Open Letter to Government of British Columbia

The British Columbia government is using science as a containment strategy to avoid public debate about important policy decisions.

British Columbia has an environment and natural resources that make it an incredible place to live and work. Trends are emerging which threaten our beautiful province.

In BC, the environmental ministries have been decimated in both budgets and staff, leaving insufficient resources to care for our heritage through monitoring, enforcement, research, and planning. Park protection staff are being laid off and we fear the loss of the parks themselves. We see pollution regulation ignored, cut, or downloaded to overburdened local health officials. Even more alarming is the use and misuse of science. This government touts its dedication to policy based on sound science but the record suggests confusion about the role of science in decision making, if not outright trickery. Public input is dismissed. The way science is being used is deceptive in several ways.

The government lays off scientists or ignores them.
Staff have been cut from government ministries dealing with ecosystem management, endangered species, and land use planning. Those who remain face further job cuts and a horrific workload. BC Assets and Lands (now Land and Water BC) will no longer consult biologists before disposal of Crown wildlands. The Forest Practices Code now must depend on logging companies for ecosystem monitoring. The parks no longer have interpretation staff to teach visitors about the wildlife they have come to see. BC joins Mississippi as the only jurisdictions in North America to have no Interpretation Program.

The government ignored years of well-established science to overrule a Workers’ Compensation Board regulation that protected workers from exposure to the carcinogens in second hand tobacco smoke.
The government charges forward with policies that cry out for further research even while refusing to participate in, or demand, required science.
The provincial government lifted a moratorium on new fish farms, despite an appalling lack of science to address well known pollution and other risks. The province has selectively ignored, or modified, the recommendations of their own environmental review and is approving fish farms in places where they would have been off limits had those recommendations been followed. Both the provincial and federal governments are blatantly failing to do the research necessary to make an informed decision. At the same time, they exclude a large body of existing international research. The BC government is also putting pressure on Ottawa to adopt the province’s proposed standards on fish farm waste. These weak standards would allow significant pollution and would seriously undermine the authority of the federal Fisheries Act, one of the only laws that has real power to protect the environment.

Similarly, a Grizzly Harvest Panel was appointed and told to report after one year. Simultaneously, the government went ahead and re-opened the grizzly bear hunt in the face of widespread conservation concerns and doubts about the reliability of the province’s grizzly population estimates. To make things worse, the government is denying its own scientific panel access to grizzly kill location data, even though they told the panel to report on population levels.
The government manipulates science, even silencing scientists, to serve its own agenda.
The Science Panel on Offshore Oil Exploration was asked the narrow question of whether technology would allow lifting the offshore oil moratorium. The Terms of Reference should have included questions on whether the environment would be harmed and what impacts could be expected on fish, whales, and other aquatic life. Two of the three panel members were engineers and there were no specialists on marine mammals or marine ecology. Despite government assertions that the science panel was necessary to inform public debate on the moratorium, this report is being held secret. Politicians will make their decision before the public knows the contents of the report!
The government uses science selectively, carefully choosing the questions so that the answers are foregone conclusions.
The latest misuse of science is the AOX Science Panel, struck to re-examine the scientific basis for BC’s pulp effluent regulation. As it stands, the regulation would require pulp mills to finally reduce their organochlorine (AOX) waste to zero by the end of 2002. The AOX law is a legacy of a massive citizen’s movement during the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The Panel, forced by government Terms of Reference to focus solely on harm to aquatic life, was composed of two engineers and one chemist – no biologists, toxicologists, geneticists or ecosystem specialists. For “open and transparent” process, the panel accepted electronic scientific submissions for ten days before their report was released, and held a two-hour public meeting afterward. The bar for proving harm was so high that many health measures would not pass the test. The narrow Terms of Reference meant that the Panel could not consider legitimate elements of public policy such as worker and community health and safety, the relation of chlorine elimination to reduction of other mill pollutants – including air pollution, and the links between this regulation and a sustainable, modern, and efficient industry.

One notable exception to the pattern is the Drinking Water Panel. This panel, to the surprise of many, made public a series of strong recommendations. The contrast with the other panels is clear. This panel had broad representation from the community, public sector, industry and health sector, including a wide range of experts in various fields. It operated independently and was allowed to study all relevant issues. The panel was permitted to release its findings publicly.

