The sixth mass extinction will hit harder than expected, according to a collaborative study between Stanford and the University of Mexico. 32% of all vertebrate species are steadily decreasing, even if one third of them classify as low concern species.

We already knew that animals and plants are going extinct 100 to 1 000 times faster than what is normal  (and those are the most conservative estimates). If we stay on this course, the general consensus is that around 30% of all species will be gone by 2050. The scientific community went from asking if the next mass extinction is underway to asking if it’s going to be worse than the last one – which, keep in mind, killed most of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

Now, researchers say that assessments based on species extinctions, alarming as they may be, might be underestimating the problem. According to the article published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States:

“Our data indicate that beyond global species extinctions Earth is experiencing a huge episode of population declines and extirpations [EN: local extinctions], which will have negative cascading consequences on ecosystem functioning and services vital to sustaining civilization. We describe this as a “biological annihilation” to highlight the current magnitude of Earth’s ongoing sixth major extinction event.”

This huge study is based on a sample of 27 600 vertebrate species (which is roughly half of them). All of the 177 mammal species among them have seen their natural range significantly shrink, 40% of them have seen their populations decrease by 80% or more.

The article concludes: “we emphasize that the sixth mass extinction is already here and the window for effective action is very short, probably two or three decades at most…”

*Featured image by Robert Young under Creative Commons

Montreal will invest $3.6 million over two years in a brand new institute dedicated to developing electric and smart transportation. This investment is part of the city’s efforts as a member of the C40, the Cities Climate Leadership Group.

The Institute of Electrification and Smart Transportation will have three main mandates: favouring cooperation between regional partners for research and development of sustainable transportation, establishing international partnerships and stimulating the commercialization of new technologies. It will be situated in the Quartier de l’innovation. The École des technologies supérieures (ÉTS) , McGill University, Concordia and UQÀM are all expected to partner in the project.

“The Institute will make use of Montreal’s assets as a city of innovation to galvanize efforts and knowledge, and shine on the international scene,” Mayor Denis Coderre claimed in a press release. The announcement was made on Wednesday, during the 52nd Congress of the Association québécoise des transports.

The Mayor’s office claims this is an “important step in the realization of [their] ambitious strategy for the electrification of transport.” Indeed, the creation of the institute is one of the 10 points of the 2016-2020 Strategy for electrification and smart transportation outlined last summer.

Other measures put forward in the plan include exchanging city vehicles for electrical cars, electrification of public transit and developing a second, purely economic plan to encourage the local development of the electric transportation sector.

However, the opposition at City Hall is not too impressed with the new institute. Projet Montréal’s transport critic Craig Sauvé says that they have seen no serious plan or content backing up the announcement.

“That’s pretty much the Coderre style,” he observed, “announce a project that will most likely garner positive headlines but without doing any substantive groundwork before the announcement.”

Although Sauvé admits that the city’s efforts for electrification are a good thing overall, he believes it is a short-sighted strategy.

“The Coderre administration is very car-focused,” he claimed, “they still have this vision that is out of the 1950’s!”

According to Sauvé, the city should put more money into better bike lanes, urban planning and public transit in order to reduce the number of cars on the road.

“You can electrify everything you want, but it won’t solve the traffic, it won’t solve the pollution still created by the production of new cars and road networks,” he argued.

FTB contacted the city’s executive committee for further comments, but was still waiting for a reply at publication time.

Mayor Coderre announced earlier this week that the city is investing at least $24 million in Formula E, a major international car race featuring only electric cars. The event will be held downtown on July 29th and 30th. The Coderre administration hopes that it will serve as publicity for electric and smart transportation in Montreal and boost the city’s status as a leader in climate action.

Back in November 2013, the government of Quebec had promised $35 million for the creation of a province-wide institute with the same purpose. Many cities were interested in hosting it. The promise did not survive the change of government.

 

* Featured image: electric cars in Berlin, Germany, all credits to Avda, Berlin – Potsdamer Platz – E-Mobility-Charging, CC BY-SA 3.0

The provincial government is officially on board with Anticosti joining UNESCO’s World Heritage list.  Although this would permanently ban oil exploitation on the Island, Petrolia’s oil exploration contract still stands, says Quebec.

The minister of Energy and Natural Resources Pierre Arcand announced that Quebec is endorsing Anticosti’s and Saguenay Fjord’s bids for the World Heritage list in a press briefing on Wednesday. As the government is well aware, oil exploitation is forbidden on UNESCO-protected sites, which has a particular significance for Anticosti, where Petrolia is in the early phase of a colossal project. “There won’t be any petroleum on Anticosti if they get the status” confirmed Arcand, as quoted by La Presse.

However, Anticosti’s application still has to be approved first by the federal government and then by UNESCO itself. Best case scenario: they get their status in 2020. Meanwhile, Petrolia is free to continue its exploration.

“For us it doesn’t change much of the project” Arcand told the press. “We always said, since the beginning, that we will respect the contract.”

In this case, respecting the contract means allowing Petrolia to continue digging wells and begin hydraulic fracturing, and giving them $57 million of public money to help. This is all for the first, “exploration” phase, the one where they look for shale gas and petroleum that they hope to extract. This phase includes massive investments, which will return no benefit until the “exploitation” phase – a phase that will never happen if Anticosti gets its protected status.

While Arcand was insistent that the government wasn’t backing out of its contract, a letter expressing Quebec’s support to the municipality had a slightly more reassuring tone.  The letter, signed by Christine St-Pierre, minister of International relations, and Luc Blanchette, minister of Forests, promises that the government is already working on ensuring that they will be able to protect the entire Island in 2020.

With the province’s blessing two days before the deadline, Anticosti’s application can now be evaluated on the federal level. Ottawa, which has been conspicuously noncommittal on the matter so far, will decide in December if they will submit Anticosti’s candidacy to the UNESCO or not. There are currently 18 Canadian sites listed as World Heritage, including Vieux-Québec and Nahanni National Park Reserve.

A young Inuit woman addressed the assembly at the UN Conference on Climate Change on Canada’s behalf this past Wednesday in Marrakesh.

Maatalii Okalik, president of the Inuit Youth Council, accompanied the Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna to the 22nd Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 22) where she pleaded for the world leaders to take native communities into account.

“With your continued leadership that will define our future on climate action, I am hopeful that it is done in cooperation with Indigenous peoples,” Okalik said.

Okalik’s brief allocution was showcased in Canada’s national statement. The Minister introduced her as “an incredible young leader for the Canadian Arctic and a strong voice for Inuit youth.”

