Sunday, September 25, 2011

Are we losing our fish?

I am receiving some terrible news from different people today. I don't understand it. So I'm just going to repost it without further comment.

I'll just add this: that this pretty much seems disease-related, definitely looks like a virus of some kind.

So first, I got this from Alex Morton earlier this afternoon:

And only a few minutes ago, I got this from Geoff Gerhart:

Just got some bad news today. I went to the BC rivers day at Britanna creek and was speaking with some people that have a source that has informed them that sockeye are dying by the thousands. They are going up to the birkeanhead river but are not making it before they spawn. The count is estimated at 90,000 dead so far. It has been reported to DFO but they are saying that there is no problem. People have asked DFO to test the fish but they will not do so at this time. I have also seen dead fish that have not spawned. I have seen this before but something is different about this.

What is going on?! Are we losing our fish, not just our salmon, to a deadly virus?

I'm going to sign off for the night because this is more painful than I'd care to share. I may have to cry a little. Maybe tomorrow morning, who knows? I'll have some good news waiting for me in my inbox.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Wheat harvest in the city


Hello friends in Vancouver,

Incredible news!

Yesterday night I was on my way for some party and since I was a bit early, I decided to stop for a few minutes at the Strathcona community garden to check on my garden plot.

It was already nightfall, so I didn’t expect to meet anyone in the garden. But instead, I found the garden teeming with life and gardeners inside and around the Garden House busy harvesting wheat!

The wheat, I learned, had been grown over the summer in a neighboring garden and dried in the Garden House for the past few weeks. Gardeners were now threshing - separating the seeds from the straw to complete the harvest.

The atmosphere in the Garden House was eerie and from another world. The smell of dried straw was intoxicating. As I watched the gardeners sift the grains and collect them in large buckets, I was transported to a time and place we don't belong to. 

I took a few low-fi pictures on my iPhone which do a poor job in capturing the magic of the moment. 

I never thought I would see that – people harvesting wheat in the city! Cabbages and tomatoes and beans are one thing. But that’s bread we’re talking about. What a milestone in the fight to regain our food sovereignty.

The gardeners were very much aware of the somewhat groundbreaking nature of their work, and some wondered jokingly whether this constituted or not the largest wheat harvest in Vancouver in recent decades...


Okay so now, here is the scoop:

Today Saturday September 24, 2:00 PM there is a work party at the Strathcona community garden to continue the wheat harvest.

(That’s at 800 Prior Street, at the Garden House behind the apple orchard)


I had plans for this afternoon, but I am definitely changing those to be part of this. Hope you can make it too!

According to the weather man today will be a glorious day and WE ARE GOING TO HARVEST WHEAT IN THE CITY!!


Monday, September 12, 2011

The ugly face of state repression

Mitch Taylor, counsel for the government of Canada. Photo UBC Law Alumni Magazine, Winter 2008
When Mitchell Taylor, the counsel representing Canada, rose last Thursday to cross-examine Alexandra Morton, we were expecting some payback time. For the past two weeks, through the mighty voice of her lawyer Gregory McDade, Alex had exposed to broad light the incestuous relationship between government and industry inside the salmon-industrial complex.

The cases of conflict of interest, incompetence, and acts of sabotage within DFO had piled up at the Cohen Commission like as many dead fish. Mr. Taylor’s job was to level the playing field a little for the government of Canada by bringing as much discredit as possible onto Alexandra Morton. Character assassination was his mandate, a despicable but generally accepted practice in the legal profession. So we were definitely waiting for him on that terrain.

Taylor performed his duty meticulously. He insisted on calling his witness “Ms. Morton” rather than the customary “Doctor” used to address people holding a Doctorate. He attempted to bring her US degree into disrepute by alluding to her university as being “famous for political activism”. He systematically declined to discuss any of Morton’s numerous published scientific papers or any of their content, insisting rather that she was an “advocate against open net fish farms” and that her primary activity in life was to “write a blog” and to be “quite a prolific emailer”.

Mr. Taylor did something else, however, which was not expected of him and of a different nature altogether. Deliberately, he crossed a red line. He used a technical and overall minor incident to conduct a frontal assault against Alexandra Morton’s right to free expression.

