Peace and Eco Briefs, October–December 2013

Peace and Environment News, October–December 2013
by Mike Buckthought

Protecting Algonquin Park

EarthOn July 19, the Ontario government announced that 96,089 hectares of land in Algonquin Park will be protected from logging. The protected land includes some new nature reserve zones, wilderness zones and natural environment zones. Logging will continue in many other areas of the provincial park. According to the updated management plan, logging is not permitted in 264,674 hectares (34.7% of the provincial park’s area). Because some other areas of the park are not suitable for industrial logging operations, about 48.8% of the park’s land is free from clearcuts. Algonquin Provincial Park encompasses a total area of 763,459 hectares. (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, July 19, 2013; Ottawa Citizen, July 19, 2013; Algonquin Park Management Plan Amendment, June 14, 2013)

Landmark Legal Decision

On July 22, an Ontario Superior Court judge ruled that three lawsuits against the Canadian mining company HudBay Minerals Inc. can proceed. The judgment will allow 13 Mayan Guatemalans to seek justice in Canadian courts. They allege that HudBay and its subsidiary are responsible for incidents of violence in Guatemala. The community activist Adolfo Ich Chamán was killed by security personnel. During another incident, 11 women were raped by security personnel, police and soldiers. The ruling by Justice Carole Brown sets an important legal precedent. In the future, Canadian mining corporations may be held responsible for human rights abuses and harmful environmental practices in other countries. (Globe and Mail, July 23, 2013; Choc v. HudBay Minerals Inc. and Caal v. HudBay Minerals Inc.,

Radioactive Exports Suspended

Bruce Power has suspended plans to ship 16 radioactive steam generators to a recycling company in Sweden. Before they were decommissioned, the generators were used in the Bruce A nuclear power plant. The radioactive generators would be shipped via the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Many people have voiced concerns about the potential for an accident that could affect the drinking water for many communities. The company has denied that it is responding to strong public opposition. A company spokesperson says Bruce Power will continue its efforts to build support for plans to ship the radioactive waste to Europe. (CBC News, July 28, 2013; Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, September 21, 2010)

New Climate Report

The New York Times and Reuters revealed some key findings from a leaked draft of a report prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The climate report includes some predictions for increases in sea levels. Without decisive action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, sea levels could rise as much as a metre by the end of the century. Many coastal cities could be threatened by flooding. A new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change concludes that economic losses related to rising sea levels could reach $1 trillion annually by mid-century. The study estimated flood losses for the world’s 136 largest coastal cities. (New York Times, August 19, 2013; Nature Climate Change, August 18, 2013)

Mike Buckthought is a writer based in Ottawa.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 28, Number 4, October–December 2013, page 2.

Peace and Eco Briefs, July–August 2013

Peace and Environment News — Insider, July–August 2013
by Mike Buckthought

EU Pesticide Ban Protects Bees

Earth The European Commission has announced that it will protect honey bees by restricting the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides. Effective December 1, the European Union will restrict the use of the pesticides clothianidin, imidacloprid and thiametoxam for a period of two years. The ban is backed by European Food Safety Authority scientists who identified the risks posed to bees by the three pesticides. Recent studies have found that neonicotinoid pesticides can harm honey bees. Over the past decade, there has been a dramatic collapse of bee populations. Taking action to protect bees will help support food security and biodiversity. Bees provide pollination for a wide range of food crops and wild plants. (European Commission, April 29, 2013; European Food Safety Authority, January 16, 2013)

March Against Monsanto

On May 25, an estimated two million people joined “March Against Monsanto” protests in over 430 cities around the world. Protesters voiced their concerns about the dangers posed by genetically modified (GM) food. Biotechnology corporations such as Monsanto are responding to public pressure. Monsanto is quietly abandoning efforts to push for the approval of new GM crops in most of Europe, thanks to strong public opposition. Monsanto spokesperson Thomas Helscher told Reuters that Monsanto would sell GM seeds “only where they enjoy broad farmer support, broad political support and a functioning regulatory system.” Monsanto plans to end efforts to produce GM corn in Europe, with the exception of Spain, Portugal and the Czech Republic. (CBC News, May 25, 2013; Reuters, May 31, 2013; Canadian Biotechnology Action Network, June 5, 2013)