The liberal government seems determined as ever to display its good intentions to include indigenous communities in its decisions, at least on social media. On Tuesday, McKenna shaed a picture of Okalik on a stage with several indigenous leaders on Snapchat. The picture was captioned “Amazing panel on Indigenous role on climate action. I want Canada to be a leader on this.”

cop22-enviro-can

According to National Post, the Canadian delegation in Marrakesh comprises around 17 representatives from various indigenous groups.

The Assembly of First Nations (AFN) decided to send its own delegation to Marrakesh. Manitoba Regional Chief Kevin Hart and Elder Francois Paulette of the Dene Nation are both attending. Their mission is to ensure that First Nations have “a strong voice” in the plan for climate action.

“First Nations are in a unique position to be leaders in climate change initiatives because of our knowledge of the sacred teachings of the land. We must not be situated as passive recipients of climate change impacts. We must be agents of change in climate action,” Elder Paulette declared in a communiqué.

Chief Hart, who is also co-chair on the Chiefs Committee for Climate Change, insisted on the importance of indigenous rights and responsibilities being fully recognized.

Both he and Okalik alluded to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Although the Canadian government officially supports this treaty, the Trudeau administration deemed it “unworkable” as a Canadian law.

Although Trudeau is not attending this year, Canada sent a sizable delegation. Several provincial Premiers and environment ministers are there, including Quebec’s Philippe Couillard and David Heurtel. Union representatives as well as environmental advocacy groups like Equiterre and Ecojustice Canada are also there.

Where does Canada stand in Marrakesh?

COP 22 is a two week long event that will end on Friday the 18th. Its purpose is to form strategies to reach the goals set one year ago in Paris for reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).

In November 2015, freshly-elected Justin Trudeau arrived at the COP 21 with nothing but the timid goals set by the Harper government: bring GHG emissions down to 30% under 2005 levels before 2030. But according to the grapevine, Canada will revise its ambitions upwards. Greenpeace Canada told La Presse Canadienne that Canadian officials in Marrakesh said that the new goal was to bring GHG emissions 80% below 2005 levels before year 2050.

The measures to be deployed in that regard are vastly unknown. Last month, the federal government announced that all provinces and territories will have to implement a carbon tax of at least 10$/ton by 2018, to reach 50$/ton in 2022. Canada had already promised $2.65 billion over five years to help developing countries access and create clean technologies.

On Wednesday, the government announced a contribution of $2.5 Million to the Climate Technology Centre and Network to that effect. The CTCN is an agency created by the UN to help emerging countries access and develop new technologies, both to fight climate change and to deal with its effects.

The government also promised an investment of $1.8 Billion to “mobilize” the private sector to do the same.

A more detailed national strategy is awaited in the next couple of days.

 

The National Energy Board cannot be allowed to review any projects until it’s completely reformed, pleaded 50 organizations in a letter sent to the Prime Minister on Wednesday. Signatories argue that the NEB has lost the legitimacy to approve massive pipelines like TransCanada’s Energy East or Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain.

“We are calling on you to put aside the fundamentally flawed work that has been done by the NEB to date. Overhaul the NEB, renew the confidence of Canadians in the federal government’s pipeline review process and, only after this has been accomplished, assess these projects in an atmosphere that is not plagued by the legacy of the Harper era.”

The letter is signed by multiple environmental activist groups, as well as the WestCoast Environmental Law Agency and the Aboriginal People’s Council.

Last week, the NEB was forced to suspend consultations on the Energy East Pipeline when it became clear that the concerns over the neutrality of its commission board were not about to die down.  The National Observer had previously revealed that two of the three commissioners on the board had covertly met with Jean Charest, then acting as a lobbyist for TransCanada.

The NEB first denied that it happened, then apologized for it but allowed the review to continue with all commissioners still on board. Last week, after protesters successfully disrupted the consultation in Montreal, the NEB agreed to suspend the Energy East consultations while they decide what to do with the two problematic commissioners.

A Band-aid over a bullet hole, claim the harsher critics of the NEB.

“Of course the board members who acted inappropriately should recuse themselves, but this will not solve the credibility gap that is plaguing the pipeline review process in Canada,” argues the letter.

The Problematic History of  the NEB

Misconduct of commissioners is not the NEB’s biggest problem; its entire history is. The National Energy Board Act is a 1985 reworking of legislation from the early sixties. It was meant to evaluate the safety and the practical matters of energy infrastructures. This only changed four years ago when Stephen Harper abolished the Environmental Assessment Agency and assigned the NEB to take over part of its duties.

It’s now clear that the NEB’s structure has failed to adapt to its new mission.

Commissioners of the NEB are politically appointed and many of them have been employed by oil businesses at some point in their careers.

Their public consultations are often criticized for their lack of accessibility. Anyone who wants to be heard must prove that they are directly affected by the project in question and register several months in advance.

The scope of their assessment is limited to direct consequences, which is in itself an archaic concept. Modern environmental assessments cannot refuse to consider impacts of oil production or tar sands development or of an increasingly oil-dependant national economy. All these matters are classified as upstream activities or downstream effects and as such, they are not considered by the NEB.

All of this might explain why the National Energy Board only rarely rejects a project. It had even approved (under 200 or so conditions) the Northern Gateway Pipeline, despite overwhelming opposition from the communities near its path. In fact, the appeals court later reversed their decision, judging that aboriginal communities had not been adequately consulted.

The NEB’s credibility is more than a little compromised. A CBC poll from last march suggests that 51% of Canadians have little or no confidence in the National Energy Board. People from Quebec and British Columbia, respectively affected by the Northern Gateway and Energy East, were most skeptical.

Just a couple of days ago, Ipolitics’ Chris Wood published a particularly scathing opinion piece on the matter: “The NEB is obsolete, an anachronism, a captive service agency for one particularly toxic, last-century industry, rather than a police force for the public interest. Increasingly, it’s also a laughingstock.”

“Modernization” in progress

The government recognized that the National Energy Board review process was facing a crisis of confidence long before the mess of the Energy East consultations. In fact, “restoring the population’s trust in the National Energy Board” was a key promise of the Liberal electoral platform.

An expert panel is already mandated to examine the National Energy Board’s functioning as part of a large review of environmental regulations launched this summer. They should provide the Ministry of Natural Resources with a report full of recommendations about how to modernize the NEB by January. These recommendations, if the government decides to listen to them (which is not a sure thing, history tells us), should be implemented by June 2018. Interim measures have been defined, but they do not seem to alter much of the process.

