out 1%! Now Vancity is considered a global leader in the cooperative movement. Vancity also started Ethical Funds, the very first mutual fund that said that you should only invest in ethical companies. Vancity has initiated many of those initiatives which over the years have become accepted as standard practice. It was the first organization for example which was prepared to give mortgages east of Main street, or credit cards to women.

Q: What makes a credit union like Vancity different from a bank, or from other credit unions for that matter?

Greg McDade: Corporations have shareholders. And the key to having shareholders is growth. The only mandate  their managers is profit, and their only obligation is return on investment. We are beginning to see now in the world how this state of things causes evil – when we have 700 corporations controlling 80% of the world. And what do we do one generation from now, when those corporations are going to continue to eat each other up? Cooperatives are different. In a sense, Vancity also has shareholders: every member is a shareholder. But it is a different type of share, because it is not one that you can sell for more than you bought it. And it is one member one vote, as opposed to the model where the richer you are, the more control you have. That makes a significant difference when you are a manager. The measurement is not profit anymore, it is member satisfaction.

Q: However Vancity lives in a global financial environment, granted a highly toxic one, but one inside which Vancity must live and be competitive. How does this reality impact Vancity's core values? 

Greg McDade: I'll answer with an example. In the late nineties when I was chair, the idea of Internet banking was really taking off. Eventually, they said, it would not matter where banks were located, all banking would be global. There was a huge pressure to get rid of branches, because they were seen as a drag on earnings. You had to get rid of all those bricks and mortar as they called them. The same thing was going to happen at Vancity, but the board rebelled. We said no, our objective is not to become international, we have members and our members are in Vancouver, we actually need to open more branches. So at the time when everyone was closing branches, we were opening them! The world has changed since then, and big banks heave realized that this strategy of closing branches doesn't work, that customer loyalty happens at the local branch.

Another example. In the early 2000s there was a huge trend in financial markets towards derivatives, where mortgages were bundled up. For a year of two at Vancity, we went though that phase, and then the board said no, we are not going to buy bundled mortgages from New York state or wherever they come from. We are here to serve our members in Vancouver, our mortgages are fine thank you very much, we want to maintain control over them. And of course, the financial collapse came out of those derivatives. And it is not just Vancity that did well during those times: even as banks collapsed by the hundreds in 2008, no credit unions collapsed. It turns out that credit unions are much more financially secure than banks. When we feel that corporations are taking over the world as a cancer, which is how I feel, I think that credit unions and cooperatives are the answer. Vancity is a mission-based organization, it's almost like a nonprofit albeit one that makes a profit. And that comes from having a board which is mission-based. It's more than just good people from the community. It's an activist-based board. And it's important to maintain that.

Q: I have seen you in action at the Cohen Commission [the commission which inquired in the collapse of the 2009 Fraser sockeye] and I think it's fair to call you an activist lawyer. You've ben involved in some of the most important legal battles in this province over your career, such as Clayoquot Sound in the 1990s and more recently by representing Alexandra Morton in her battle against fish farms. How did that happen? Most of your colleagues who graduated with you now work for large corporations, or for the government. How did McDade-the-apple end up falling so far away from the corporate tree, and how does one become an activist lawyer?

Greg McDade: Well, some people go to law school with a different mindset than just entering a respectable profession and making money, but because they actually want to change the world...

Q: So you had that mindset from the beginning?

Greg McDade: I was an environmentalist first and I went to law school because it occurred to me that it was the only way to change the world. I didn't actually want to be a lawyer. Eventually I became frustrated as an environmentalist in Alberta where I grew up. I realized that you either stack dynamite in your basement or you learn how to sue people. And one of the things that surprised me when I went to law school in the seventies was how many other people were there for the same reasons. I was one of the first environmental lawyers, but there were an awful lot that were there for labor causes or social justice. What happens after that, and one of the reasons so many end up working for corporations, is that there just is no money in those areas. I always tell students that there are maybe 20 positions for environmental lawyers in Canada. But that's why I started the Sierra Legal Defense Fund, because nobody wants to pay for environmental law since it's a common property. And so there is no financial interest in protecting nature, but there is financial interest in destroying it. So the only way to make that work was to raise funds from the public – and it worked.

