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2014 Peoples’ Social Forum comes to Ottawa

2014 Peoples’ Social Forum, Ottawa

A Peoples’ Social Forum (PSF) which has been several years in the planning will occur at the University of Ottawa on August 21-24 and organizers are expecting thousands of people to attend. There will be …

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CRA audits of charities politically driven

Conservatives creating 'advocacy chill'

Canada Revenue Agency headquarters in Ottawa

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) is auditing at least a dozen environmental, poverty reduction and human rights organizations in what is a thinly-disguised attack by the Conservatives against groups that have dared to oppose …

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No to fracking in New Brunswick

Citizens launch “peoples” lawsuit

Anti-fracking protest in New Brunswick, 2013

People in New Brunswick have launched two lawsuits in an attempt to stop shale gas development, commonly known as fracking, in their province. One of the actions was launched against the Crown in the persons of the Health Minister and the Attorney General by individuals who belong to the New Brunswick Anti-shale Gas Alliance (NBASGA), an organization which represents 22 non-profit and community groups.

The second suit is against the provincial and federal governments and Houston-based Southwestern Energy Resources, a company involved in the exploration for shale gas. Popularly called the “peoples lawsuit” involves a group of 18 individuals, including an organic farmer who once lived and worked in Alberta, a Mi’kmaq woman and her Acadian husband, a sound technician, a Maliseet Grand Council leader, and 59-year-old Lorraine Clair, a Mi’kmaq woman who said she was arrested for protesting against SWN and ordered by the courts not to participate in any further demonstrations. Larry Kowalchuk, a lawyer based in Regina, Saskatchewan, is representing both of the New Brunswick groups.

Fracking is the short hand description for a process in which fractures in rocks below the earth’s surface are opened and widened by injecting chemicals and liquids at high pressure. Hydraulic fracking is the only way in which shale gas can be mined. The NBASGA argues in its statement of claim that chemicals used in fracking will permanently contaminate the water supply and fresh water aquifers with carcinogens and cause other environmental damage, including air pollution. The group says fracking poses such an extreme threat to human health and the environment that it violates Section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which guarantees all Canadians the right to security of their person.

The NBASGA points to a long list of organizations in New Brunswick — including doctors and nurses, local governments, First Nations,  environmental, union and church groups — who are calling for a moratorium on fracking until such a time as there is incontrovertible proof that it can be done safely.

The statement of claim says as well that Nova Scotia, Quebec, Newfoundland, the American states of New York and Vermont, as well as several nations including France, have all imposed a moratorium on the process of unconventional exploration for shale oil and gas.

CBC News also cites a recent report by 14 international experts commissioned by Environment Canada, which concluded that “data about potential environmental impacts [of hydraulic fracking] are neither sufficient nor conclusive.”

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Northern Gateway and Aboriginal rights

Poor process and environmental risk

Northern Gateway pipeline route. Sierra Club of Canada image

No one was surprised when the Harper government approved the 1,200-kilometre Northern Gateway pipeline, which would move diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat, B.C., along the west coast. There, the product would be loaded onto supertankers that will ply the pristine Douglas Channel and the coast before making its way to export markets in Asia.  This government, like those in other petro states, is close to the oil industry and has acted as its partner and advocate rather than as a guardian of the public interest.

There are many reasons why the pipeline should not be built, and they overlap. One is the danger of a major oil spill from a supertanker. Another is that Enbridge, the major corporate player involved, has a history of pipeline fractures, which spew oil into the lands and waters through which pipelines pass.

Other potent arguments are that the pipeline would run through lands claimed by First Nations and that the oil tankers traveling along the coast would do so adjacent to lands that belong to or are claimed by various First Nations. They have not been consulted in any significant way, even at this late stage when the National Energy Board says — and the government agrees — that the pipeline should go ahead.

Enbridge has been tone deaf in its dealings with First Nations. In one case, workers acting on behalf of the company razed a stand of ancient cedars which had been marked by the Haisla First Nation near Kitimat long before B.C. had even become a British colony. The Haisla have since made it clear that Enbridge employees are not welcome on their land.

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Revamping the carbon economy

Greening, alone, will not stop climate change

Greening is not enough, Creative Commons image
I have participated in numerous discussions about climate change and usually they veer off into talking about recycling, composting or church greening. But those efforts, while personally commendable, are completely inadequate.
“The key …

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Continuing to discuss climate change

It’s real. We caused it. But what do we do now?

IPCC scientists say climate change is real, Polaris Institute image
Early in April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued its fourth – and most urgent – report on …

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New Brunswick's shale gas protests

Dallas McQuarrie, New Brunswick shale gas protests

By Dallas McQuarrie, Saint-Ignace, New Brunswick

When 150 RCMP officers, a sniper team and dogs stormed a previously peaceful camp of those protesting against shale gas exploration near Rexton, New Brunswick on …

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Lac Mégantic rail disaster

Lac-Mégantic, Que. in flames. Sûreté du Québec photo

There is an important public policy backdrop to the disaster that befell the good people in Lac Mégantic, Quebec in July, when a freight train — with five locomotives and 72 tanker cars — jumped the tracks. The crude oil leaked and then exploded, killing at least 47 people, destroying much of the town, and contaminating the soil and a nearby lake.

The core responsibility of government is to protect its citizens from harm when at all possible. The question here is whether Ottawa has met its responsibility to safely regulate railway transportation. I was surprised to learn, for example, that there was but one engineer for the train. That driver had reached the limit of how many hours he could drive on that day and he left the train, unattended, on the tracks uphill from Lac Megantic while he went to a hotel to rest. In his absence, there was no one else attending the train.

Transport Canada allowed Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Inc. to operate in this way. The company, preposterously, has defended the one-engineer practice, saying that it is safer to have only one driver because that creates fewer distractions. I must say that I have always felt safer in a jetliner with a co-pilot aboard than I would if there were but one pilot.

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