Meanwhile, the assessments of Energy East, Trans Mountain and other projects mostly piloted by NOVA Gas Transmission and Enbridge are allowed to go on unimpeded.

Environmental groups are pressing Trudeau to be consistent. Now that he has recognized that the NEB needs to be modernized, he should not allow it to take such major decisions until it is.

* Featured image from More Canada! Twitter

On Tuesday, the National Energy Board (NEB) announced the suspension of all their consultations on the Energy East Pipeline after opposition to both the pipeline and the assessment process hit a new high in Montreal.

The first of the three scheduled panel sessions in Montreal was aborted as soon as it started on Monday morning after protesters irrupted the proceedings in the Centre Mont-Royal.

A few people disrupted the assembly, brandishing banners and chanting for about thirty minutes before the police forcefully removed them. Three people were arrested. In a communiqué published later that night, the NEB called the incident “a violent disruption […] which threatened the security of everyone involved.”

Multiple activist groups, MNAs and Mayor Coderre himself have been asking for the National Energy Board assessment of Energy East to be suspended since concerns over the integrity of two commissioners have been raised. It was recently revealed that Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier had secretly met with a TransCanada lobbyist – who happened to be none other than Ex-Premier Jean Charest- in early 2015.

The Front Commun Pour la Transition Énergétique (FCPTE) organized a “greeting committee” for the Montreal consultations on Monday. Environmentalists, but also some political representatives (namely from Québec Solidaire) were present.  Carole Dupuis, member of FCPTE and general coordinator of the Regroupement Vigilance hydrocarbures, described the protest as coloured and joyful.

In a short phone interview, Mrs Dupuis said that her organization had no plans to interrupt the session. According to her, the incident was the initiative of a lone individual that gathered spontaneous support:

“Actually a man ran to the front and then others joined him to chant slogans.”

After the no-go session of Monday, the NEB announced the postponement of the session scheduled Tuesday, citing security concerns. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, they stated that all consultations are suspended until they decide what to do with the two commissioners who met with Charest:

“Given that two motions have been filed asking for the recusal of Panel Members, and given that the Board has invited written comments by September 7, 2016 on the these motions, the Board will not proceed with further Panel Sessions until it reaches a decision.”

What’s the problem with the National Energy Board?

A couple of days before the NEB arrived in Montreal, Coderre joined the calls for the suspension of the consultations. He said he was “ill at ease” with the fact that two of the three commissioners had met with Jean Charest.

Lyne Mercier and Jacques Gauthier, along with the director of the NEB, met with Charest while he was working for TransCanada, in January 2015.  The NEB first did not disclose that it had a meeting with a TransCanada lobbyist.

When it was discovered, they insisted that the subject of Energy East had not come up in the discussion. But thanks to the Access to Information Act, the National Observer got hold of some documents that proved the exact opposite. Handwritten notes from one of the participants included mentions such as “safety of the pipeline”,  “economy needs investment” and “what profits for Quebec?”.

The NEB apologized for lying but refused to remove Gauthier and Mercier from the Energy-East committee, until now. All appearance of partiality aside, the deficient French platform and the lack of accessibility of the NEB’s consultation have also been criticized.

Prior to 2012, the NEB had no experience whatsoever with public consultations. It’s only when the conservatives adopted a mammoth law abolishing the Canadian Environmental Assessment agency that the NEB’s role was redefined.

The National Energy Board is an independent federal organisation. Its purpose is to regulate the oil, gas and electricity projects that have international or inter-provincial reach. Although it often gets heaped with organisations like BAPE (Quebec’s Bureau of Environmental Public Hearings), its mandate is fundamentally different.

The NEB is foremost mandated to evaluate the safety and the practical aspects of the projects.

In 2014, it ruled that it did not have to consider upstream activities or downstream results in its assessment of a project. In other words, the consequences of EE on climate change, oil dependency or tar-sands development will not be examined by the NEB.

The Energy-East Pipeline: A Quick Rundown of the Facts

Energy-East pipeline is a TransCanada project destined to transport oil from Alberta to New Brunswick. The idea is to convert 3000 km of an old gas pipeline and extend it by 1600 km, to have a brand new 4600 kms of pipeline transporting 1.2 million oil barrels daily. It’s worth $15,7 Billion.

Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons
Eshko Timiou, Wiki creative commons

It will run through six provinces and under 860 watercourses, including the Outaouais River and the Saint-Lawrence River.

The divisive aspect of the pipeline climbed to new levels as other pipeline projects (namely Keystone XL) fell through, leaving EE as the last route to export Alberta’s massive oil production.

Supporters of the project argue that it would allow Alberta to boost up the exploitation of its tar sands and at the same time allow the rest of Canada to drastically reduce its oil imports from Europe, the Middle-East and Africa. TransCanada is also promising the creation of numerous – if temporary- jobs throughout the country.

 

Associated Minor Scandals

However, the oil travelling through the pipeline is not destined for Canadian consumption. Only a meager percentage of the product would be treated in Quebec’s refineries and the rest would be exported overseas from New Brunswick.

BAPE public consultations have also taught us that the oil will be extracted partly from Alberta’s tar-sands and partly from North Dakota. As Alexandre Shields once pointed out, Energy East will, to some extent serve to transport US oil to other US territories.

Environmental groups have raised red flags about the rivers affected by the pipeline’s trajectories. One of the primary sources of concern is the form of the oil in transition: a substance called dilbit. Dilbit is diluted bitumen that is easier to transport than crude oil, but it is very difficult to clean up in the event of a spill.

It is especially risky in rivers, where it rapidly sinks to the bottom before it can be recuperated. A detail that might be even more challenging in the often iced water of the Saint-Lawrence.

I personally believe this pipeline is an overall terrible idea and I could easily write another 6000 words about all the reasons why this project has been a complete trainwreck so far. Now I know this has been dragging on, so let’s take a moment to revisit some of TransCanada’s greatest moves:

  • Trying to build a port in an endangered species’ nursery
  • A leaked “press strategy” that erred somewhere in the area of barely-legal-and-definitely-unethical.
  • Refusing to comply with Quebec’s environmental law
  • Failing to provide proper documentation in French
  • Providing such unreadable gibberish in lieu of the documentation required by federal law that the NEB had to ask them to start over.
  • Responding that they will have something ready by 2018 when commissioners of the BAPE pointed out that they had no clear strategy in the case of an oil spill in the Saint-Lawrence.

* featured image from ÉcoQuébec’s twitter account: “greeting committee” for the NEB consultations on Monday

A panel of experts has been mandated to review Canada’s environmental assessment process. On Monday, Minister of the Environment Catherine McKenna presented the four members of the committee in charge of this effort to modernize our environmental laws.