The night before her cross-examination, Alexandra Morton had made a bad judgment call by posting a blog. Something that she had been doing routinely on an almost daily basis for the past several months. September 7, however, was the one night when she shouldn’t have done it, according to a rule of the court that specifies that a witness should not communicate about the ongoing proceedings while under oath. A honest mistake, Morton explained to the court the next morning. I thought that only my evidence, which the public had not yet heard, was included in the ban, I did not know that the material already made public and broadcast live on the Internet was included as well. She apologized to the court and her apology was graciously accepted by Justice Cohen, with apparently little consequence over the proceedings.

Not so for Mr. Taylor of Canada. He wanted to extract his pound of flesh out of Morton’s screw-up. So he put Morton’s September 7 blog on the screen – even though Morton had already removed it from her blog after realizing her mistake –, and he proceeded to dissect it line by line, punctuating every sentence with a you violated the rules of this court reprimand. It would have remained more of the same character assassination exercise, if it were not for what Taylor did next:

Taylor: Let’s continue with your blogging, if we may Ms. Morton. Let’s look at the blog from August 31. This deals with the evidence that the veterinarians gave. If we go to page three, this appears to be a cartoon that you put on the blog of what appears to be the Commissioner speaking to those four witnesses. And the cartoon is showing flames coming from the pants of the witnesses and the words of the Commissioner are “pants on fire”. Ms. Morton, are you familiar with the saying “liar, liar, pants on fire”?

The sight of Mr. Taylor – a sinister figure if there ever was one in a courtroom – uttering on public record the phrase “liar, liar pants of fire” with his nasal daffy-duck voice while maintaining his expressionless poker face was truly hilarious. I could not help but join the rest of the crowd in a rowdy and joyful eruption of laughter.

This moment of comic relief passed quickly though, as I realized what had just happened. The August 31 blog? Wait a minute. Morton was not under oath on that date. This was no longer about her breaking some obscure court rule. What was it, then? Oblivious to the laughter still shaking the public gallery, Taylor continued:

Taylor: Do you agree with me that this cartoon is disparaging of those witnesses’ evidence?

Morton: I thought this was a representation, without saying the words --

Taylor: -- Are you saying they lied?

Morton: How can you look at the symptoms of a disease, have somebody like Dr. Gary Marty report those symptoms as being the clinical signs of marine anemia, which a DFO scientist [Kristi Miller] thinks the majority of Fraser sockeye are being killed and weakened by, and the vets above him, Peter McKenzie of Mainstream, and Dr. Mark Sheppard simply don’t recognize that that disease exists. That --

Taylor: Ms. Morton --

Morton: -- that cannot stand.

Taylor: Ms Morton, this is not an opportunity for you to make a speech.

Morton: Well don’t ask me questions, then.

Okay. Got it. I’m with you now, Mr. Taylor. What you are really getting at with this is that Alexandra Morton should not be criticizing the scientific and industrial establishment – ever, whether or not she is under oath. Because for one thing, this could be construed as libel, a punishable offense. And for another, as Taylor proceeded to explain, this is a morally reprehensible behavior:

Taylor: Do you agree with me that it is against the code of conduct for a registered biologist to speak disparagingly of a colleague registered biologist? 

Morton: It is, yes. 

Taylor: Can we equally apply that, then, to the fact you should not be disparaging of other professionals such as veterinarians?

Morton: Mr. Taylor, my personal code of conduct is that when I see an ecosystem being destroyed, I will use what tools I can that are fair and legal to try and represent that truth. And if --

Taylor: -- all right, thank you.

Morton: -- and if the cartoon was the only way to do it, that’s what I was going to do.

Taylor then brought up another of Morton’s blogs, dated September 5, and therefore also clearly outside of the “no comment while under oath” restriction period. In that blog, Morton referred to an incident where gas bubbles were spotted near a fish farm in the Broughton Archipelago. Called by residents to investigate, DFO biologist Kerra Hoyseth found an underwater pipe full of dead farmed salmon. In spite of her discovery, Hoyseth reported that there was no conclusive evidence as to the exact cause of the gas emanations and so she closed the file.

In her September 5 blog, Morton commented about this incident: “Everyone knows rotting causes gas. I suspect Hoyseth's first instinct was to be more truthful, but I think this painfully illustrates DFO's relationship with fish farms. How can I believe anything DFO says about salmon farms after this? Hoyseth did not tell me the truth. I feel badly for her, because I suspect this was what was expected of her. How many others in DFO are doing the same thing just to keep their job?”