Fracking Threatens National Park

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee plans to send a monitoring mission to evaluate the risks of fracking near Gros Morne National Park, on Newfoundland’s west coast. Delegates meeting in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, discussed the threats posed by oil exploration. The park was designated a World Heritage site in 1987. However, Black Spruce Exploration and Shoal Point Energy Limited plan to drill exploratory wells just outside the park’s boundary. According to UNESCO, the park provides “a rare example of the process of continental drift, where deep ocean crust and the rocks of the earth’s mantle lie exposed.” Gros Morne is known for its spectacular cliffs, fjords and glacial valleys. The World Heritage designation could be removed if the committee finds that the park is threatened by fracking. (CBC News, May 17, 2013 and June 19, 2013; The Canadian Press, June 20, 2013)

Canada’s Flawed Legislation

International organizations around the world are expressing concerns about Bill S‑10, Canada’s flawed cluster munition legislation. Canada signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008, but has yet to ratify it by passing implementation legislation. The international treaty saves the lives of civilians by banning the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions. However, Canada’s proposed legislation includes loopholes that would allow Canadian soldiers to use or transport cluster munitions, when joint military operations involve a country that is not a party to the Convention. In June, Norway and the International Committee of the Red Cross raised their concerns, adding to a growing list of countries and organizations that have criticized Canada’s flawed draft legislation. A total of 112 countries have joined the Convention on Cluster Munitions. (Mines Action Canada, June 12, 2013; Cluster Munition Coalition, June 12, 2013; The Canadian Press, June 17, 2013)

Ontario Introduces Anti-SLAPP Bill

The Ontario government is introducing legislation to protect people from strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs). SLAPPs have been used by some corporations to silence public criticism. The effect is to limit public debate about the impacts of proposed projects, and undermine the rights of people to participate in public decision-making processes. For example, a developer may push for a new subdivision in an old-growth forest, and sue a community organization that opposes the project. The community organization would be burdened with exorbitant legal costs. The proposed legislation would provide a review process that would halt SLAPPs that interfere with public participation. (Ottawa Citizen, June 4, 2013; Ecojustice and the Canadian Environmental Law Association, November 2010)

Mike Buckthought is a writer based in Ottawa.

Published in the Peace and Environment News Insider, Volume 28, Number 3, July–August 2013, page 6.

Peace and Eco Briefs, April–June 2013

Peace and Environment News — Insider, April–June 2013
by Mike Buckthought

Melting Sea Ice

EarthResearchers are using satellite data to measure the loss of Arctic sea ice. Between the autumn of 2003 and the autumn of 2012, the volume of Arctic sea ice has declined by 36 percent. “The data reveals that thick sea ice has disappeared from a region to the north of Greenland, the Canadian Archipelago, and to the northeast of Svalbard,” says Katharine Giles, a member of the international scientific team. The researchers used data from the European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 satellite, and NASA’s ICESat satellite. (American Geophysical Union, February 13, 2013; Geophysical Research Letters, February 28, 2013)

Canada’s Disappearing Glaciers

A fifth of the glaciers in Canada’s Arctic Archipelago could disappear by the year 2100 because of global warming, according to a study published in Geophysical Research Letters. The melting of the glaciers will raise sea levels by an estimated 3.5 cm by the end of the century. The study is based on a global temperature increase of 3 degrees Celsius, corresponding to an increase of 8 degrees Celsius in the Arctic. The Canadian Arctic Archipelago contains the third largest volume of glacier ice, after Antarctica and Greenland. (Agence France Presse, March 7, 2013; Geophysical Research Letters, March 7, 2013)

Experimental Lakes Area

Scientists are urging the Harper government to cancel plans to mothball the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) research facility in northern Ontario. A number of international environmental research projects are based at the facility. However, scientists have been unable to get clear answers about the fate of the ELA. According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the ELA will no longer receive funding past the end of March. Closing the ELA threatens key research projects, including the Mercury Experiment to Assess Atmospheric Loading in Canada and the United States (METAALICUS) project. This international initiative studies the bioaccumulation of mercury. (CBC News, March 20, 2013)