The committee is tasked with producing a report “in early 2017.” To do so, they will “engage broadly with indigenous groups, the public and a wide range of stakeholders across Canada,” according to the government’s website.

Who is on This Committee?

The chairwoman of the committee is Johanne Gélinas, a leading consultant on environmental law. She was the Canadian Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development from 2000 to 2007 and also served ten years in the Environmental Public Hearings Office (better known as BAPE) in Quebec.

Also sitting on the Panel are René Pelletier, a lawyer from the Maliseet community who specializes in Aboriginal rights and environmental law, and Rod Northey, another prominent environmental lawyer. The last member is Doug Horswill, who previously served as Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources of BC and as chairman of two Mining Associations.

What Will Happen Now?

The committee presented by McKenna will get input from Canadian citizens and organizations during September. People can already communicate their opinions via the internet. Dates for in-person hearings should be decided shortly.

By early 2017, the panel will present a summary of the input received along with its conclusions and recommendations. The Ministry of Environment will then “consider” the recommendations and “identify the next step to improve federal environmental assessment processes.”

Promises, Promises…

This is a step towards making the process more “open, transparent and inclusive,” according to a press release from Minister McKenna.

The review of the environmental assessment process is one of the three parts of the Liberal plan to improve environmental regulations that was officially launched this summer. The two other parts are modernizing the National Energy Board and restoring the protections under the Fisheries Act and the Navigation Act that were lost under the Harper government.

The Liberal environmental platform is mostly defined by two key points repeated ad-nauseam since 2015: restoring the population’s trust in the environmental assessment process and insuring that their decisions are based on “evidence, facts and science” (because redundancy sounds much more inspiring).

During and since the elections, they have advertised their intention to involve the population, and especially the aboriginal communities, more directly in the approval of projects that could be dangerous to the environment.

Indeed, they have launched and publicized many public consultations. They also announced up to $223 000 of funding for Indigenous participation to Federal Government reviews of Environmental Assessment Processes and National Energy Board Modernization.

They will hear the opinion of Canadians and they will “consider it.”

Consultation after consultation, the government is working to make the population feel more involved and to restore their trust in the system. But is it working to insure that this trust is warranted? They have yet to take any concrete action to put science and research at the base of their policies on environmental issues.

* Featured image of Squamish River by James Wheeler via Flickr Creative Commons

Panelists Velma Candyass and Josh Davidson discuss over the top plans for Montreal’s 375th birthday, food at the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) and Donald Trump. Plus another Sergakis Update and Predictions.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

Panelists

Velma Candyass: Producer of the Candyass Cabaret, burlesque performer

Josh DavidsonFTB food columnist

Catch Velma live this Friday!

FTB Podcast #15: Montreal’s 375th Anniversary, Food insecurity and the COP debate, and Donald Trump by Forget The Box on Mixcloud

FTB Podcast also available on iTunes

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

In the days following 9/11, then-US President George W. Bush urged Americans to go out and shop. If not, then the terrorists win.

His premise was that the goal of terrorists is to disrupt a culture they hate. It’s simplistic and ignores several mitigating factors and reinforces the Us Versus Them narrative. It was also clearly a pitch to keep American capitalism from falling in the toilet.

However, if you accept his premise and ignore his motivations, then his logic is sound. That is probably the only time I will say that about the most duplicitous and ridiculous President in American history, but if the shoe fits…

(sorry, had to)
(sorry, had to)

If you accept that the goal of terrorists is to disrupt Western culture, then shying away from a key aspect of it does, in fact, mean that they accomplished their goal or that they won.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not bringing this up to justify or agree with anything Dubya did or said. Instead I’m trying to point out that his simplistic logic may give progressives a way to preserve the fundamental right to protest in a time of increased political repression operating under the guise of security.

Paris Attacks and the Climate Change Summit

Fourteen years and a few months after Bush urged Americans to shop, the Western World was rocked by another major terrorist attack. The assault on Paris last Friday, while not near the bodycount of 9/11, had a similar jarring effect on the culture in France and around the world.

Now that we are in the initial stages of rebounding from such a tragic assault, we’re getting images of Parisians going out to cafes and other public places, determined to show that their lifestyle, the Western lifestyle, will not be interrupted. Also, the Paris International Climate Summit, or COP21, will go on as scheduled.

Well, not all of it will. The heads of state and their entourages will show up. They will talk, form panels and talk some more and, of course, talk to the press. What we won’t get will be the marches, protests and other “outdoor activities” that usually accompany such global events. The French Government said that such events will not be authorized out of security concerns.

Outrage and Strong Arguments Preached to the Choir

This decision by the Hollande Government, understandably, wasn’t well received by pretty much everyone on the left of the political spectrum. There were social media comments on how this was nothing more than an opportunistic police state taking advantage of a horrible event. There were very intelligent op-ed pieces from people like Naomi Klein on how this would muzzle those most affected by climate change.

paris riot squad

I agree with all of it. The problem is, me and people who think like me or close to how I think aren’t the people that need to be reached. Shouting in the echo chamber that is the political left just won’t cut it this time, no matter how well-formulated and reasonable the arguments are.

When terrorists strike, quite a few otherwise reasonable and intelligent people are, understandably, scared shitless. Nuanced arguments don’t hold the way they do in normal times. Those hoping to establish a police state know this and are always ready.

Time to Dumb it Down, Bush-Style

It’s time for a new tactic. A new argument. One that will stick even with those temporarily thinking with their gut or their fear. The good news is we already have one.

If you want to know why blocking the right to protest at the Paris Climate Summit is terribly wrong, read Naomi Klein. If you want to convince pretty much everyone of this fact, even those on the right or the far right of the political spectrum, look to George W. Bush for inspiration.

The best part is, in this case, it is not just strategy, but the absolute truth. What is more fundamental to our culture than the right to free expression, the right to assembly and the right to dissent from and express your displeasure with the powers that be?

If the terrorists hate “our way of life” then they surely hate our rallies, our solidarity with fellow activists, our ability to protest the government (or multiple governments) in a very vocal and public way and our “freedom” to dissent loud and proud.

The right to protest is far too important to let slide in the face of so-called security concerns. While your anger, and my anger, may be currently directed at those who choose to use public fear to stifle dissent, making them the proverbial bad guy in this case doesn’t help.

It is a far more effective tactic to look beyond and remind those who would seek to cut off protest just who will ultimately benefit from such an action. The right to public dissent is, after all, far more integral to open and democratic culture than people shopping.

