Justice Bruce Cohen unveils his final report in Vancouver

Rafe: Cohen Commission report rightly targets salmon farms, Precautionary Principle


There are several things that jumped out at me with the Cohen Commission Final Report, released yesterday.

The first is that my faith in Bruce Cohen as expressed on CBC’s Early Edition right after his name was announced has been fully justified. I said then that I knew the man, had fought in court with the man, that he was a superb lawyer and judge and that those who thought he could be pushed around just because he happened to be a very nice guy to boot would be pleasantly surprised.

Hell of a good job, Bruce, I’m proud of you.

Here is my first prediction – the Fraser Institute-led Op-ed page in the Vancouver Sun will very soon have a weasily op-ed piece from Mary Ellen Walling of the Salmon Farmers Association.

Alexandra Morton has been thoroughly vindicated and ought to get the Order Of Canada immediately. Only we who know Alex know what she’s been through with the DFO and Provincial governments slandering her and blocking her every move with lies and distortions.

Commissioner Cohen tested, as I said he would, his mandate to the utmost. It’s here we should note that he was only empowered to look at Fraser River sockeye, not the hundreds of thousands of other salmon impacted by fish farms.

It will be observed – as it already has been – that he found no “smoking gun”. Of course he didn’t because there probably isn’t one – the sockeye run more risks that just fish farms. What I also observed on the Early Edition that morning is that there are many causes of salmon loss on their journey into the ocean and back but that one thing will surely come out – fish farms are a major suspect and since we could deal with them we should. This is clearly the finding of the Cohen Commission.

Let’s look at an obvious finding in the report and one that the Commissioner must have felt awkward finding what should be so easy to see – DFO has a clear conflict of interest being mandated to protect wild salmon and shill for the fish farmers at the same time. How any minister could fail to see that is beyond me.

I cannot in the time I have today deal with all of the report, but let me emphasize what all who want to save our salmon must repeat, tiresomely if necessary: THE OPERATIVE POLICY IS THE PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE.

This means that the onus of proving no harm will follow is placed on the shoulders of him whom proposes an undertaking.

If this principle had been followed in the beginning none of this would have happened.

It’s not that no one knew about this principle because it’s been the law of the land for decades.

Henceforth every single proposed invasion of the environment must be subject to this rule.

Why should people like Alexandra Morton have to lose their homes and go broke when, if the Precautionary Principle had been enforced, she could do what she came to Canada to do – study Orcas?

Looking very bad today is also John Cummins, the leader of the vanishing BC Conservatives whose one-track mind can’t accept anything that doesn’t involve abolishing the native fishery.

You can be sure that the government of Canada and the Clark government will do nothing. And here it is that our system of so-called parliamentary government is so flawed by reason of party discipline – not one Liberal MLA nor Conservative MP will press for implementation of Commissioner Cohen’s recommendations. It is because of this that every time those who care about the environment  win, they end up losing – the Kemano Completion Program is a good example.

This report must be the bottom line of all protests for our environment and those it sustains. Our rallying cry should be, “Mr. Justice Bruce Cohen and the precautionary principle!” so that people who care can centre on this fundamental maxim and force the governments to do what they have been told to do.

This should be a great day for all who care and it will be so if we bring unyielding pressure, including in the voting booth.


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 rafeonline.com.

6 thoughts on “Rafe: Cohen Commission report rightly targets salmon farms, Precautionary Principle

  1. Sadly, Chairman Harper has already made up his mind.
    and I doubt he will even read the report.
    He will continue gutting the DFO by cutting another 60% of the remaining jobs in the Habitat department this fall.
    The pink slips have already been delivered last week.
    I believe Harper has only used the Cohen Commission Report as a stall tactic.
    Don’t hold your breath for any positive changes

    in solidarity

  2. This report confirms what notherners knew when we formed Friends of Wild Salmon to stop fish farms moving into our coastal waters – and won – they are a threat to wild salmon! Get them out of the water. Thank you, Bruce Cohen.

  3. A wonderful step back from the abyss.. a small, but incredibly precious victory.. Huge gratitude and admiration from this Canadian.. for the alertness, perseverance, the good science, the common sense, the courage, the sacrifices, the coming together.. the act of collective responsibility..

    Thank you Rafe, thank you Alexandra, thank you First Nations, thank you British Columbians, thank you Bruce Cohen, thank you Damien Gillis and all the other exemplars like you. Otto Langer – thank you.. thank you west coast fishermen and women.

    So many exemplars standing against regressive, hostile, damaging, entrenched , corporate and political animals .. When I hear ‘stand on guard for thee’ .. I know you exemplify that depiction.

  4. Bravo to all!
    The inherent goodness of humanity does on occasion peer down as sunlight from the dark clouds.
    You, Rafe, Alexandra, Damien, Justice Cohen and the many passionate others of coastal B.C. have and do restore my faith.
    Well done and battle on.

  5. Having been an advocate of the precautionary principle for over a decade on numerous environmental fronts, i was pleased to no end to see Cohen brush of this old dusty under utilized and hardly apply aspect of Canadian law and bring it to the fore.

    I also want to pass on a few words of congratulations and appreciation for the work, Alex and her committed team of activists have inspired. and succeeded with on this important day.

    I have been removed from the daily grind of this work, but I do understand and appreciate the level of commitment and total devotion displayed and proven over the years.

    When heard the words on the radio, while driving, I have to admit I was stunned.

    The opening salvo of “no smoking gun” sunk my heart immediately as those first words were spoken by Cohen, but from that point on i was literally flabbergasted.

    As some of the communications on this topic have noted, the limitations that dictate how and what these guys communicate was all that held back the language that clearly and unequivocally vindicated the work of the wild salmon people.

    Victories in this work are few and far between. Today all the great people involved can hold their head high.

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