Q: Do you ever work for the other side – corporations – as a lawyer?

Greg McDade: Never. I've not had a single corporate client for many years. My current practice is largely aboriginal based. So it's more of a social justice cause than an environmental one. I believe we have mistreated the First Nations. They have a right to their fair share and I believe we have to empower them. So I work very hard to make sure that they get their fair share of any resource development that takes place in their territory. The bands I work for are very environmentally focused. But where mining and forestry is approved by government, our objective is to get the First Nations their fair share, so that they can build an economy. And so sometimes the aboriginal bands I work for set up joint ventures with the corporations that come in, as opposed to having those corporations take 100% of all the resource. But we spend a good portion of the time suing those corporations to keep them out.

Q: Do you get some push-back from environmentalists because of that?

Greg McDade: Yes, occasionally.

Q: What do you tell them?

Greg McDade: I say that First Nations are better at protecting their environment than the companies that were doing it before. I defend environmentalists all the time because I think they are essential as a means of pressure, but you also have to have an economy. Alexandra Morton is a good example of such environmentalists who understand the importance of the economy and work hand in hand with First Nations. Alex and I have the same approach on this: you get rid of the bad industries and you keep the good ones.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Salmon killing virus found in BC supermarkets

**BREAKING NEWS** Read and share widely. Infectious Salmon Anemia found in Atlantic salmon which were purchased in local supermarkets. 

Five positives out of 29 sampled fish. That's a 17% infection rate. 

If it is confirmed that those salmon came from fish farms in BC, it means that their pens are infested, literally swarming, with that virus.

Alexandra Morton writes: " I don't know how I can buy 29 Atlantic salmon and come up with 5 positive results while Gary Marty [BC's lead veterinarian] can't find it in the thousands of tests he has done." 

Go to Alex Morton's blog.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mainstream Canada loses it

Watch and share widely. This clip appeared on CTV News on March 9. 

We see Laurie Jensen from fish farm giant Mainstream Canada lose her cool and brutally push a peaceful protester during an anti-fish farm gathering  in Campbell River last Thursday. The protester being pushed back is Rod Marining, and it's pretty clear on the footage that he's acting completely peacefully, even after he's been shoved back. 

Mainstream's Laurie Jensen then turns around and starts threatening... a member of the Parliament of Norway which she mistook for a protester. CTV's anchorman says Mainstream Canada was not available for comment over that incident.

Mainstream's Laurie Jansen in an altercation with Norwegian MP Per Sandberg

Mainstream Canada is that same corporation which sued Don Staniford for defamation, another complete PR disaster for them. 

Mainstream Canada is in meltdown mode, committing one blunder after another. They are on the ropes and they know it. 

Wild salmon people were in Campbell River last Thursday to enforce democracy. The industry had invited a Norwegian delegation to meet First Nations in support of fish farms. But the organizers had carefully weeded out all First Nations who were in opposition. Among them was Chief Bob Chamberlin of the Kwicksutaineuk Ah-Kwa-mish First Nation, who turned up uninvited in full regalia and demanded to be admitted to the conference. 

Thanks to the people who came to give him their support, the organizers had no choice but allow Bob Chamberlin into the conference. 

Laurie Jensen's behavior is not an isolated act. It's part of a corporate culture. 

Honor to the wild salmon people who were in Campbell River. You have exposed this corporation for what it is - a bully which brutally pushes people around whenever they disagree. 

The fight continues.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Mainstream's cancer

Don Staniford. Photo Anissa Reed

In the lawsuit opposing fish farm giant Mainstream Canada to Don Staniford, a key battle was fought over the issue of cancer. In his cigarette packs campaign, Staniford made several references to cancer, stating for example that "salmon farming is a cancer on the coast".

Mainstream was not amused, and focused the bulk of its attack against Staniford on those cancerous messages. David Wotherspoon, Mainstream's lawyer, partly justified his application for a last-minute injunction against Don Staniford on those grounds, suggesting that equating fish farms to big tobacco caused irreparable damage to the industry's reputation in the eyes of the public as a cancer-inducing machine. As such, he demanded from the judge a particularly harsh remedy: an immediate and permanent injunction, whereby Don Staniford "shall be restrained from publishing any defamatory statement referring in any way to the plaintiff", along with damages of up to one million dollars.