These are hallmarks of how science can, and should, be used to help society make decisions, instead of pre-empting or misdirecting debate. The Drinking Water Panel’s recommendations have not yet been implemented.

The Public Service Employees for Environmental Ethics recommend that, to avoid the concerns discussed above:
Science review processes must be open, so that the public has input into the Terms of Reference;
The specialists involved should form an appropriate cross-section from many disciplines and sectors, including governments and environmental organizations; and
Science review should be a valuable part of policy formulation, but not to the exclusion of public input.
The people of BC and the world need to know that this government is acting in bad faith. Its lack of respect for critical scientific, health and environmental issues is, in the long run, bad for business. An open and inclusive process incorporates public input and independent science, not sleight-of-hand manipulation to suit the government’s political agenda.

What we have, instead, is a slide into a deregulated, ideological free-for-all. Science is being misused, misinterpreted and misrepresented by our government. This containment strategy is not the way to health or sustainability. Neither the people nor the environment will benefit.


Signed by:
Alberni Environmental Coalition, Port Alberni BC
BC Government and Service Employees Union, BC
BC Watershed Stewardship Alliance, Vancouver BC
BC Watershed Stewardship Alliance Okanagan-Similkameen-Boundary Region, Kelowna BC
Bulkley Valley Sustainable Development Circle, Smithers BC
Burke Mountain Naturalists, Coquitlam BC
Campaign against the Adams Mine, New Lieskerd Ont
Canadian EarthCare Society, Kelowna BC
Canadian Reforestation & Environmental Workers Society (CREWS), Vancouver BC
Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society, Williams Lake BC
Cold Mountain, Cold Rivers, Missoula Montana
Council of Canadians, Vancouver Chapter
Council of Canadians, Victoria Chapter
David Suzuki Foundation, Vancouver BC
Environmental Mining Council of BC, Victoria BC
Federation of BC Naturalists. Vancouver BC
ForestEthics, Smithers/Winlaw BC, Berkeley CA
Friends of Brandt’s Creek, Kelowna BC
Georgia Strait Alliance, Nanaimo BC
Granby Wilderness Society, Grand Forks BC
Green Party of BC, Vancouver BC
Greenpeace Canada, Toronto ON
Labour Environmental Alliance Society, BC
Living Oceans Society, Sointula BC
Okanagan Simlkameen Parks Society, Summerland BC
Pitt River and Area Watershed Network, Coquitlam BC
Pulp Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, Vancouver BC
Raincoast Conservation Society, Victoria BC
Reach for Unbleached, Vancouver BC
Rivershed Society of British Columbia, Vancouver BC
Shuswap Environmental Action Society, Chase BC
Sierra Club of BC, Victoria BC
Sunshine Coast Conservation Association, Gibsons BC
Sunshine Coast Forest Watch, Gibsons BC
Sunshine Coast Water First, Gibsons BC
T. Buck Suzuki Foundation, Vancouver BC
Toronto Environmental Alliance, Toronto Ont
Tuwanek Ratepayers Association, District of Sechelt BC

And Businesses and Individuals:

Adams Mine Newsletter, Toronto Ont
Applied Conservation GIS, Quadra Island
Kit Malo, Artists against Corporations, Montreal Quebec
Andreas Artz, Aboriginal Interest Department, Little Shuswap Indian Band, Chase BC
Alan W. and Uta A. Bangay, environmentalists, Sechelt BC
Eric Baron, Graduate Student, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby BC
John M. Baxter, retired Geologist, B.Sc. and Rosemary Baxter, BFA., Salt Spring Island BC
Graham Boffey, retired toxicologist, Gulf Islands BC
Shirley Bradley, BSc., Kamloops BC
Howard Breen, CHAYA Communications Inc., Gabriola BC
Bob Brett, forest ecologist, Whistler BC
Eric Brown, student, Campbell River BC
Heide Brown, principle, Martin Park Communications, Gabriola BC
Warren Brubacher, recycling consultant, Toronto Ont
Joop Burgerjon, P.Eng., Halfmoon Bay BC
Colin Campbell, Victoria BC
Jackie Campbell, community organizer, Maple Ridge BC
Philip Carter, BSc (Hons), environmental writer, North Vancouver BC
Dr. R Chipeniuk, Smithers BC
Coast Mountain Expeditions, Read Island BC
Gershon Cohen, PhD, Director Campaign to Safeguard America’s Waters, Earth Island Institute, Haines Alaska
Jim Cooperman, Chase BC
Mel Coulson, P Eng., Telkwa BC
Guy Dauncey, author and consultant, Victoria BC
Christoph Dietzfelbinger, Bear Enterprises Ltd., Smithers BC
Peter Doig, graduate student, Bio-Resource Engineering, University of British Columbia
Eva Durance, naturalist and writer, Penticton, BC
Eric Faulks, water student, New Denver BC
Irving Fox, Professor Emeritus, University of British Columbia, and Rosemary Fox, Smithers BC
Laurie Gallant, Zero Waste consultant, Smithers BC
Bryan R. Gates, MSc, RPBio, Victoria BC
Bonny Glambeck & Dan Lewis, Rainforest Kayak Adventures, Tofino B.C.
John Grogan, Valemount BC
Dr. A. Juergen Hansen, Facilitator, The Green Group, Summerland BC
Robert Harlow, author, Mayne Island BC
Don Harrison, Victoria BC
Sandy Hart, P.Geo., Tatla Lake BC
Bill Heidrick, Chair of the Nootka Resource Board, Zeballos BC
Marisa Herrera, activist, Victoria BC
Yolande House, Fredericton NB
Frank Hovenden, director, Comox Valley Naturalists Society, Courtenay BC
Kevan Hudson, director, Ogoni Solidarity Network, Richmond BC
Michael Hughes, Vancouver BC
Vicky Husband, Order of Canada, Victoria BC
Shelagh Huston, economist, Oikonomia Consulting, Gabriola BC
Lannie & Ralph Keller, Quadra Island BC
Oliver Kellhammer, sustainable agriculture instructor, Whaletown BC
Will Koop, coordinator, BC Tap Water Alliance, Vancouver BC
Arleen Janzen, teacher, Coquitlam BC
Ann Johnston, Mayne Island BC
Ingmar Lee, student, Victoria BC
Eva Lyman, freelance writer, Celista BC
Joyce Mackie, Victoria BC
Sheila Malcolmson, Gabriola BC
Dale Marshall, resource policy analyst, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC
Dr. C. J. Milsum, editor and law student, Victoria BC
Barrie M. Morrison, PhD., Pender Island BC
Jay Mussell, director, Coastal Community Credit Union, Gabriola BC
Dr. Annette Muttray, environmental microbiologist, Vancouver BC
Stefan Ochman, biologist, Bamfield BC
Rick O’Neill, wildlife photographer, Roberts Creek BC
Stuart Parker, Vancouver BC
Tom Pater, Director Electoral Area G, Comox-Strathcona Regional District, Kyuquot/Nootka BC
David Pinel, planning consultant, Courtenay BC
Maxx Pinsky, student, Gabriola Island BC
Dr. James Pond, Vancouver BC
Raincoast Research, Simoom Sound BC
Karen Rinehart-Pidcock, Christian activist-Earth lover, Kaslo BC
Joe Rosenblatt, writer, artist, Qualicum Beach BC
Jordan Rosenfeld, biologist, Vancouver BC
Dr. Jack Ross, Professor Emeritus, Argenta BC
James Rowed, Forest and soils technician, Hudson’s Hope BC
Joan Sell, retired, Quadra Island BC
Andy Shadrack, political scientist, Kaslo BC
David Shipway, builder/woodworker, Cortes Island BC
George Sirk, Director Electoral Area I, Comox-Strathcona Regional District, Cortes Island BC
Dr. Michael Smialowski, Smithers BC
Faye Smith, MMus. music teacher, Qualicum Beach BC
Ione M. Smith, Bsc. Soils technician, University of Guelph, Ontario
Cristina Soto, Doctoral student, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC
Sara J. Steil, Pender Island BC
Dave Stevens, CHOKED, Smithers BC
Geza Vamos, owner EcoMountain Tours, Vancouver BC
WaveLength Magazine, Gabriola BC
Danny & Sandy Welch, Read Island, BC
Sue Wheeler, poet, farmer, Lasqueti Island BC