If you agree and want to make sure that everyone gets the message, then push aside your loathing for simplistic arguments and repeat after me:

“If we can’t assemble in opposition to the government, then the terrorists win!”

“If we lose our freedom of expression, then the terrorists win!”

“If we can’t protest, then the terrorists win!”

Another year, another round of increasing challenges–and opportunities–when it comes to feeding the world. Closer to home, we can see many of our most salient national issues (healthcare, climate change, aboriginal rights) refracted through the eye of a handful of food questions.

Food is just that: a flashpoint around which all else swirls. Here are a few simple food questions to keep tabs on this year. As you’ll see, they speak volumes on wider issues we face from sea to sea.

Can school lunches stem an obesity epidemic?

Though five provinces already offer lunch (or breakfast) programs, Canada’s one of the last holdouts among industrialized nations when it comes to a fully fleshed-out national program. It’s not just a question of quelling hunger. Could a properly-designed school lunch program help stamp out childhood obesity, thus reducing affiliated diseases and quashing healthcare costs?

A coalition of food organizations seems to think so. The proposal for a national program will be a bumpy ride, however: getting all provinces–and politicians–to agree on details, not to mention the parliamentary maneuvering needed to pass something of such magnitude.

Finnish_school_lunch

However, the longer a potential fight, the more hastily one should get in the ring so as to not avoid eventual burnout… as we learned from our neighbours to the South.

It’s up to us. What do we want our elected officials to focus on? Prevention? Exercise? Mental health? Could something like this help the next generation of Canadians enjoy a healthier childhood and a longer life?

Read an interview about it in the Tyee.

Canada: world’s biggest tossers?

That’s not a character judgement. I’m talking about household waste. We allegedly threw out the most garbage in the world per capita in 2013. We continue to be one of the planet’s most egregious food wasters, squandering enough to feed a small country. Or maybe a large one.

Discarded_bagels

There’s also that pesky issue of the emissions caused by moving around so much wasted food. Oh, and the $31B we’re flushing down the drain. How stupid. And sad. And avoidable.

If we don’t begin to turn this around quickly, the economic and environmental impacts may well see us drowning in our own waste. On a more hopeful note, campaigns like UK’S “Love Food, Hate Waste” are coming to our soil this year, and programs like Second Harvest are helping to make a difference. More is needed however.

Beyond handy checklists, we need to lobby lagging local governments (such as Montréal) to adopt compost pickup or to punish supermarkets or large restaurant chains for the added strains they are putting on the system.

Yet, if the real problem is with chains, how can we really stop them wasting so much food? We can’t. However, they can only waste food if they have customers to produce it for. Avoiding the big chains in favour of farm boxes, other delivery schemes, growing food in community garden plots, etc. are tiny ways to stem the flow.

Can we solve food insecurity in the North?

li-nunavut-food-protest-pangnirtung

A chronic problem, it’s one about to grow in 2015. With the population of places such as Iqaluit growing quickly, an already-difficult situation is being compounded by one of the youngest populations in the country. Less and less people are hunting. Food prices continue to spike and food banks can barely keep up.

Parliament exploded with this issue late in 2014 (after the UN got involved in 2012), yet very little action can be deciphered. Let’s hope 2015 sees that happen.

Follow this column for writing on food issues (and hopeful initiatives!) both in Montréal and worldwide.

You may have heard of the controversies surrounding the Canada-US Keystone XL pipeline which would bring Alberta’s oil  all the way down to the Gulf Coast. The resistance to that project is fuelling the push to bypass the US and create a homegrown version, Trans Canada’s Energy East pipeline, whereby 1.1 million barrels a day of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s oil-sands would be pumped through 4600 kilometers of pipes; Canadian refineries in the east would then process it after which it will be exported abroad.

By allowing  this pipeline to pass through their lands, communities across the country will be supporting further development of Alberta’s oil-sands. Conversely Canadians, who may feel powerless against Alberta and our federal government’s pro-oilsands position, can now mobilize against the Energy East project and directly curb the expansion of the tar-sands.

robert van waarden serge simon

Joining his voice to the choir of activists is Canadian photographer Robert Van Waarden who is setting out on an eight-week Canada-wide journey to capture in words and on film the many faces of those who will live along the pipeline’s proposed route. For his Along the Pipeline project, Van Waarden will meet, discuss with, and photograph those who would shoulder the brunt of the risk associated with living in close proximity to the pipeline as well as those who may benefit from job opportunities it would create along the way (a claim challenged by major environmental groups).

We have all seen images of Alberta’s tar-sands intended to shock us into action and expose us to the reality of where the oil, that we all use on a daily basis, comes from. But these shock-and awe images are a double edged sword: we are simultaneously faced with the devastating environmental consequences of living in an oil-dependent society and dwarfed by the system that has consented to its destruction. The scale of the environmental degradation runs parallel to the economic and political power that allow the oil-sands to exist.

By focusing on the people directly affected by the pipeline, Van Waarden is seeking out “individuals working on change, pushing our world towards a more sustainable place [and whose] story is one of inspiration, empowerment and co-operation.” Since this mighty piece of privately-owned infrastructure will link people and communities on a national scale it seems worthwhile to understand what meanings this connection holds to those concerned. By humanizing those affected by the pipeline and highlighting the interconnectedness of the human experience,  the struggle becomes more relateable; as more pockets of resistance come to the surface, the challenge seems less herculean.

Forget The Box is pleased to follow Van Waarden as he travels across the country chronicling the stories of those affected by the Energy East pipeline. With preparations underway, Van Waarden is seeking help from the public to support his project though his indigogo crowdfunding initiative which comes to a close on April 6. Photographs and multimedia pieces will be published throughout his travels on his website and you can follow him via Twitter and Instagram.

robert van waarden bernard organic farmer

If VanWaarden is on a tight schedule, so too is TransCanada. They must file their project application by this summer, after which the National Energy Board has fifteen months to make a decision. Understandably, they are lobbying hard. Town meetings are sponsored all along the pipeline’s route to convince residents to not block their $12-billon project.

Here in Quebec, the Fédération québécoise des municipalités will gather its members in Drummondville on April 8 to discuss the impacts of the pipeline weighing envrionmental concerns with potential economic benefits. One look at the FQM meeting’s agenda and it becomes clear that TransCanada is targeting all political decision-makers and potential opponents with their lobbying efforts.

It’s not because we benefit from and are dependant on oil that we forfeit the right to object to the expansion of the oil-sands. Why do some people support the pipeline? What acts of resistance, large and small, are being carried out against it?