Examined a few days earlier by the lawyers on this matter, Staniford had given the following explanations: "Cancer refers to multiple things. Literally, cancer can refer to the cancer-causing chemicals. We’ve had extensive peer-reviewed evidence on carcinogens in farmed salmon. But also the method of the spread of cancer, the spread of infectious diseases.  ...the analogy would be that cages are like cells – they are like cancer cells at the mouths of rivers. So we need to rip out that cancer.  ...We need to tackle the root causes of the cancer, not just treat the symptoms. So that means removing salmon farms from our coast."

Members of the public who were attending the trial were quick to pick up on this cancer controversy. Not only were Staniford's cancer messages grounded in science, they also carried a strong metaphorical meaning that greatly appealed to them. On the last day of the trial yesterday, as the lawyers were battling over Mainstream’s injunction, a group of Don's supporters gathered at a coffee shop during lunch recess and started writing small hand-held banners. The theme was to include the word "mainstream" in each banner's text. People were being very creative. Some of the banners said: "Has falsifying facts now gone mainstream?" "Since when has ruining livelihoods become mainstream?" "Is freedom of speech no longer mainstream?", etc. You get the idea.

One of the banners read: "Why has cancer become mainstream?"


That slogan was put to immediate use that same day when the trial reconvened after lunch. The courtroom was filled to capacity and overflowing to the point where the judge had to play sheriff for a few minutes, martially telling members of the public to either find themselves a seat or get out of the room. We were all wondering about a lady in black who was sitting in a corner and who appeared more interested in the crowd than in the case itself. She was staring at each of us individually one by one, as if to memorize our faces, sometimes standing up so that she could see us better. I was later told that her name was Nancy Seymour and that she was a lawyer representing Mainstream.

She spent the afternoon checking the Salmon Are Sacred Facebook page, looking at her computer then looking back at the audience, in an apparent attempt to locate people who were posting live on Facebook. Was she trying to put names on faces? But she could have asked us. Or was she compiling a list of people disobeying the judge's order not to use communication devices in court? It didn't seem to bother her, however, that by doing so she was directly violating that order herself.

I was not the only one annoyed by this woman's behavior. As she snooped around, one of Don's friends decided to send her a message by stating aloud in her direction: "Why has cancer become mainstream?" as a way of letting her know that, actually, we were watching her too.

Meanwhile, the Mainstream lawyers were working hard to convince the judge that an unusually draconian injunction was required in the case of Don Staniford. An order such as this one certainly is a strong message, one of the lawyers explained, adding that its main purpose would be to set an example. It would shift the responsibility back onto the defendant, he added. Mainstream was thus demanding that the onus of the proof be put on the defendant rather than the plaintiff - a fundamental violation of a core tenet of the rule of law in this country. With such an injunction in place, all that Mainstream would have to do is sue Don Staniford as soon as he published anything, and then sit back and force him to prove his innocence. Amazingly, the judge listened patiently to that absurd line of argumentation without even flinching, when she really should have laughed the lawyer out of the courtroom.

The judge must have sensed, however, that there was something terribly wrong with this reasoning, because at the end of the day she unexpectedly decided to bail out, announcing that she was reserving her judgement until further notice.


After court, about thirty of us met in a downtown pub. After 20 days of repressed tension inside the courtroom, we let the steam out a little. Beer was flowing freely, we acted silly, told dirty jokes, made fun of each other. Don was obviously one of the centers of attention, being the hero of the day and all, and we took turns in spilling our beer into his and exchanging not-so-profound thoughts with him. 

For whatever reason, at that moment I remembered my first encounter with Don. It was about a couple years ago, on a sunny day at Jericho Beach during a wild salmon rally. I had known the virtual Don for some time already through our facebooks and had become a great admirer of his work as an organizer while he was still working in Europe. I introduced myself. You're Ivan! I love your blog, he said. I remember standing on that beach beaming and thinking - wow, the guy actually reads my blog. And we started chatting about salmon, rugby and people we both knew, as if we had been old acquaintances. It was instant friendship.