Protests in Greece

On March 9, over 20,000 people took to the streets of Thessaloniki, Greece, to demonstrate against a Canadian company’s mining project. There is strong opposition to Vancouver-based Eldorado Gold’s plan to excavate a gold mine in Halkidiki, a picturesque peninsula in northern Greece. Opposition to the project is growing, with many people blocking access to roads leading to the site. Residents of Halkidiki are concerned about the health and environmental impacts of toxic chemicals such as arsenic and cyanide. The mine could also threaten the livelihoods of people who depend on tourism and agriculture. (Alterthess, March 9, 2013)

Solar Glass Generates Electricity

The British company Oxford Photovoltaics has developed transparent solar panels that can be incorporated in the walls and roofs of buildings to generate electricity. The panels are made by screen printing a thin layer of solar cell materials on glass. Because the panels are made from glass, they are transparent. The panels can be integrated into the facades of existing or new buildings. The company is gearing up to build a manufacturing plant, with trials planned for the end of 2014. (The Guardian, February 12, 2013; Oxford Photovoltaics

Mike Buckthought is a writer based in Ottawa.

Published in the Peace and Environment News Insider, Volume 28, Number 2, April–June 2013, page 8.

Canada’s Endangered Environmental Laws

Peace and Environment News, January–March 2013
by Mike Buckthought

On December 14, the Senate passed another omnibus bill, Bill C-45. The omnibus bills C-38 and C-45 have seriously weakened Canada’s key environmental laws. By bundling so many amendments in two massive bills, the Harper government avoided any meaningful debate in the House of Commons. The omnibus bills made far-reaching changes to environmental legislation, including the Fisheries Act, the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

  • Bill C-38 repealed the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, which was passed in 2007 to ensure that Canada would implement a climate plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On December 12, 2011, Environment Minister Peter Kent announced that Canada would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol.
  • Bill C-45 made substantial changes to the Navigable Waters Protection Act (NWPA). It is now known as the Navigation Protection Act. The bodies of water that are covered by the legislation are listed in Schedule 2 of the bill. The list includes 97 lakes, 55 rivers, six canals and the oceans. The vast majority of Canada’s lakes and rivers are not protected by the weakened legislation.
  • Bill C-38 gutted the Fisheries Act, by removing protection for fish habitat and allowing the Fisheries Minister to authorize water pollution. The Minister is given extensive powers to introduce regulations “authorizing the deposit of deleterious substances.” These regulations may specify the toxic substances to be released, and the bodies of water that may be harmed. If one lake is not large enough to hold the toxic tailings from a mine, it is always possible for the Minister to designate “places falling within a class of waters or places.” The quantities and concentrations of toxic substances may be specified by the regulations.
  • Bill C-38 repealed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA). This was one of Canada’s key environmental laws. Under the CEAA, environmental assessments evaluated the long-term health and environmental impacts of proposed projects. Harmful impacts were identified, and alternatives could be recommended. Three levels of assessments could be conducted: screenings, comprehensive studies or review panels.
  • The CEAA was replaced by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012). Federal environmental assessments are no longer required if there is a provincial process in place. At first glance, this appears to be a way to avoid duplication. In reality, it will clear the way for the approval of harmful industrial projects. The less stringent provincial reviews will not consider the complete range of environmental impacts.
  • There will be a dramatic drop in the number of environmental assessments. Under the old legislation, assessments were triggered if certain pre-conditions were met. Under the new legislation, most projects will no longer require a federal assessment. Assessments will be required if a project is included in a designated project list. The list was hastily established using “recycled” regulations, without any opportunities for public comment.
  • CEAA 2012 provides short time limits for the completion of an environmental assessment. An assessment must be completed within 365 days, or 24 months if it is referred to a review panel. The imposition of mandatory time limits threatens the environmental assessment process. With a compressed timeline, there will be fewer opportunities for the public to be involved. There will also be limited opportunities for researchers to collect the scientific data needed to adequately assess a project.
  • Public participation in some environmental reviews may be limited, because of new requirements that participants must be “directly affected” by a project. This could limit opposition to energy projects, especially in remote areas that are sparsely populated. With this restriction in place, someone who happens to live in Ottawa or Vancouver might not be allowed to comment on a proposed pipeline in northern British Columbia.
  • Bill C-45 created the Bridge to Strengthen Trade Act. No environmental assessment will be required for the new international bridge linking Windsor and Detroit. The project is also exempt from any obligations under the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act and the Navigation Protection Act.