Through the medium of photography Van Waarden will contribute to the ongoing discussion and will capture not only what the Energy East project “means to this nation but what sort of community, country, and world we want to live in.”

Images courtesy of Robert Van Waarden. You can help make Along the Pipeline happen by donating to his crowdfunding campaign

 

 

It was new year’s eve 1994, through the rainforest that covers the majority of the Chiapas region of south western Mexico, a movement under the name of the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) was in its embryonic stage. In 1984, thirty years ago, another movement was also was forming, uniting landless peasants from throughout Brazil, occupying fazendas (large properties owned by the affluent Brazilian landowners), setting-up up cooperative farms and building community gardens which allowed the resilient communities to be self-sufficient in many ways.

These two movements have been under the stoplight, capturing the international media’s attention through a combination of headline catching actions and an intelligent media blueprint. But the question of land reform is of utmost importance especially within an age of relentless inequality and climate change. Answers to some of the most important interrogations on the limits of capitalism and sensible solutions to the threat of climate change are enclosed within this quintessential question of land ownership.

zapatista sign

Since the start of time, the problematic of land ownership has always been central to the development of human societies. The struggle between the ‘owners’ of land and the ‘dispossessed’ was at the origin of the fall of the Roman Republic (see Lex Sempronia Agraria). Many historians also link the ultimate fall of the Roman Empire to the over concentration of wealth and power within the hands of a landed elite.

Such a string of events is far from being relative to political development within Latium. In many ways land control has influenced the trajectory of societal development throughout the world.

The development of capitalism as we know it, is inherently linked to the development of a coercive notion of private property, where private property is hereditary. In this skewed ideological development, private has become linked to the notion of freedom.

This system of ownership of the land is the foundation of every caste system within the history of mankind, the distinction between those that have and the have-nots, the dispossessed. Parallel to this ‘land-grab’ is a reaction of resistance of the landless peasants, of the serfs, of indigenous communities against the landed elite, the power structure or the colonial state.

The development of neo-liberal capitalism has altered in many ways the structure of this relationship. Two elements have been the motors behind these changes: first of all the construction of the insane notion of the ‘corporate individual’ and on the other hand the continued erosion of regulations.

Corporations now, in many ways, are the new landed elite and the biggest obstacles on the road to fighting climate change. But also tied to the question of the corporate ownership of land is the corporate ownership of natural resources and the problem of redistribution of the wealth generated by the extraction of those same natural resources. Also included within the problematic of land ownership is the growing crisis of food security and frantic rise in food prices throughout the world.

In the end, the corporate land-grab is an essential question in the burgeoning of the 21st century. Movements such as the EZLN and Sem Terra have shown guidance in offering an alternative perspective with regards to the way we conceive the ownership of land, the role of land within our societies and the importance of communal and local agriculture. Both movements have understood one important thing: that climate deregulation is a direct consequence of the deregulation of the world’s markets and no solution will be found to counter climate change within this system of wild, wild, west capitalism.

On January 1st 1994, EZLN took up arms against the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which took away from the Mexican people their undeniable right to the land underneath their feet. This right to the land was the most important accomplishment of the Mexican Revolution and had since been enshrined in the Mexican constitution.

The revolt of the Zapatistas was directly against this globalized system of dispossession of small farmers and indigenous communities on one hand and the subsequent repossession of that land by private interests on the other. Those interests were motivated by  making the land ‘profitable’, by any means necessary. This is the attitude that turned the greatest delta in the world (the delta of Niger) into a massive oil spill.

brazil sem terra
The Sem Terra in Brazil (image waronwant.org)

The Brazilian Sem Terra sprouted out of the inhumane conditions that landless peasants were facing within Brazil, wandering from one agricultural tyrant to another on a regular basis, enslaved by one agro-alimentary multinational after another. The Sem Terra movement understood that the root of inequality is this disproportionate gap between those that control the land and those that work the land. The only way to counter this was to create communities in which each man had his plot of land to cultivate to provide for the wellbeing of his family without an inch of that land being privately owned.

This communal vision of land ownership thus entails the construction of an inclusive and participatory decision making system. Not only did these alternative visions of land ownership empower the ‘dispossessed’ and enable the development and reproduction of traditional modes of agricultural protection (read here biological and respectful of the environment), it also planted the seeds of a stronger strain of democracy.

Both movements know that land is power, the power to determine the future of generations, to draw the outlines of a distinct society, the power to hold the keys to a better world. In this age of globalized free-trade agreements, that relentlessly breakdown the ‘barriers to trade’ with the purpose of ‘opening up’ new markets such as the markets of land and of natural resources, in an age of growing inequality and destabilizing climate deregulation, the seeds have been sown, amidst the tempest, for an alternative future.

In one of the most famous Sem Terra occupations in July of 1996, thousands of landless peasants occupied one of the most important fazendas in Brazil-which they still occupy to this day and have turned it into one of the most important agricultural communes in the world. First thing they did once they had occupied the fazenda was to take down the Brazilian flag and put the red one of the MST with words that read “The struggle for all.”

This post originally appeared on QuietMike.org, republished with permission from the author

canada_harper_3_14_2012It’s bad enough with all the scientific proof to the contrary that we still have climate change deniers in Canada, but I would argue having one of them as our Prime Minister makes it exponentially worse.

Now, I know Stephen Harper has never come out publicly and denied the existence of climate change; he doesn’t need to, his actions have spoken for him. After playing the common Canadian voter for fools for five years as a minority government, the veil has come off to reveal what Harper really thinks of the environment we all share.

Canadian voters who didn’t know any better might not have clued in to the big picture, but the signs were there. During his first minority run starting in 2006, Harper pretended to give a damn, albeit very little.

In 2006 the Conservatives introduced the Clean Air Act. The act was supposed to cut greenhouse gasses by about half of the 2003 levels by 2050. Environmentalists claimed these targets were inefficient, but the Prime Minister convinced Canadians that these targets were a more realistic than the ones set out in the Kyoto Protocol.

With the exception of Rona Ambrose, the Prime Minister appointed seemingly competent MPs to the Environment Minister post. By competent, I mean John Baird and Jim Prentice kept their mouths shut as much as possible.

For the following five years the Tories were kept in check by the Liberals and NDP and remained fairly silent on the issues of climate change. Some comments were made accidentally with the slipping of some Tory tongues and Harper himself called Kyoto a “socialist scheme” but by the time the election of 2011 came around they were all long forgotten.