It struck me then, as it does now, how incredibly approachable Don is - making himself available to everyone in all circumstances, including in times of intense personal stress. Even though he is clearly cut out of a different cloth than the rest of us and has a vision, focus and drive in this campaign that we can only guess, last night at the pub Don simply blended in. An outsider would not have guessed in whose honor this pub party was being thrown. Don-the-hero was just another guy. Your friendly neighbor spiderman, who has just saved the world but doesn't even stop to give it a second thought. And that characteristic is critical in understanding the resilience of our movement, and why corporations such as Mainstream cannot root us out no matter how hard they try.

Because last night at the pub, Don was only one half of the story. The other half was all those new faces that I was staring at and whose names I couldn't even register yet. Where did all these people come from? People that we did not see around only a couple months ago, yet people who had showed up religiously at Don's 20-day long trial. The funny thing was that already, even though I was still struggling to memorize the names, I was finding it hard to remember who was "new" and who wasn't in that bunch. Such is the power of that formidable melting pot, alcohol intoxication. And such, too, is the culture of this group. Just like Don, those new faces had simply blended in and were being silly with the rest of us, sometimes sillier. Because you see, there is no such notion as seniority in this movement. Whether you've been around for five years or a week does not matter a bit, you're part of the family as long as you keep showing up. 

All those new faces are Mainstream's gift to the cause, the industry's contribution to building our movement. That’s what they have achieved by suing Don. Nancy Seymour, the woman-in-black in charge of maintaining our inventory in the courtroom, is going to be busy in weeks and months to come, as we keep discovering new faces every time we gather.

In two weeks time, we lose Don as he gets deported to Europe. This was a carefully orchestrated move by the government of Canada, made to coincide with the opening of Don's trial, a way of indicating without any possible doubt the political motivation of this act. My heart aches at that thought. But we are gaining new friends every day. Mainstream may think they have cut off one of our movement's heads by getting Don on a plane. But every time they cut off a head, seven regrow in its place. So keep cutting, gentlemen.

It may be true, as our friend told Nancy Seymour in the courtroom, that cancer has gone mainstream. But we have also become Mainstream's own cancer. We have metastasized. More of us appear from nowhere every day, and the people sent to monitor us are clueless about how to contain our cancerous growth. They thought they were being smart by sending Don out of the country. Instead, they are opening a new beach head by handing him on a golden plate his next career opportunity in Norway. Indeed, days after his deportation order was announced, Norway's Green Warriors (the bad-ass equivalent of our own Sea Shepherds) called Don to offer him a job!

I'm heartbroken to lose my friend, but by God! am I excited about the prospects offered by Don's relocation to Europe. Global salmon farming coordinator for Green Warriors of Norway, in a paid salaried position nonetheless? Just imagine the results he will achieve there, with the knowledge, network, and experience he has accumulated here in B.C.

From the shores of Norway, Don is going to coordinate us, give us the big picture, grow us into a truly global movement. Gonna miss you, Don. But I'm so looking forward to working with you.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The force of anger

Betty Krawczyk.                                                             Don Staniford.

[ I am republishing a blog post which I wrote over a year ago, in October 2010. It was about Betty Krawczyk's latest legal battle against government and industry over the protection of our ecosystems. 

How not to think of Don Staniford and his ongoing battle against fish farm giant Mainstream Canada when reading this?

The specific contexts in Don's and Betty's cases are different, obviously. But this feels so relevant that I decided to re-post it without any change. I also added Don's picture next to Betty's original one to symbolize the linkage. 

This is to you, Don and Betty. ]


First posted October 22, 2010

Last September, Crown Counsel took veteran environmental activist Betty Krawczyk to a new level in her struggle with the BC legal system. She is now facing – at least in theory – the prospect of life in prison for having temporarily and non-violently stood in the way of trucks and heavy machinery. To that effect, Crown Counsel has submitted two rulings to the court involving repeat violent pedophiles who had raped their own children, indicating that those rulings were relevant to Betty's case. That's quite an irony when one considers that this grandmother has spent her golden years standing up against large corporations which were raping the environment.

