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Bill 37 Promises to Criminalize Scientific Discolosure: Something Rotten in BC's Fish Farm Debate

Minister McRea Who Do You Serve?
The Government of British Columbia is preparing to ram through new legislation in a landslide of new bills that will make it a punishable offence to report disease in animals.
Bill 37 will override the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, stating "a person must refuse, despite the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,  to  disclose". It will give McRea broad discretionary powers during outbreaks of disease and give inspectors without qualifications or training [authority] to physically detain any person and remove anything they choose from the area.

West Coast Environmental Law suggests Bill 37 is not Constitutional in Canada, but that is will be up to citizens to pay for a costly constitutional challenge to straighten this out.

For me it means two years in jail if I report disease in farm salmon such as when I reported positive tests for Infectious Salmon Anemia virus and a Norwegian Heart virus - diseases the federal government and the salmon farming industry swear do not exist in BC.

This Bill has a history:

In 2004 the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation made an Freedom of Information Request for specific salmon farm disease records. The Ministry of Agriculture refused this request and the issue came before the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner. In Order F10-06 the four big salmon farming companies operating in BC Marine Harvest, Mainstream, Grieg and Creative Salmon are all quoted threatening BC that they would never give the Province disease information again.

And that is what they did. In April 2010 the Province of BC was no longer given access to dead farm salmon, even though the Provincial vet continued to perform private tests for the same companies. That month the three Norwegian operators signed a Memorandum of Understanding to share information about viruses with each other. Meanwhile, Marine Harvest was repeatedly going to the provincial vet for Infectious Salmon Anemia testing.

Even though T. Buck won the data - they also never released it, however, the Cohen Commission did. It was the over 1,000 reports by the Provicial vet of classic lesions associated with Infectious Salmon Anemia that prompted me to begin sampling wild and farm fish in supermarkets for this lethal salmon virus.

When we found Infectious Salmon Anemia virus - which is a world reportable disease, like bovine tuberculosis or hoof and mouth disease - Minister McRea jumped up and said:

Reckless allegations based on incomplete science can be devastating to these communities and unfair to the families that make a living from the sea. Since Premier Clark is currently on a trade mission to China, I have personally asked her to reassure our valued trading partners that now as always BC can be relied upon as a supplier of safe, sustainable seafood..

Shortly after the Canadian Food Inspection Agency testified at the Cohen Commission:

So if, let’s say, we do find ISA in B.C. and all of a sudden markets are closed, our role [CFIA] is then to try to renegotiate or negotiate market access to those countries. Now what it will be is a matter of they'll let us know what the requirements are. We'll let them know what we can do and whether we can meet that market access. If we can't meet it, then there will be no trade basically. (Cohen Transcripts, December 19, pg. 118)

On March 27 McRea told the BC Parliament:

"...when ISA was first talked about from the lab in P.E.I … There were lawmakers and legislators in the United States — various states bordering British Columbia — and some legislators in Asia who at that time were speculating and pushing for closing our market share." (March 27 Hansard Afternoon session)

So it sounds like China and the US were trying to close the border to BC farm salmon as a results of my tests. Minister McRea suggests Bill 37 is meant to encourage better reporting by the farmers. But why go to the lengths of violating the Constitution of Canada, threatening citizens with jail terms, and giving agriculture inspectors the right to detain people? Why not just make disease reporting mandatory for farmers to operate in BC?

Why not indeed.

There is a fascinating passage in an article by Eathan Baron in The Province. McRea acknowledges that the public is getting uneasy about the powers of this bill and says one option would be shelving the bill until after the summer recess, but the article goes on to say:

"McRae didn't appear to favour that option, saying an outbreak this summer could occur without the new act's protective limits on free speech."

The BC coast is rife with rumours right now that one of the companies is having an enormous, exploding problem with disease.

Minister McRea who are you serving, the public or a few companies using BC waters to raise their salmon? By you comment in the The Province are you suggesting unconstitutional limits to free speech are required ASAP this summer - can't wait till the fall?


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