To learn more about recent changes to Canada’s environmental laws, visit West Coast Environmental Law (, Save Canada’s Environmental Laws ( or Ecojustice (

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental issues.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 28, Number 1, January–March 2013, page 8.

Peace and Eco Briefs, January–March 2013

Peace and Environment News, January–March 2013
by Mike Buckthought

Community Activists Stop Megaquarry

EarthOntario farmers and activists are celebrating after The Highland Companies cancelled its plan to excavate a quarry in Melancthon Township. The limestone quarry would have destroyed 2,300 hectares of prime agricultural land north of Toronto. The province ordered a full environmental assessment of the controversial project. In October, local farmers, chefs and musicians organized Foodstock, a fundraiser and celebration of the harvest. Around 28,000 people attended the event, held on a farm near the proposed site of the quarry. The company finally gave in to public pressure. On November 21, Highland announced that it had withdrawn its application for the megaquarry. (Torontoist, October 18 and November 21, 2012; Toronto Star, November 21, 2012)

Canada Falls to 58th Place on Climate

Canada fell to 58th place in the annual Climate Change Performance Index, which ranks countries according to their climate policies and actions. The top three countries are Denmark, Sweden and Portugal. The ranking puts Canada near the very bottom of the list, with only Kazakhstan, Iran and Saudi Arabia lagging behind. Canada’s climate policies, level of emissions, and share of renewable energy were rated as “very poor.” According to the report, “Canada still shows no intentions to move forward on climate policy and thereby leave its place as the worst performer of all western countries.” The annual index is produced by Germanwatch and Climate Action Network Europe. (Climate Action Network, December 3, 2012; Climate Change Performance Index 2013, December 3, 2012)

Ottawa Treaty a Success

Over the past 15 years, an international treaty has led to a dramatic drop in landmine casualties. The 1997 Land Mine Treaty (also known as the Ottawa Convention) was negotiated with the participation of governments and non-governmental organizations. The number of landmine casualties has dropped over the past decade, from around 32 casualties a day to about 12 a day. There has also been a lot of progress in the removal of mines. Over the past 10 years, 3.1 million landmines were removed from the ground. However, there has been a sharp 30% decline in funding for victim assistance programs. This has affected the availability of assistance for survivors. The Ottawa Treaty is a successful international accord, but Canada has reduced its annual contributions from $30 million in 2010 to $17 million. (Ottawa Citizen, November 30, 2012; Mines Action Canada, December 3, 2012; Landmine Monitor 2012)

Polluter Pays

A U.S. District Court judge in Washington State has ruled that Teck Metals is liable for contamination of the Columbia River. From 1930 to 1995, the Canadian corporation’s smelter in Trail, B.C., discharged over 9 million tonnes of slag and effluent directly into the river. South of the border, the Columbia River and Lake Roosevelt are contaminated with lead, mercury, arsenic and other toxic substances. The ruling allows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to force Teck to pay for the cleanup costs. For decades, people have expressed concerns about pollution from the lead and zinc smelter. A Harvard study found that residents of nearby Northport, Washington, have high rates of gastrointestinal diseases such as Crohn’s disease and colitis. (Canadian Press, September 10 and December 14, 2012; CBC News, August 14, 2012; Washington State Department of Ecology, December 14, 2012)

Uranium Mining in Saskatchewan

The northern Saskatchewan village of Pinehouse has signed a controversial agreement with the uranium mining corporations Cameco and Areva Resources Canada. According to a draft agreement circulated in November, the leaders of Pinehouse would “make reasonable efforts” to ensure that residents do not criticize or interfere with uranium mining. The final text was made public after it was signed. Under the terms of the deal, Pinehouse must support existing and proposed industry operations. In return, the village will receive payments ranging from $200,000 to $1 million. Many Saskatchewan citizens are concerned that their communities are being targeted by the nuclear industry and the Nuclear Waste Management Organization. The communities are potential sites for a repository that would store radioactive waste from Canada’s nuclear reactors. (Saskatoon StarPhoenix, November 27 and December 13, 2012; Committee for Future Generations, December 12, 2012)

Mike Buckthought is a writer and environmental activist based in Ottawa.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 28, Number 1, January–March 2013, page 6.