A few days ago, Crown Counsel announced that in the BC Rail corruption trial, it had reached a guilty plea deal with the defendants, and therefore the case was closed before Gordon Campbell and his former finance minister Gary Collins could be called to testify. For some detailed analysis of this development, I refer you to Rafe Mair's indispensable and surgical daily blog. The two defendants, Basi and Virk, are reported to have signed a non-disclosure agreement with the Crown whereby they are contractually obligated to take to the grave the secrets of this case. In its wisdom, the Crown also found it appropriate to stick the BC taxpayer with the defendants' legal bills in the amount of $6 million.

Each of these announcements is stunning in its own right, but they take their full significance when put in resonance with one another. Together, they underscore the growing rift between the ruling class' infinite leniency towards itself, and its extreme severity and growing repressive stance towards ordinary citizens.

Such moves by the Attorney General's office are usually carefully calculated. In the case involving Betty, the goal is to send a chill wave through the activist community by making an example of a high-profile iconic figure. The calculation is that this obvious overkill on the part of the Crown will (a) feed our instinct of fear and increase our general sense of powerlessness and apathy, and (b) possibly set a useful legal precedent in the event that new generations of radicalized Betties would come of age.

And indeed, if it were carried through, the Crown's threat against Betty would probably be successful in achieving that goal. Increased repression and criminalization of nonviolent and non-criminal acts of civil disobedience does cause well-meaning people to pause and think harder about the consequences of their actions before they act. Who wants to go to jail for 10 months – let alone a lifetime – for holding back a bunch of construction trucks for a week or two? Certainly not me.

And yet, how little does the elite class understand the laws of dialectics! Clearly, they do not see that through their actions they are awakening and enabling the very monster that they are trying to keep locked away. They are, in their mode of reasoning, the tributaries of formal logic. In their worldview, something can never be simultaneously something else. People are either scared or they are not. They are either apathetic or politically active. If you successfully scare them into a state of apathy, you have by all measures accomplished your mission, case closed. Sometimes after a time of relative calm people grow agitated again, and so then you scare them again by stepping up the repression by a couple notches. Causes are followed by effects. A simple world, really.

In contrast dialectics, which can be defined as the study of the general laws of motion, describes the permanent state of change of things - which are, quite literally, always simultaneously themselves and something else. One huge practical benefit of dialectics as a methodology is that it is adept in all things contradictory. Whereas formal logic is incapable of explaining contradiction and generally dismisses it as a form of error, dialectics thrives on it. The dialectician actively seeks contradiction everywhere, sees it always as an opportunity and never as a problem, reads in its distinct pattern an indication that change is about to occur - that things are about to be set in motion.

Well folks – things are about to be set in motion. The elite class' contradictory treatment of the rule of law, their ridiculous leniency towards themselves paired with their increasingly repressive stance towards the rest of us, throws us, in turn, into a deep state of contradiction. We are deeply conflicted between our growing fear of repression against dissent, which leads us to apathy, and our growing revulsion of the elite class' appropriation of the judicial apparatus to their own benefit, which leads us to anger and therefore dissent.

As a social force, anger follows the same general laws as any physical force found in nature. A force which is repressed does not vanish away. Rather, it accumulates behind the obstacle which retains it and grows in magnitude until the obstacle comes under stress. And when the force is eventually released, it takes the form of a violent explosion which brings the obstacle down. Today, the obstacle constituted by the elite class' judicial apparatus is finding itself under considerable stress, pressured as it is by the forces of anger accumulating behind it. 

Those pressures will continue to grow in years to come, as our rulers' judicial schizophrenia does not happen in a vacuum. It takes place in a global socioeconomic context of systematic looting of the public commons which I had referred to in an earlier blog post as a modern form of barbarism. It is because they are robbing us that the world's elite class must allocate an increasing amount of their resources to both controlling us and getting themselves off the hook whenever they get caught. Gordo and friends did not invent the neoliberal ideology which transfers the public commons into private hands: they are simply doing what the members of their global class are meant to do. And so, they have no option but continue to crack down on activists like Betty while bailing themselves out, thus accelerating the conditions for a massive social explosion. They are objectively working on the side of the revolution. All I can say to them is – keep it up, brothers!