Mr. Taylor charged at Morton head on:

Taylor: You have no evidence that [Ms. Hoyseth] was not telling the truth, do you? You just don’t agree with what she was finding or her interpretation of it. You have a different interpretation.

Morton: Mr. Taylor -- a pipe full of rotting salmon! Ms. Hoyseth, I am sure, understood that it could easily produce bubbles. But it was my interpretation that she did not want to report that to me, and so she glossed over the finding of that entire pipe full of rotting fish.

Taylor: Thank you. You just answered it, because you used the word “interpretation”. Now, you say "How many others in DFO are doing the same thing just to keep their job?" You have no evidence to support that accusation that people in DFO don’t tell the truth just to keep their jobs, do you?

Morton: I actually do. But I am not going to reveal all my sources, because they are scared.

Two things jump out of this extraordinary exchange. One, Morton is sending a stern warning back to Taylor and the members of the scientific-industrial establishment: Sue me if you dare! I will not come to court empty handed. The second is Taylor’s dorky Aha I nailed you answer over the word “interpretation”. How not to think of an Inquisition trial with the church prosecutor exclaiming: She uttered the word of God in vain, what more proof do we need?

Taylor then went to the next level of his attack against Morton. He put in question her right to peaceful assembly.

Taylor: Ms. Morton, I want to ask you about some protests you may have participated in against fish farms, and there is nothing wrong with that of course. You have participated in protests against fish farms at the farm site, haven’t you?

Morton: Yes.

Taylor: And you did that in a way that you and others got very close to the actual site and pens and/or may have gone into the site itself. 

Morton: No, we never go into the pens.

Taylor: I see. And you did that [did what? Morton just told him they didn’t do it] despite there being some signs that say No trespassing, quite prominent signs?

Morton: First of all, there were no signs at that farm. Second of all, it is actually illegal to put a No trespassing sign on a marine farm that has a license of occupation. Mainstream tried that for a little while, but they were told to remove them. So it was a temporary situation because it was unlawful.

As you have gathered from Alex Morton’s razor sharp responses in the various exchanges quoted above, Mr. Taylor did not fare as well as envisioned in his original game plan. After she absorbed the initial shock of such brutal attacks against her person, Morton began to fight back like a goddess. As the day went, and as the lawyer for BC took turns with Canada in attempting to unseat Morton, she took full control of the battlefield. She would detect the traps embedded in the questions a mile away, she would avoid them effortlessly. Nay, she would turn them right back against the examining lawyer like as many lethal boomerangs. If you have not seen Alex Morton on the witness stand this last Thursday, you do not know yet what a salmon warrior truly looks like. Such is the overwhelming power of shining and uncompromising truth.

Being a Frenchman, the historical reference that naturally jumped at me as I witnessed that extraordinary day was that of Joanne of Arc, and how during her trial for witchcraft she turned her interrogators into a bunch of half-witted jackasses with their pre-canned mechanical questions. All that these two women needed to do in order to overcome the sophists and Pharisees tasked with prosecuting them, was to provide some simple, luminous, painfully truthful answers which needed no other support but themselves. It is a bit frightening to see how the interrogation techniques in matters of the state have not changed much since the 15th century. It is reassuring to see that the manner to respond to such techniques have not really changed either. Just speak the truth and let its magic do the work.

In the end, and for all his misgivings, Mr. Taylor has rendered a valuable public service to the people of this country. By choosing to conduct his cross-examination of Alex Morton in the way he did, he has revealed the ugly face of state repression in action. Morton has dared to expose the collusion of the government of Canada and the fish farm industry? The government responds by attacking her personally and viciously, threatening her over her constitutional right to free speech and free assembly.

The service that Mr. Taylor provided was certainly not worth the $25 million that we have disbursed on this Commission, and frankly I dare not ask how much his personal invoice for mudslinging Morton will amount to. The final answer to the worthiness of this Inquiry will have to come from Justice Bruce Cohen himself. It was noted by some, perhaps as a sign, that at the end of the day Cohen personally thanked Alex for standing as a witness and ostensibly called her “Doctor Morton”.


Friday, September 2, 2011

The Lion

Photo Don Staniford.

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.