Peace and Eco Briefs, November–December 2012

Peace and Environment News — Insider, November–December 2012
by Mike Buckthought

Omnibudget Guts Protection for Waterways

EarthThe latest omnibus budget bill (Bill C‑45) introduces changes that would gut one of Canada’s most important environmental laws. The Navigable Waters Protection Act requires federal approval for projects that affect navigable waterways. If the amendments pass, the legislation would only apply to 97 lakes, 62 rivers and the three oceans. The act would no longer apply to tens of thousands of lakes and rivers across Canada — clearing the way for oil pipelines, mines and hydroelectric projects. The 443-page omnibus bill introduces changes to over 60 different acts. Because these far-reaching changes are combined in one bill, there will be limited opportunities for debate in the House of Commons. (Canada NewsWire, October 18, 2012; Globe and Mail, October 18, 2012)

Clean Water Act

While Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was introducing the newly minted omnibus bill, Americans celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. This key law came into effect on October 18, 1972. Before the law was introduced, corporations and municipalities were free to dump untreated sewage and toxic chemicals into lakes and rivers. Two-thirds of the country’s waterways were too polluted for swimming. Ohio’s Cuyahoga River caught fire on a number of occasions, thanks to the ever-present oil pollution. Over the past four decades, the Clean Water Act has led to significant improvements in water quality across the United States. (New York Times, October 16, 2012; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, October 18, 2012)

B.C. Mine Rejected

The B.C. government has rejected a proposed copper and gold mine near Morrison Lake, 65 km northeast of Smithers. An environmental assessment revealed that the mine would threaten sockeye salmon and water quality in the region. The Lake Babine Nation has opposed Pacific Booker Minerals Inc.’s mining application because of concerns about the impacts on salmon in the First Nation’s territory. “Sockeye salmon is a renewable resource at the heart of our culture and communities,” says Chief Wilf Adam of Lake Babine Nation. “We can’t risk trading a renewable, sustainable fishery for a non-renewable mine that will leave a legacy of contaminants and toxins in our territory,” he says. (Lake Babine Nation, October 2012; Globe and Mail, October 1, 2012)

Disappearing Arctic Sea Ice

On September 16, the area of Arctic sea ice fell to the lowest ever recorded. The Arctic sea ice extent reached 3.41 million square kilometres, about half of the 1979–2000 average. The rapid collapse of the Arctic ice cap will have serious implications for species such as polar bears. Some experts are predicting that polar bears will disappear in many regions of the Arctic. Meanwhile, the area covered by Antarctic sea ice has increased. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, stronger circumpolar winds are pushing the Antarctic ice outward, increasing the total area. (National Snow and Ice Data Center, October 2, 2012; The Guardian, September 19, 2012; PostMedia News, September 21, 2012)

Averting Nuclear Armageddon

A new historical project reveals that the world came close to being devastated by nuclear war. The October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was a pivotal point in history. Surveillance aircraft spotted Soviet missiles, capable of hitting American cities with nuclear weapons. The United States and the Soviet Union came close to engaging in a nuclear confrontation. University of Waterloo historians Jim Blight and Janet Lang document the Cold War crisis in a new book, The Armageddon Letters. They say the world is still threatened by nuclear war, and we need to learn from history — to save the world from armageddon, we need to eliminate nuclear weapons. (Ottawa Citizen, October 16, 2012; The Armageddon Letters,

Mike Buckthought is a writer and environmental activist based in Ottawa.

Published in the Peace and Environment News Insider, Volume 27, Number 5, November–December 2012, page 6.