Harpers-Habitat1

When Harper gained his majority (with less than 40% of the vote), the curtain came down and the assault began. In the last two years Harper has been doing everything he can to reverse environmental protections and hide climate science.

No one was really surprised when he started by withdrawing Canada from the Kyoto Protocol, but the Prime Minister didn’t replace it with anything. The Clean Air Act Conservatives introduced in his first term was reduced to nothing as they lowered its targets by as much as 90%.

Harper named ex-journalist Peter Kent as the new environment minister. Kent seemed to care about the environment thirty years ago, but these days his decisions have come from an economic view rather than an environmental one.

The first Conservative Budget under a majority slashed Environment Canada’s budget by $53.8 million a year. The Conservatives scrapped the National Round-table on the Environment and Economy, a group that provides advice on the environment.

At the same time, they moved to fast track the current process for the environmental assessment of resource-based projects. In addition, they have made it more difficult for charities, such as environmental groups, to engage in so-called political activities. To sum it up: no talking, no protesting and more digging.

Harper has also started to silence Canadian scientists. He has instructed Environment Canada to forbid federal scientists from speaking to the media and has defunded or threatened to defund those who do. It wasn’t long ago when we encouraged our scientists to speak out in order to know where the problems were.

Muzzle

Last year, the Prime Minister stopped funding the Environmental Lakes Area, the famous fresh water research facility. The pioneering Canadian contribution to global environmental science was instrumental in the fight against acid rain and has studied water pollution for 40 years. The funding was expected to run dry on March 31st 2013. The savings to Canadians is a mere $2 million, a tiny drop of clean water in the bucket.

Lately you may have heard about the 194 countries around the world that supports the United Nations anti-drought convention. Well that number has been reduced by one as the Conservative government of Canada has decided to withdraw from it. Conservatives claimed only 18% of funds go toward drought research and called the process a “talk fest.” Canada spent $291 000 on the convention last year, a grain of sand in the desert.

In the meantime, while Harper has turned his back on global warming and environmental science, he has continued to expand fossil fuel development across the country. “Over the next decade, more than 500 large new development projects will be proposed across the country, representing investments worth more than $500 billion” Harper said. I would imagine they’ll still be getting the same tax breaks they receive now.

The Prime Minister’s disdain for the environment is now known worldwide and he may end up shooting himself in the foot with his policies. Harper has been pressing US President Barack Obama to OK the Keystone XL Pipeline for years now and it’s not crazy to think Obama may reject it again for not wanting to be associated with him. After all, the US is awash with oil and gas these days.

Harper’s policies were adopted from the American conservative philosophy that small government is what’s best for the people. He believes the environment is not the responsibility of the federal government. However, by not taking steps to protect it, they are helping to destroy it instead.

The Prime Minister and his Conservative Party have been exposed as the anti-climate change party they are and it’s showing in the polls. Let’s hope that when Canadians vote again in a couple years that Idle No More, Canadian scientists and environmentalists don’t let the people forget.

Doing nothing to prevent climate change is the same as not believing in it.

Not since Confederation has a nation-building project determined so much of Canada’s future, divided Canadians and equaled the endeavor of CP Rail, than Alberta pipelines. Several projects have been proposed but nothing perhaps more politically contentious than the Keystone XL, which would run pipelines from Alberta to parts of central United States. While Northern Gateway would transport bitumen from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, British Columbia and then ship it to Asian markets.

Canadians must decide whether it would be better off becoming gas station of the world or global leaders combating climate change. Petroleum is a dangerous market and there are potential socio-economic and environmental risks facing Canadians. Outside factors are influencing whether Canada takes on those risks.

Despite some financialists, think-tanks and environmental expert warnings, PM Stephen Harper has vowed continuing support for Canada’s future in crude oil. Consequently, Conservatives have enforced gag orders on climate change scientists from speaking to the media and further removed environmental protections through Bill C-45, opposed by Idle No More.

Harper would ensure risks of environmental catastrophes from pipeline projects including clear-cut forests, depleted wildlife and risks of oil spillage into nearby bodies of water, poisoning communities. Even the most optimistic pipeline job projections, according to Cornell University, appear to be pipedreams. 85 to 90% of the people hired to do the work would be non-local and predominately temporary workers.

Oil venture in Canada is also up against time and technology. There is the impending deadline of Congress facing President Barrack Obama on whether to approve Keystone. If Obama rejects the deal, Canada would scrap Endbridge. There is also the rapid pace of American petroleum technology innovations.

Obama will likely announce a national synthetic oil technology policy. Synthetic oil is a greener, cheaper technology which could be harnessed in the United States. Its production utilizes a combination of non-food crops, natural gas and coal. The result of which is a much more sleeker and finer product.

keystone-pipeline

Princeton University concluded it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% if non-food crops are used to produce that fuel. A national program would require further assessments and thereby extend Keystone’s deadline further down the road, effectively putting Alberta’s already uncertain future in the cruder, harsher tar sand oil in the stone ages with the dinosaurs.

This is the likely reason why Obama neglected to mention Keystone in his State of the Union address. Instead, the president emphasized cutting climate change, harkening back to his 2008 campaign promise to achieve American energy independence within ten years. All signs appear to point in this direction with John Kerry’s appointment to Secretary of State, Kerry being the most outspoken Democrat on tackling climate change.

Should American backing fall through, Alberta should not rely on its Chinese state-owned oil partner, China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC), to be its safety net. A Chinese ambassador to Canada has revealed that Beijing would not wait on Canada if Alberta-BC issues are not resolved in a timely manner.

Alberta oil is only lucrative to Chinese investors so long as it will have pipeline clients. Alberta currently trades at a $40 discount per barrel of oil to the US. Since there are no pipelines to cancel out high transport costs to distant clients this is done to maintain interest. This means negative dividend returns for Alberta.

Currently, Premier Alison Redford’s government is bleeding $6 billion. China is only willing to cover the cost of cargo shipments to keep Alberta oil afloat until Canada could find other larger markets to invest in pipelines. BC’s blockade of Alberta’s Gateway deal would deny access to Asian markets. A ThreeHundredEight poll suggests a BC NDP victory this May with leader Adrian Dix promising to kill Northern Gateway. Northern Gateway is expected to be complete by 2017 or 2019.

Although Canada may be a politically stable source of oil, China could secure its oil supply by other means. China could diversify its clients while further weaning itself off of dirty oil towards sustainable energies. Unlike Washington, Beijing is not beholden to whomever it does business with. This ensures China’s access to petroleum could come from multiple markets.

