Common Sense Canadian

Precautionary Principle Missing in Protecting Wild Salmon

Posted September 5, 2011 by Rafe Mair in Oceans

Alexandra Morton and her small team have had the daunting task of searching through 500,000 documents for the Cohen Commission into disappearing Fraser sockeye – most of which had only been released after the Provincial Government and salmon farmers did everything possible to keep them secret.
This government, of all governments, tried to say that releasing the disease audits of the farms would betray privacy and I’m sure they were right – the privacy of the government departments and Norwegian fish farm companies that should have made these documents available long ago. Many of these documents may implicate fish farms in the loss of sockeye and were from the days when the provincial government carried that portfolio.
I’m sure this question has occurred to you: What right have the governments to withhold documents from the public they are elected to serve? Where the hell was Premier Photo-Op? Why didn’t she simply order that these be released (that is, before she felt compelled to do an about face at the last minute, under pressure from the media covering the Inquiry)? Same question for Prime Minister Harper who, after all, set up the Cohen Commission.
The answer is that the entire question has been and I suspect continues to be one massive government cover-up.
The federal government has made it impossible for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans to do their job because that job conflicts with another they hold – they are mandated to look after our wild salmon while at the same time pushing aquaculture (including fish farms) for all they’re worth. Fisheries ministers attend Fish Farm conventions trying to induce fish farmers to come to our coast while their scientists are supposed to be protecting wild salmon from the ravaging lice from fish cages, and, even worse, deadly disease!
There is a bigger picture here and I hope this is a nettle Commissioner Cohen grasps – the precautionary principle, which simply states, “if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking the action.”
This is a huge matter, for the onus of proving the unsafeness of fish farms does not rest upon Alexandra Morton; rather, the onus of proving its safeness rests upon industry and the government departments in question which have massively failed that basic obligation entrusted to them.
This isn’t some niggling matter. Fish farmers, without that onus, are scarcely going to cooperate, nor will governments who are supposed to hold their feet to the fire. It has rested upon those who, by far, can least afford it to find out the truth.
I’ve watched this develop from the very time the tireless lady from the Broughton Archipelago began her fight nearly a decade ago. She has been impeded by government the entire way and was even threatened with jail by the DFO. Every step was blocked; every truth she put forward was met with lies.
Scientific proof of the danger to wild salmon from fish cages was denied in the name of science that didn’t exist or was so faulty as to call into question the researcher’s integrity. How Alex has put up with this massive cover-up is beyond me and those who have been at her side.
In a long life I have never seen courage as I’ve seen in Alexandra Morton.
The plain fact of the matter is that DFO and the BC Ministry of Agriculture and Lands have wrongfully abused their mandate by refusing to force the industry to demonstrate the safety of their corrosive intervention into the environment and we must all shudder to think what would have happened if a very brave, knowledgeable and, thank God, stubborn woman had not fallen in love with BC and vowed to protect it from the most powerful interests in the world – rapacious industry protected by corrupt government.

Alexandra Morton takes the stand at the Cohen Commission this Wednesday and Thursday (Sept 7-8) – the hearing will be live streamed on


About the Author

Rafe Mair

Rafe Mair, LL.B, LL.D (Hon) a B.C. MLA 1975 to 1981, was Minister of Environment from late 1978 through 1979. In 1981 he left politics for Talk Radio becoming recognized as one of B.C.'s pre-eminent journalists. An avid fly fisherman, he took a special interest in Atlantic salmon farms and private power projects as environmental calamities and became a powerful voice in opposition to them. Rafe is the co-founder of The Common Sense Canadian and writes a regular blog at



    Why isn’t mainstream media -CBC, CTV, Global,, CHECK, Vancouvder Sun & Province, Globe andMail inter alia -covering this very important issue? Why aren’t they interviewing one amazing human being, researcher, environmentalist, salmon-protector, Alexandra Morton? Are they in collusion with the big corporate fish farms, Norwegian, BC/Canadian and other? Or are they being pressured by the Provincial Government NOT to report on Alexandra Morton’s findings, or courageous DFO scientists who have attempted to speak out but been muzzled by their own department and the Federal Government? What haven’t any of the Liberal MLAs spoken out in favour of |Mortons’s efforts, or are they too muzzled and intimidates just as they were over the HST debacle? And Federal MPs? Are there any po!liticians who aren’t hiding behind the curtains and claiming it isn’t their responsibility? When are provincial and federal politicians going to show that they have some principles and take a stand on environmental matters, like our wild salmon, instead of just abiding by their caucus and party dictates. So many “whys”, and so few answers. Let’s see some of them & mainstream media step up to support Alexandra!

    Jean Ouderkirk

    All I can say is: I nominate Alexandra Morton for the Order of British Columbia. This is the type of person who SHOULD be awarded this honor.

    Kathy Parton

    The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has a long history of supporting corporations to the detriment of the wild salmon and their habitat. It is amazing that the resilient wild salmon are still coming back to the Frazer River in spite of all DFO’s bad decisions. I think DFO should be fired for doing a worse than a bad job, before it is too late. DFO scientists apparently support DFO’s corporate agenda also, as they are now trying to cover up and retract pertinent information regarding salmon farms. It makes me question whether the wild salmon are in the way of other corporate interests such as off shore oil drilling, or the damming of the Frazer River. I will be keeping Alexandra in my thoughts and prayers as she will be taking the stand soon, she is doing an amazing job and we need to support her in whatever way we can

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