Gregory McDade, Alexandra Morton’s lawyer, ruled the courtroom last week. He has reshaped the Cohen Commission’s most critical days – those dedicated to salmon disease and aquaculture – in his own image. The dull and mostly meaningless proceedings of the previous months have been transformed in a series of short, sometimes brutal, always thrilling single combats between McDade and the “expert” of the moment sent by the DFO machine to counter him. Those will remain as the McDade days. Does it mean that the man succeeded in everything he has attempted at the Commission? Far from it. But he has sent some shattering shock waves through the system and set in motion a process of exposing the salmon-industrial complex, with deep ramifications that we can only begin to envision today.
Recently, I got in the habit of referring to McDade on my Facebook as “the Lion”. It’s pretty tacky, I know. But it captures my personal enthusiasm for the man and for what he embodies. For one thing, with his generous moustache and sometimes unclean shave, he physically looks like one. Then, he definitely acts like one. He sees every cross-examination as a hunt – albeit one for truth rather than for flesh – which requires impeccable preparation and methodical execution. Patiently, McDade asks. He waits, circles, retreats, gets to know and appreciate his prey as he identifies its weaker points. He knows from his long experience as a hunter that he has until the very last minutes of his allocated time to deliver the deadly strike. That weak point may emerge as insufferable self-infatuation as in the case of Dick Beamish, or shocking incompetence as in that of Michael Kent, or an excessive penchant for logical argumentation as with Josh Korman. But whatever that weakness is, Greg McDade usually finds it.
A classic illustration of McDade’s technique was his cross-examination of Dr. Michael Kent (ex-DFO, now professor of Microbiology at Oregon State University) over a report that Kent prepared for the Cohen Commission regarding pathogens. McDade proceeded in three successive strikes which each, taken individually, looked rather innocuous. But when he assembled them into a weapon, McDade delivered such a powerful blow to Kent’s credibility that subsequent witnesses to the Commission felt prudent to distance themselves from Kent’s work and name altogether. One. He established that the witness was primarily an expert in fish farm pathogens, rather than salmon pathogens in general. Two. He showed that Kent’s mandate with the Commission was to study all pathogens (both wild and farmed). Three. He demonstrated that Kent, contrary to both his field of expertise and clear mandate with the Commission, chose on his own accord to study only wild pathogens, inexplicably omitting those found in the fish farms. McDade didn’t openly say that the witness was guilty of dereliction of duty, but that’s pretty much the message that the audience received:
McDade: Let's just be clear. You didn't spend any time studying the role of fish farms in the causation of disease.
Kent: I disagree.
McDade: Did you look at the fish health database?
Kent: Which exhibit is that one?
McDade: That's the actual spreadsheets and reports and fish health auditing that the fish farms make to the Province around fish health. Did you look inside those documents?
Kent: I scanned them, there are quite a few. These are Excel sheets, right? I looked at them, they came to me quite late. I actually reviewed them this morning. I scanned them pretty extensively but I didn’t get through them at all in all sorts of detail.
McDade: Did you have them when you did your report?
Kent: No I didn’t.
McDade: wouldn't that be relevant to your report, if there are diseases that are all over those spreadsheets?
Kent: They would be useful. It’s not peer reviewed literature, but they would be useful.
McDade: What’s the distinction from peer reviewed literature?
Kent: It’s then validated by professionals. But it would be of use, but I – given the limitations that I had with my time, the most useful data were peer reviewed papers for the study.
McDade: And so DFO hasn’t studied the matter, and there is no peer review paper on it, and so for you, it didn’t exist?
Kent: No. I said it has less significance to me.