A Funeral for Canadian Science

Peace and Environment News, September–October 2012
by Mike Buckthought

Death of Evidence rally, Ottawa, July 10, 2012. Photo by Richard Webster.

Death of Evidence rally, Ottawa, July 10, 2012. Photo by Richard Webster.

On July 10, 2012, hundreds of Canadian researchers and concerned citizens marched to Parliament Hill to protest the government’s unprecedented war on science. Protesters wore lab coats, or dressed in black to mourn the “death of evidence.”

At the front of a mock funeral procession, a black-robed Grim Reaper carried a scythe, symbolizing the budget cuts that have killed many research projects. Following behind the Grim Reaper, pallbearers carried a coal black coffin.

Many protesters carried placards with messages mourning the loss of important environmental research programs. People highlighted the federal government’s decision to cut funding for the world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area (ELA). “It doesn’t matter how much water you have if it’s all polluted. Save ELA,” read one placard.

The ELA is just one example of a research program that has been cut. Recent government decisions have seriously undermined our ability to develop sound environmental policies based on scientific evidence. “Canadians want science-based policy, not ideology,” said one placard.

The procession continued down Wellington Street, a river of white and black leading to Parliament Hill. Along the way, people chanted “No science, no evidence, no truth, no democracy.” A rally on the Hill featured speakers from the scientific community and non-governmental organizations such as the Council of Canadians.

“We are all here today to commemorate the untimely death of evidence in Canada. After a long battle with the current federal government, evidence has suffered its final blow,” said rally organizer Katie Gibbs.

“Between the sweeping cuts to federal science programs, the legislation changes that we saw in Bill C‑38, and the muzzling of scientists, the injuries to evidence have just been overwhelming.”

The speakers delivered “eulogies” criticizing recent actions of the federal government.

“The risks of living in a fantasy world at this point in history are very grave,” said Dr. Arme Moores, professor of biodiversity at Simon Fraser University.

Moores said the government appears to be “retreating from reality” at a time when there are serious threats to our water, food and the environment. “When countries engage in fantasy, it’s called state propaganda,” he said.

Another speaker criticized the government’s attempts to silence scientists, and recent changes to the Fisheries Act.

“The federal government has weakened national fisheries and environmental legislation, trivialized the relevance of scientific advice, and eliminated government scientific research of fundamental importance to the health of Canadians,” said Jeff Hutchings, a professor of biology at Dalhousie University.

“Freedom of expression is no longer a right enjoyed by Canadian government scientists,” he said. “When you inhibit the communication of science, you inhibit science. When you inhibit science, you inhibit the acquisition of knowledge.”

At a time when many species are threatened by climate change, industrial pollution and loss of habitat, it is essential to support environmental research. The death of evidence leads to the death of species.

Canadians will not be content to live in a country that turns its back on scientific research. Such an approach is dangerous, at a time when our survival is threatened by global warming. In future years, the Death of Evidence rally will no doubt be seen as a turning point. After years of budget cuts and the silencing of scientists, people are ready to speak out.

For photos, videos and background information about cuts to environmental research in Canada, visit the Death of Evidence website:

Mike Buckthought is a writer and environmental researcher based in Ottawa.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 27, Number 4, September–October 2012, page 1.

Cuts to Environmental Research

Peace and Environment News, September–October 2012
by Mike Buckthought

Death of Evidence rally, Ottawa, July 10, 2012. Photo by Richard Webster.

Death of Evidence rally, Ottawa, July 10, 2012. Photo by Richard Webster.

Following the July 10 “Death of Evidence” rally in Ottawa, the scientific journal Nature featured an editorial commenting on the Harper government’s cuts to research. “The sight last week of 2,000 scientists marching on Ottawa’s Parliament Hill highlighted a level of unease in the Canadian scientific community that is unprecedented in living memory,” the journal noted.