In my frequent moments of powerlessness and apathy, I take personal comfort in one particular law of dialectics, the law of transformation of quantity into quality. Water when cooled down to zero degree turns to ice not gradually, but all at once. Change when it happens is usually not incremental but instantaneous and brings along a new qualitative reality. There are thresholds when suddenly we are not in Kansas anymore. That is what, for example, makes the threat of climate change so godawful terrifying. This law helps me answer the nagging question of why are we keeping our heads down, even as the elite class continues to abuse us on a daily basis. Marxist commentator Rob Sewell wrote:

“Just as colossal subterranean pressures that accumulate and periodically break through the earth's crust in the form of earthquakes, so gradual changes in the consciousness of people lead to an explosion which is turned into a class struggle. The "cause" of the qualitative change may be something quite small and incidental, but it has become "the last straw that breaks the camel's back", to use a popular (dialectical) expression. It has become the catalyst whereby quantity changes into quality.”

"A catalyst" is also what Rafe Mair called Betty in a recent column. He is spot on. That, indeed, has been Betty's historical significance in this province. By using disproportionate legal weaponry against her, the judicial apparatus has only succeeded in speeding up the very chemical reaction which it was trying to avoid. The Crown has realized the magnitude of its error and is now in damage control. It has recently circulated the following statement on the blogosphere, referring to Crown prosecutor Mike Brundrett's submission to the court of the two pedophile rulings:

"While making submissions to a Court, the Crown may refer to cases for the legal principles they set out. That does not mean that the Crown equates the background facts of those cases with the case before the Court. In the context of Ms Krawczyk’s appeal, the Crown is not analogizing acts of civil disobedience with sexual offences."

Too late, Mr. Brundrett. The reaction is already initiated, the contradiction has been expressed. You are no longer in control in this matter. The laws of motion are now in control.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Joseph Beres, CFIA: "we are turning the PR tide to our favour"

On November 9, a few days after a media conference during which the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) announced to the world that there were no confirmed cases of salmon-killing ISA virus in Brisih Columbia, Joseph Beres, Inspection Manager at CFIA, wrote the following email:

It is clear that we are turning the PR tide to our favour, – and this is because of the very successful performance of our spokes[people] at the Tech Briefing yesterday, – you, Stephen, Peter and Paul were a terrific team, indeed. Congratulations!

One battle is won, now we have to nail the surveillance piece, and we will win the war also.


His colleague Dr. Con Kiley, who had taken a lead role during the CFIA conference declaring BC to be an ISA-free zone, wrote in that same email chain:

"Concentrate on the headlines, that's often all that people read or remember. Both the "Top Stories" and the "Related Pieces"."

Yesterday, this email exchange was entered as evidence at the Cohen Commission, and so I wrote to Mr. Beres the following message:

On Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 3:30 PM, Ivan Doumenc wrote:

Mr. Joseph Beres
Inspection Manager
Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Cc: the public

Dear Mr. Beres,

It was revealed at the Cohen Commission today that on November 9, you wrote an internal email addressed to several of your colleagues at The Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which read:

Joseph Beres' message here >

Commission Counsel Brock Martland suggested that this language evokes the attitude of a "hockey game", where the politicized discussion of science becomes "an adversarial thing".

Mr. Martland asked one of your colleagues at CFIA, Dr. Kim Klotins, whether this kind of cheering for one side against another was part of the mandate of CFIA and what could possibly be your state of mind when you wrote this email.

Dr. Kim Klotins declined to comment, stating that she could not second guess what you were thinking.

I believe Dr. Klotins has a point. So I thought that instead, I would ask you the question directly. Could you please explain what was the meaning of your comment in this email written shortly after the CFIA's phone media conference last November? Is it part of your professional responsibilities as an inspection manager to take sides?

Your comment is potentially troubling as it may suggest that you had no intention of finding the ISA virus. Is this true?

Thank you in advance for you interest in my inquiry.