Another beautiful example was McDade’s cross-examination of Dr. Josh Korman, who wrote a report to the Commission on mortality rates observed in fish farms. Korman definitely loves the mathematical music of a logical argument, and that translates into a natural repugnance for intellectual dishonesty, unlike so many of McDade’s other customers at the Commission. McDade exploited that characteristic masterfully on a critical point involving the discovery that Chinook fish farms may have been directly linked to the recent ups and downs of the Fraser sockeye:
McDade: So the Conville Bay farm was experiencing problems with symptoms that at least some thought was marine anemia. But what I was asking was this: if there were Chinook farms experiencing marine anemia in the Discovery Islands in 2007, but none at all in 2008, would that not be a significant matter that you would want to investigate? And that is the information that I get off of those spreadsheets.
Korman: Yeah, that does line up with that pattern that you described. There are so many steps to determine that this was actually a big factor, right? Does that disease transmit? Does it cause death? All those steps we have been talking about. But certainly, it’s a hypothesis that is not unreasonable.
I came across a photo taken at this week’s salmon warriors rally at the Vancouver Art Gallery (the one posted on this blog) and I immediately went: that’s him – that lion is Greg McDade. A friend I showed the picture to remarked ironically that it was quite the lion indeed! with a rope tied around its neck. I shrugged that comment off by saying that no picture ever perfectly captures the essence of its subject.
The photo, I was to discover the next day, rope and all, was perfect. I had been acquainted with McDade’s professional expertise and class in a courtroom. I had not yet witnessed his personal courage when placed in a hostile environment. This was revealed to me last Wednesday when McDade rose to cross-examine four critical witnesses with veterinarian expertise. He started by pointing out that the employers of each witness were either the government or a fish farming corporation. He then added:
McDade: So I take it that all of you gentlemen are supporters of the status quo.
McDade: Let me ask that question differently. There is no one here that is an independent expert from the government and companies as to the structure.
One of the witnesses: Maybe you should define “independent”?
McDade: I just want to make a statement, Mr. Commissioner, that the choice of experts for this important panel on disease is missing any expert who can comment in opposition to the current structure. But we’ll work with what we’ve got, even if it’s working with one hand behind our back.
Counsel for the Commission: The hearing plan has received Mr. McDade’s endorsement, so we will take that point, but I think it should be understood in that light.
McDade: Well, the experts that we asked to call have not been called. You are not suggesting that we haven’t asked for other experts to be called?
Counsel for the Commission: No, certainly I have not suggested that. But the final hearing plan is one that has received, to differing degree, either support – or at least no objections – in the way of applications.
That was quite a way to start a cross-examination for a lawyer, to directly incriminate the very Commission that you are addressing! McDade had a very solid point, no question about it, one which had been eloquently echoed by Alexandra Morton in her blog that same morning. But to say in Justice Cohen’s face that, like the lion in my photo, he had to work with a hand tied behind his back? It was risky, it was bold, it was brilliant.
Like the Borgs in Star Trek, his opponents had adapted to McDade’s weaponry after only a few shots. They had been carefully briefed on how to dodge his questions by bouncing him back and forth from one “expert” to the next (I am no expert in this matter, but you should address this question to Dr. X who is not here today.) McDade knew he was not going to get anything out of that panel – especially under the ridiculous time constraints imposed by the Commission, as explained in Alex Morton’s blog. So McDade-the-lawyer went political. Lost for lost, let’s get something out of this day. The Cohen Commission, he implied on public record, is an integral part of the “current structure” and actively assists in the perpetuation of the “status quo”. Dodge this.
McDade’s credit rating with the Cohen Commission must have dropped by a few notches after that sortie. But he also scored a perfect AAA with those sitting in the public gallery. We roared with pleasure at his statement. Gregory “The Lion” McDade is in synchrony with the public sentiment over this whole Cohen Commission charade, and the $25 million that it is costing the taxpayer. I personally expect nothing to come out of Justice Cohen’s recommendations. But I do expect a hefty political backlash to hit “the structure” and shake it in its core. And that will be worth the price of admission of having to sit in silence and listen for hours to the endless lies of this elitist bunch of dorks.
Greg McDade, you have our gratitude for saying out loud what we have been carrying in silence for all those months.