Over the past six years, we have seen an unprecedented attack on scientific research, with many cuts focused on environmental programs:

  • Budget cuts have hit Environment Canada, Fisheries and Oceans, and other government departments.
  • The world-renowned Experimental Lakes Area will be closed. It is a unique research facility in Northwestern Ontario that has operated since 1968.
  • The federal government is axing funding for Canada’s Research Tools and Instruments Grants Program (RTI). This key program funds purchases of research equipment. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) is holding one last competition, with reduced funding compared to previous years.
  • The Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is losing $400,000 annual funding from NSERC. Thousands of scientists from around the world use the station, located on the west coast of Vancouver Island.
  • The Polar Environment Atmospheric Research Laboratory (PEARL) ceased year-round operations in April 2012. This was a unique research station in Eureka, Nunavut, that played a key role in monitoring the depletion of ozone over the Arctic. The ozone layer shields us from ultraviolet rays that can cause skin cancer.
  • The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE) published reports on climate change, energy efficiency, air pollution and other important issues. Its funding was eliminated in the recent federal budget.
  • Since 1961, the Kluane Lake Research Station has allowed researchers to study Yukon’s glaciers. Improving our knowledge of glaciers leads to better climate modelling. The station’s federal funding was axed. Without additional funding, the centre will be forced to close.
  • Layoffs at Fisheries and Oceans will limit the department’s ability to assess the environmental impacts of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline. According to documents obtained by the Canadian Press, the department was not able to complete an environmental risk assessment for the nearly 1,000 streams and rivers that would be crossed by a pipeline. The department “has not conducted a complete review of all proposed crossings,” however “this work will continue.”
  • Environment Canada researchers are required to follow a restrictive media relations protocol. Scientists wait for approvals from bureaucrats that do not understand the research. Because of the cumbersome approvals process, journalists miss their deadlines and do not report on groundbreaking research. Some scientists have been directed not to talk to the media about their research.

Mike Buckthought writes about environmental issues.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 27, Number 4, September–October 2012, page 6.

Peace and Eco Briefs, July–August 2012

Peace and Environment News — Insider, July–August 2012
by Mike Buckthought

Canada’s Endangered Environmental Laws

EarthThe House of Commons recently passed the omnibus budget bill (Bill C-38) after a marathon voting session. Bill C-38 will weaken Canada’s environmental legislation, paving the way for pipelines and pollution. According to Environment Minister Peter Kent, “approximately 4,000–5,000 EAs (environmental assessments) are conducted by federal authorities every year.” Kent says under the new legislation, most of these projects “would no longer require a federal EA.” On June 4, thousands of Canadians joined the Black Out, Speak Out online protest to speak out against legislation that threatens the environment. Over 500 organizations blacked out their websites. All of the country’s opposition parties participated in the online protest. (Postmedia News, June 15, 2012; Ecojustice, June 4, 2012; Black Out Speak Out

Cutting Environmental Research

The Harper government has cut funding for the world’s leading freshwater research centre. In an open letter, scientists urge the government to reconsider its decision to close the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA), a unique research facility. Since 1968, scientists have conducted groundbreaking research examining the effects of lake acidification, eutrophication, climate change and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The omnibus budget bill cut the centre’s $2-million annual funding. “I think the real problem is we have a bunch of people running science in this country who don’t even know what science is,” says David Schindler, a world-renowned scientist. If no alternative funding can be found, the centre will close by March 2013. (Globe and Mail, June 1–15, 2012)

Record Investments in Renewable Energy

Global investment in sustainable energy reached a record US$257 billion in 2011, despite the world economic crisis. Investment in green energy has surged: last year’s total was six times the 2004 figure. While Canada focuses on the tar sands, many countries are transitioning to a low-carbon economy. Global investment in solar energy has soared, with large increases recorded for the United Kingdom, Greece, Australia, France, Italy, Spain and Japan. Last year, the leading countries were China and the United States. Both countries invested over US$50 billion in renewable energy. Canada’s investment in renewable energy dropped eight per cent, reaching US$5 billion — about a sixth of Italy’s total. (The Guardian, June 11, 2012; Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2012, June 11, 2012