Bottom line, Canadians could see themselves sitting on surplus black gold sold at red dot prices. In the end, Canada could be left holding the bag. Not quite the Dutch Disease prophesy, but still a crude awakening for Canadians.

I am going to tell you about The Chocolate Farmer, a documentary made by director Rohan Fernando, an award-winning director and cinematographer, a Sri Lankan native and Canadian immigrant, and produced by Annette Clarke thanks to the beloved treasure, the National Film Board of Canada.

It’s been circulating, sometimes jokingly, that the end of the world is near, and that it will happen by the conclusion of this year, 2012 in the Gregorian calendar.

This is apparently according to the Mayans.

I don’t find these kinds of statements funny. No one, in my belief, can know when the end of the world is. No one can even predict the time of their own death.

Then I meet, via documentary, Eladio Pop, a Mayan farmer from Belize. One of the most fascinating people I have ever heard speak. Interestingly, I watched this documentary the same night that Barbara Walter’s 10 Most Fascinating People aired. I mention this because Americans like to use the superlative ‘most,’ when it is an impossibility to know who the most anything is.

Back to Eladio. When you see this film, you see how he farms his beautiful jungle with the utmost care and love, and not a single drop of chemicals. When tourists visit his land, they ask him if he uses any pesticide. Eladio smiles and points to his little machete that he cuts shrubs with, “My only tool is this.”

In a pristine area of southern Belize, cacao farmer Eladio Pop manually works his plantation in the tradition of his Mayan ancestors: simply as a steward of the land. “When you abandon the land, the land gets sad and the roots dry out.” I immediately think of how this applies to a woman, or any person.

In The Chocolate Farmer, we see a year in the life of the Pop family, as they struggle to preserve their values in a world that is trying to change them.

Eladio is sad that his children do not participate in the care taking of his, and maybe one day, their land. He says that because they now go to school, they come home tired, and they have become lazy, and are uninterested in farming. Eladio says: “You study and graduate to then work for someone else. You become someone’s slave. I am a free man.” Eladio walks off into his jungle adorned by large trees that seem to circle their branches around him, enveloping him in a hug.

Eladio also points to the arrival of religion and churches in his area. “We were all one community. Now, people don’t want to work with each other because they are not part of the same parish.” Most of the conversations with Eladio take place when he is in the midst of his piece of rainforest. He looks like a happy child. “I don’t know why but I cannot believe in religion. This is my church,” he says as he points to the majestic trees that surround him.

A happy moment is when one of Eladio’s sons leaves his job at a resort in Belize. He leaves the sun, beach, alcoholic drinks, and tourists, to come back to his father’s farm to learn from him, and to inherit their craft. On a walk in their plantation, Eladio shows his son the secrets of their land, the land of their parents. “I use this for my stomach pain,” says Eladio to his son. Cutting another branch, Eladio shows his son how the branch contains water and lets water drops fall on his son’s face and into his mouth.

In The Chocolate Farmer, we see Eladio’s tenacity and confidence, and at the same time, his surrender to the times. As he is cutting open the beautiful cacao fruits, he works alongside ants carrying their own food. “I am scared,” says Eladio to the interviewer. Eladio says he is scared that every country today is acquiring bombs and that with one bomb, we are all gone. “But I continue to work till the end, just like them,” says Eladio as he looks at the ants. “They are my colleagues.”

Eladio is a dashing man whose age is a mystery. His hair is black and thick, his body lean and fit, and he seems light on his toes as he works hard in his plantation. He always smiles no matter what he is talking about. This is in no doubt attributable to his lifestyle as a free man.

It is indeed scary to think of the disappearance of one of the last known pure lands and lifestyles, where people cultivate, live, and eat in an unperturbed manner as they did centuries ago.

After seeing The Chocolate Farmer, I went from being annoyed at the so-called Mayan belief that the end of the world is in 2012, to seeing how this has truth, especially for the Mayans.

 

“What do they know, all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. 

All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.”

~Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1978 Nobel Prize Winner

 

A few weeks ago, Mika and Zak, two harp seal pups at the aquarium in Iles-de-la-Madelaine, were issued a death sentence by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Due to an international outcry, with more than 124,000 signatures generated on a petition to save them, the pups’ lives have been spared. After much confusion as to what to do with the seals, the aquarium received word from the DFO a few days ago that Mika and Zak may be released into the ocean.

Every spring for the past 25 years, the DFO captured two young harp seals from the wild to put them on display at the Iles-de-la-Madelaine aquarium. Every fall, when the aquarium closes for the winter months, the seals are released back into their natural habitat. This year, however, the DFO changed their directives and decided that releasing the seal pups may endanger wildlife by potentially transmitting diseases to wild populations. With the recent information coming to light on the sorry state of marine life in captivity and the amount of medications that are given to such animals to keep them looking somewhat healthy, the DFO’s new directives are of no surprise.

Hearing of the death order, one of the aquarium workers alerted a wildlife rehabilitation centre in B.C., and the petition, which ultimately saved the lives of Mika and Zak, was launched.

The aquarium halted the planned killing of the seals but did not quite know what to do with them. At one point, they requested $73,000 from the public to send them to a wildlife facility in France. Animal activists and wildlife organizations were shocked—they felt like this was some type of ransom note.

This heart-wrenching situation raises questions about why the DFO is capturing wild marine mammals to begin with, and about the lack of legislation protecting marine mammals both in the wild and in captivity.

The aquarium states that its mandate is to educate the public about wildlife in the Saint-Lawrence River/Atlantic Ocean area and help humans create a bond with these animals. It appears rather contradictory to this mandate to exterminate these same animals once the tourist season is over.

How unfortunate that people view animals, not as souls and beings like themselves, but as “things” which can be forcibly claimed from the wild and disposed of when they no longer serve them or when they become a burden. What gives us this right? What makes it acceptable in the human psyche, the human heart? It is incumbent for us to reconnect to our hearts and see God in everyone, in every living being. Every living being has a divine spark, and we have no right to recklessly take away lives at will.

What exactly are we teaching our children when we bring them to zoos and aquaria to stare at miserable wild animals captured for our pleasure and “education”?

Based on reports from workers at Marineland, the Toronto Star recently published a series of stories describing the horrendous living conditions at that aquarium in Niagara Falls, and thousands of people have now signed a petition calling on the Ontario Premier to enact laws to protect animals in zoos and aquaria.

The DFO stopped the capture of whales for display in aquaria in 1999. Perhaps it’s due time to stop capturing all marine mammals—stop taking them away from their own families and homes. Just because we can kidnap wild animals, doesn’t mean we should.