Yours very truly

Ivan Doumenc
Vancouver, BC

And last evening, Mr. Beres wrote me the following answer:

On Fri, Dec 16, 2011 at 5:49 PM, Joseph Beres <> wrote:

Dear Ivan Doumenc,

Thank you very much for your e-mail, this provides me the opportunity to explain first hand what I was thinking when I wrote to Dr. Kiley the following:

"It is clear that we are turning the PR tide to our favour... Congratulations! One battle is won, now we have to nail the surveillance piece, and we will win the war also."

I was thinking that, with a successful Tech Briefing done, we served the public interest very well by telling the truth: no assumptions, no speculations, no hidden agenda, but the unvarnished truth. As a CFIA employee, I was, and am, proud of the way how we conducted the ISA suspect investigation from day one, including the Tech Briefing in question.

For the record, since its inception, the CFIA, as a federal Agency, has established an international reputation which is second to none in telling the truth. For example, when we confirmed the first case of BSE or a low path Avian Influenza finding, we reported them to the OIE (International Animal Health Organization) without hesitation, regardless of what the potential immediate economic impact would have been.  As a side note, the same CFIA official, Dr. Kiley, who did the Tech Briefing for the ISA and to whom I sent my congratulations, was also closely involved in the above mentioned two cases (BSE and low pat AI), thus contributing to the Agency's international reputation as a truth-teller. So my congratulatory note to him was deeply rooted in history.    

In this context, "winning the war" for me meant to stick with our principle of telling the truth, as we always did. We did so by upholding scientific evidence not suppressing it. As a regulatory Agency mandated to safeguard animal health in Canada, preserving the CFIA's reputation as a truth-teller is the key for us, - both the public trust and international trade hang in the balance. The war I mentioned, therefore, is not against anything or anyone, but it is our continuous effort for the cause of our credibility. 

So my state of mind was and is the following: by telling the truth first is how we want to earn and preserve the public trust and build public relations, - so good PR comes second as a by-product.

Thank you for the opportunity again. Should you need further clarification on my position or what I meant, please let me know.

Joseph Beres DVM
Acting Regional Director
BC Mainland-Interior
Burnaby, BC

I think Mr. Beres' response speaks for itself so I won't comment on it. I would recommend, though, that you widely forward this edifying exchange to your email lists and Facebook friends. I would also suggest that you send Mr. Beres your own letter of inquiry and/or give him a call.

I will keep you informed on any further developments.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Our finest hour

Salmon sampling. Photo Anissa Reed.

On a sunny afternoon two weeks ago at a small creek near the Vedder River, we sampled eight salmon in under two hours. It was fair to say we were getting pretty good at it.  

It wasn’t a very difficult protocol to follow – mostly common-sense rules put in place by biologists to avoid cross-contamination of fish – but only a few weeks before, I didn’t even know those rules existed. When we had received our training in fish sampling at UBC I had been overwhelmed, taking refuge in the thought that this workshop was really meant for other, more hands-on oriented people. But here I was, on the banks of this creek, taking fish samples myself and very much on top of things. It was empowering beyond words.

For the last fish of the day, I was the one doing the cutting while Nicole Mackay, my designated sampling buddy for over half-a-dozen trips now, was taking the notes and pictures. I disinfected my hands, put on a new set of surgical gloves, checked that the cutting board and instruments had been thoroughly disinfected. I then picked up the animal lying on the gravel (a chum salmon), took a few steps to a spot where no fish had been sampled, and went to work.

“Male. Spawning colors. Both eyes. Fresh”, I said as Nicole wrote the words on her clipboard. I measured the animal, weighed it, announced the numbers then moved out of the way as Nicole placed an ID tag on the fish and took a picture. I looked into the gills on each side of the fish and said: “Pale. White fungus”. I heard the click of Nicole’s camera in my ear as she took pictures of the gills. I took the knife and cut the fish’s belly open. “Spawned”, I said. Nicole placed the tag on again and took a picture of the animal’s insides. With my gloves now covered in blood, I detached the spleen, liver, gallbladder and heart, along with a piece of the gills and placed them all on the board in front of me. I then cut the kidney open – a really weird organ in a fish, attached like a thin strip of black tape along the animal’s backbone. As each organ came out, we assessed its condition. Nicole placed the tag on the board and took a picture of the organs. 