Canada Drops Peacekeeping

United Nations peacekeeping missions help people around the world make the transition from conflict to peace. There are currently over 99,000 UN peacekeepers on four continents. There has been a dramatic decline in Canada’s support for peacekeeping. In the early 1990s, Canada was the world’s leading contributor of peacekeepers. According to the UN’s April 2012 report, only 33 Canadian military personnel and 130 police officers are serving in peacekeeping missions. Fifty-two countries are contributing more peacekeepers than Canada. Although Canada no longer plays a prominent role in international peacekeeping efforts, Canadians continue to express strong support for peace. According to a 2010 Nanos poll conducted for the Globe and Mail, Canadians rank peacekeeping as the top priority for Canada’s military. Only one in five Canadians want the country to send soldiers to war. (Globe and Mail, June 8, 2012; United Nations Peacekeeping

Former Australian PM Criticizes Canada

In comments published by the Ottawa Citizen, a former Australian prime minister criticizes Canada for failing to uphold an international treaty that bans cluster munitions. “Canada used to be in the forefront internationally in leading the world in good directions,” says Malcolm Fraser. “It is a pity the current Canadian Government, in relation to cluster munitions, does not provide any real lead to the world. Its approach is timid, inadequate and regressive.” Canada signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but proposed legislation would allow Canadian soldiers to help military forces of other countries use the banned weapons. “These weapons are outlawed because of their indiscriminate nature and devastating consequences for civilians,” says Laura Cheeseman, Director of the international Cluster Munition Coalition. “In its current form, this legislation leaves open the possibility of Canadian Forces personnel using cluster bombs.” (Ottawa Citizen, June 3, 2012; Mines Action Canada, May 30, 2012

Mike Buckthought is a writer based in Ottawa.

Published in the Peace and Environment News Insider, Volume 27, Number 3, July–August 2012, page 6.

Commuter Challenge Update

Peace and Environment News, July–August 2012
by Mike Buckthought

Commuter ChallengeDuring Environment Week (June 3–9), over 25,500 people across Canada joined the 2012 Commuter Challenge. The annual event encourages everyone to use sustainable modes of transportation such as walking, cycling, public transit and telecommuting. By taking part in the Challenge, participants reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 440 tonnes of carbon dioxide during the week.

In Ottawa-Gatineau, a total of 1,500 people joined the Commuter Challenge. Over 40 workplaces were represented, ranging from small non-profit organizations to large federal government departments.

The Commuter Challenge included an environment-friendly competition between workplaces, to see which organizations had the highest rates of participation.

In Ottawa-Gatineau, the winning organizations were: the Sierra Youth Coalition (80% participation; workplaces with fewer than 50 employees), CUSO International (43% participation; 50–100 employees), Mountain Equipment Co-op (39% participation; 100–150 employees), Canadian Museum of Nature (32% participation; 150–200 employees), Fairmont Château Laurier (13% participation; 200–1,000 employees), Export Development Corporation (12% participation; 1,000–2,000 employees), and Statistics Canada (16% participation; workplaces with more than 2,000 employees).

The event also included an environment-friendly competition between communities, to see which cities and towns had the highest rates of participation. Calgary was the winning community among the cities with populations greater than one million. In Calgary, a total of 6,770 people used sustainable modes of transportation such as the C-Train, cycling and walking to get to work.

Another winning city was Winnipeg (cities with a population over 500,000). For the ninth year, it was the leading city in its population category. The Province of Manitoba and City of Winnipeg have been strong supporters of the Commuter Challenge, and this has translated into high participation rates in the province. Over 5,200 Winnipeggers joined the event this year.

The other winning communities were: Halifax (population over 250,000), Kingston, Ontario (population over 100,000), Saint John, New Brunswick (population over 50,000), North Vancouver, BC (population over 25,000), Thompson, Manitoba (population over 10,000), Banff, Alberta (population over 5,000), and Wabowden, Manitoba (population under 5,000).

Commuter Challenge 2012 was organized by non-profit organizations and municipalities across the country, including the Sustainable Alberta Association, Green Action Centre, Better Environmentally Sound Transportation, Clean Nova Scotia, City of Kingston and Region of Waterloo.

To view the results of the Commuter Challenge, visit The 2013 Commuter Challenge will take place during Environment Week, June 2–8, 2013.

Mike Buckthought is a car-free commuter, and founder of the Commuter Challenge.

Published in the Peace and Environment News, Volume 27, Number 3, July–August 2012, page 3.