Vancouver office of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans

Cohen Commission off to Lousy Start


John Cummins, Conservative MP for Delta-Richmond East, has raised a number of concerns about the Bruce Cohen Commission of Inquiry into Decline of Sockeye Salmon in the Fraser River – which Commissioner Cohen must answer if he and the commission are going to have any credibility.

Will the scientific advisors to this commission, many with ties to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), be put under oath for examination – and if so, who will conduct it? And if they are to take the witness stand under oath, will lawyers for environmental groups be permitted to cross examine them?

And how does Commissioner Cohen justify the funding formula whereby the David Suzuki Foundation, a well-funded ENGO full of its own staff, gets over twice as much funding for legal counsel as does Alexandra Morton?

When I heard of Mr. Justice Cohen’s appointment I thought this was good news. Now I’m not so sure. It’s looking more and more as if the fix is in.

I am not, I hasten to say, suggesting illegal acts – not at all. Rather it looks like it’s all nice and legal-like so that Prime Minister Harper and his toadies can claim that they did all they could to get at the truth. In fact, if the Commission proceeds as it appears to be, the DFO, who were responsible for the Fraser River Sockeye collapse, will, in essence, be investigating themselves. So let me state this flat out: no one associated with the DFO during the period of time covered by this investigation should be advising the Commissioner. PERIOD. They are all important witnesses.

Yes, I am cynical of fisheries commissions. The pacific salmon has been a gigantic political pain in the ass for the federal government since BC entered confederation. There is never any good news and this time will be no exception. There are only a handful of ridings directly affected – not enough to spend a lot of money on. Mr. Harper is interested in only one result – that it takes the issue out of play during the next federal campaign.

I can tell you why this commission will be like all the others.

The Harper government is committed to fish farms, as demonstrated by the hapless minister Gail Shea over and over again. Ms. Shea attended the fish farm industry’s big convention in Norway last year, telling all who would listen how supportive the government was of this ghastly industry. Ms. Shea has not, it would seem, appeared at any conventions or meetings held by those opposed to fish farms in our oceans. Fish Farmers are generous donors to politicians both federal and provincial. Politicians avoid offending generous donors.

One has to assume that Prime Minister Harper will have followed the golden rule of investigations – never appoint a commission unless you know how it’s going to turn out – or don’t care. That can be accomplished in two ways: have a commissioner you trust not to do anything too drastic, or set terms of reference which, by the confinement of issues procedures mandated, shield those you don’t want to hurt – or both.

Mr. Cohen is not a judge while chairing this procedure and can’t hide behind a robe. He must deal with these questions satisfactorily or else it will look to the public that the results are pre-ordained. Appearances are, as Mr. Cohen knows, critical – justice must not only be done but manifestly be seen to be done.

Commissioner Cohen is off to a lousy start.


About 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