Justice Cohen’s Get Out of Jail Free Card?

Within the week (“on or before 30 September, 2012”), Justice Bruce Cohen will finally close the door on Canada’s $25 million judicial inquiry into the decline of wild salmon after almost three years of public meetings, evidential hearings and heated discussion. 

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Photo: Justice Bruce Cohen at the public hearing in Lillooet in August 2010 smiling in front of the jail (with the Cohen Commission’s Director of Communications Carla Shore and Senior Commission Counsel Brian Wallace)


For more photos read “Cohen In Camera – Photo Review of the Salmon Inquiry


The stakes are high.  If Justice Cohen takes a hard-line approach, the Cohen Commission’s final report could see British Columbia’s salmon farming industry in the dock for spreading infectious diseases (and the Canadian Government for aiding and abetting in the cover-up).  

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However, the likeable Justice Cohen could well give the Canadian Government and the Norwegian-controlled salmon farming industry a ‘Get Out of Jail Free’ card despite calls to ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’.   

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Someone should be going to jail over this,” said John Werring of the David Suzuki Foundation in reaction to a secret Government report last year which detailed over 100 positive cases of ISA in farmed Atlantic salmon and wild Pacific salmon.  “Never in my over 20 years of doing my work have I seen such duplicity by our government.  The closest thing I can relate to is when whistle blowers in the U.S. released documents showing that tobacco companies knew their product harmed people. This document (2004 draft) shows our government has known for years that ISAV has been in the Pacific and they have done nothing except cover it up.  Appalling!”

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Read more via “Salmonopoly: Go to Jail, Go Directly to Jail, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200


“Call it Salmongate,” reported the LA Times last December.  “The deepening controversy over who knew what and when about a deadly virus that may or may not have been detected in West Coast salmon would be obscure fodder for biologists if there weren't so much at stake -- the health of the West's dwindling stocks of wild salmon, for one.  And Canada's $2.1-billion fish farming industry.”


Read more via “Did Canada cover up deadly salmon virus? Report suggests yes


Will the Cohen Commission provide justice for wild salmon or will the Canadian Government and Norwegian-owned salmon farming giants (who control over 90% of BC’s salmon farms) wriggle off the hook? 

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Even if Justice Cohen does get tough there is no guarantee that the Harper Government will abide by his recommendations.  “Whether Justice Cohen’s recommendations will have any sway on the Harper government’s current agenda is unlikely, but we can only hope that his report will not cater to the very things that put wild salmon at risk,” writes Elena Edwards in Wild Salmon First (24 September). 

“If nothing else, the Cohen Commission succeeded in one thing; it has clearly shown that government has been compromising wild salmon to death and that the DFO is in place not to protect wild fish but to protect the economic proceeds derived from the fish and oceans.  If wild salmon are to have a chance of surviving into the future they must be prioritized before open-net salmon farming, oil pipelines, and mass industrial practices that destroy salmon habitat.  In short, wild salmon must come first.” 

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The wait is nearly over.  Following repeated delays and extensions since it’s opening in November 2009, the Cohen Commission’s Terms of Reference now call for the final report to be submitted “on or before September 30, 2012”. 


“In completing his final report, Commissioner Bruce Cohen will consider all the evidence entered at evidentiary hearings and approximately 900 submissions from the public,” wrote the Cohen Commission in March 2012.  “More than 160 witnesses testified at the hearings, resulting in 14,000 pages of transcripts and 2,100 exhibits”. 


Justice Cohen received final submissions from a wide range of stakeholders including the BC Salmon Farmers Association, the First Nations Coalition, the Conservation Coalition and the Aquaculture Coalition.   Read more details online here


Meanwhile, the salmon farming industry, First Nations, fishermen and the people of British Columbia wait for Justice Cohen’s final report and the Canadian Government’s reaction with baited breath. 

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The Norwegian-controlled salmon farming industry, in particular, has a great deal of money riding on the Cohen Commission.  If Justice Cohen adopts the recommendations of First Nations, the Aquaculture Coalition and the Conservation Coalition then salmon farms located on the Fraser River sockeye migration route could be removed. 


The submission from the First Nations Coalition, for example, recommended “removal and relocation”:

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Moreover, if Justice Cohen blames disease-ridden salmon farms for the collapse of the multi-million dollar Fraser River sockeye fishery then the floodgates to legal action will surely be opened.


“Are your ministry and the Norwegian fish farmers adequately insured to cover damages if we find out BC is an ISAV suspect area, no one told us and it spreads because you did nothing?” asked Alexandra Morton in an open letter to the Canadian Fisheries Minister back in March 2011.    


“Until DFO recognizes that salmon farms amplify pathogens to dangerous levels, I will maintain my opinion that DFO has no intention of protecting wild salmon from salmon farms,” wrote Alexandra Morton in another open letter to DFO last week (20 September).  “I suspect you have been pressured to make it easier for the salmon farmers to collect insurance and apply for compensation.”


Certainly, Superheroes 4 Salmon thinks it is very rich of the Norwegian salmon farming industry to be claiming compensation for recent outbreaks of Infectious Hematopoietic Necrosis (IHN).   West Coast Environmental Law, for example, reported last month (14 August):

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Read more via “Will your tax dollars subsidize BC’s unsustainable fish farms?


If BC salmon farmers are successful in claiming compensation against wild salmon for spreading infectious diseases, then it beggars belief how much compensation those stakeholders dependent upon wild salmon would be eligible for if Justice Cohen rules against disease-ridden farmed salmon?  

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First Nations have already filed a class action lawsuit focused on the devastation caused by salmon farming on the wild salmon in Kwicksutaineuk/Ah-Kwa-Mish First Nation (KAFN)'s Territory around the Broughton Archipelago.


“When juvenile pink and chum salmon in our Territories attempt to migrate out to the ocean, they face a gauntlet of open net-pen salmon farms densely stocked with non-native Atlantic salmon,” said Bob Chamberlin, KAFN Chief and the Representative Plaintiff in the lawsuit in May 2012.  “These salmon feedlots cause the incubation, amplification and transmission of diseases and parasites to the wild juvenile salmon. The Cohen Commission of Inquiry into the Decline of the Fraser River Sockeye shone a pretty bright light on the evidence that was hidden by industry and our governments about the impacts of open net-pens, including introduced diseases.  What more are they hiding?”

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At last, the wait for Justice Cohen’s final report is nearly over.  Keep an eye on the Cohen Commission’s web-site this week as the Canadian Government and Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry wriggle for all their worth! 


Read blog in full online here