Stephen Hume on BC Govt’s Routine Failure to Inform Public on Health, Safety Issues, Salmon Diseases


Read this column by Stephen Hume in the Vancouver Sun on the BC Government’s systemic failure to disclose vital information to the public concerning matters of disease, health and safety. (June 6, 2012)

The provincial government routinely fails its legal duty to promptly inform citizens of risks to public health and safety, warn legal scholars at the University of Victoria.

Failures to disclose include air pollution, deteriorating infrastructure, parasite infestations, contaminated water and disease risk. Relevant information has been withheld from potential victims, scientists and the media — in some cases for almost a decade, says the university’s Environmental Law Clinic following a study of six cases across B.C.

On Tuesday, the group asked the province’s information and privacy commissioner for a full investigation into what it says appears to be “an ongoing system-wide failure” by government to disclose in timely fashion information with clear public safety implications.

The pattern needs to be addressed “before a catastrophe occurs,” it warned.

“Concerns about ‘panicking’ the public must not become an excuse for withholding information,” the call for investigation says. “In many cases, the fact that the information is alarming is precisely why it must be disclosed.”

The submission, filed on behalf of the B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association, says that under provincial law, public bodies are required to act “without delay” in publicly disclosing information about any “risk of significant harm to the environment or to the health or safety of the public.”…

…In 2002 and 2003, back-to-back collapses occurred in wild pink salmon populations migrating between Vancouver Island and the mainland. Concerns were raised that sea lice infestations around fish farm pens might play a role.

“The scientific community lacked important data on the abundance of sea lice at particular farms,” the researchers noted. But although the province held detailed records, it “refused to release the data, instead prioritizing the concerns of the aquaculture industry that the data be kept confidential.”

Only eight years later, following a direct order from the office of the information and privacy commissioner, did the province eventually release the critical data to scientists investigating the role of sea lice in wild salmon losses in 2002 and 2003.

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About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.