That salmon, like most others sampled on that day, looked in good shape apart from its gills. Every single fish we inspected in that particular creek on the Vedder River system near Cultus Lake, BC, had this strange white fungus accumulating in the gills, like a distinct signature that something was off in that otherwise healthy run. What did it mean? We didn’t know, and thankfully, it wasn’t our job to reach any conclusions about it, just to gather some good samples.

Nicole prepared two vials containing some RNALater solution, a storage agent meant to preserve the samples for several weeks until they can be analyzed, while I popped a scalpel and pair of tweezers out of their sterile packages to cut small pieces of the animal’s heart and gills. After the vials had been safely sealed with their samples inside, I tossed the rest of the heart and gills into a ziplock which Nicole marked and put on ice. That was it, we were done. 

The creek lying at our feet was alive with salmon. There were hundreds of them both live and dead in this tiny, shallow, marvelously beautiful and secluded space, only a stone throw from the main road yet almost totally invisible to the casual driver. I had gone through so many heartbreaks this year, staring aimlessly at salmon-deprived rivers, that I knew the exact value of what I was looking at. A creek with spawning salmon. The hope of a renewal. I stood there for a few minutes before heading back to the car, breathing in the energy, storing it for future battles. We had our samples for that particular run. Mission accomplished.

Over the past few months, members of the public have answered Dr. Alexandra Morton’s call to take the matter of salmon disease in their own hands. They have responded to DFO’s shocking and criminal negligence by going out and taking fish samples themselves. With the stunning results that we know: it has been dubbed ‘salmongate’. 

Even though DFO and the Province had been dismissing for years the possibility that ISA could appear in BC, members of the public found evidence of that deadly virus almost immediately, as soon as they started looking for it. They found it in very different locations and in almost every species of Pacific wild salmon. The signs of a widespread pandemic have emerged very quickly, forcing government to engage in a dangerous – and, we now know, self-defeating – enterprise of denial. Recently, the lid finally came off when it was leaked that DFO had actually known for a fact about the presence of ISA in wild salmon for at least a decade, but had opted to cover it up.

So much so, that Justice Bruce Cohen had no choice but reopen for three days his inquiry in the decline of the 2009 Fraser sockeye salmon, for fear of losing his good name and reputation if he didn’t.

Last week, a few days before the Commission was to briefly reopen its doors, Alex Morton sent a very kind email to some members of her fish sampling crew. “I have never heard a single complaint from any of you about the cold and wet, you don't expect anything back you are totally dedicated to the fish and support each other”, she wrote, emphasizing the importance of the historic moment that we were living. “This set of hearings is because of us” she commented, “the work all of you have been doing has forced the commission and it has inspired the scientists to be bold.” And then, she prophesized the following: “we will be taking the door of secrecy off its hinges next week”.

And tonight, after an extraordinary first day at the Cohen Commission, this prophecy has been fully realized. As Drs. Kristi Miller and Fred Kibenge took turns all day to blow the whistle and detonate bombshell after bombshell inside Cohen’s courtroom – truly shocking revelations! which will require a separate blog – , scientists have indeed been bold, and the door of secrecy has indeed come off its hinges. What was done today cannot be undone. No person in their right mind can ever deny again the existence of ISA in BC – as government has done so recklessly and unwisely for the past few weeks – without drowning in their own ridicule. Some scientists, in particular, such as Dr. Gary Marty from the province of BC, will have to face some very hard questions in coming days and weeks.

The salmon-industrial complex is now fighting for its life and so we should expect it to strike back at us pretty hard with all that it has. But whatever comes our way next, we must never forget that WE, THE PEOPLE have made this historic day happen. 

We reopened those Cohen proceedings ourselves with no outside help, by going out into the wilderness on our own initiative and with our own limited means, by taking samples of wild salmon, and by finding the ISA virus inside of them. We did that as DFO and the Province of BC were sitting on their hands and laughing at us for being a bunch of amateur hippies. Today they are laughing no more, instead they are on the run.

I am so immensely proud to have taken part (even so modestly) in this momentous effort. This sampling campaign represents direct action at its best. This is truly our finest hour.