by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Barry is an artist, both with words and with paint. He has been associated with our organization for nearly three decades and is our go-to guy for any wildlife question. He knows his animals — especially birds — and the issues that affect them. His blogs will give you just the tip of his wildlife-knowledge iceberg, so be sure to stay and delve deeper into his Canadian Project articles. If you like wildlife and reading, Barry's your man. (And we're happy to have him as part of our team, too!)
Canada betrays its international legal obligation to endangered species
Recently, I read an op-ed piece by Michael Byers and Stewart Webb, co-authors of The Worst Procurement in the History of Canada: Solving the Maritime Helicopter Crisis (http://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/worst-procurement-history-canada). Okay…that’s got nothing directly to do with our interests at this blog-site: animal protection and environmentalism. It discusses how the current government ordered a batch of patrol ships, budgeting appropriately, but without bothering to consider an essential and expensive component of each ship: a Cyclone helicopter. Without the helicopters, the ships cannot properly function!
It’s a major blunder. While all governments screw up occasionally, the current Canadian federal government does so absurdly often (http://www.whynotharper.ca/#1). And I’m a tad sensitive about it because I share my last name with the horrifically inept former (as of a short time ago) Minister of Defence, Peter MacKay (different pronunciation; his rhymes with “day,” mine with “sky”). We are NOT—I repeat—NOT related. The ruling Conservative Party is an extreme ideologically right-wing party that opposes most of my values. It got that way because MacKay signed an agreement that he would not jettison the “progressive” part of the original Progressive Conservatives by accepting amalgamation with the much newer and extreme ideological Alliance party. (See: http://www.davidorchard.com/online/campaign-2003/orchard-mckay.html). The letter even promised “Commitment to making environmental protection front and center, incl[uding] sustainable agriculture, forestry, reducing pollution through rail.” The co-signer was David Orchard, an organic grain farmer whose support guaranteed that the progressive part of the Progressive Conservative Party was onside. (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Orchard).
But, it was all lies. Peter MacKay (Did I mention we’re not related?) quickly betrayed the trust, and, voila: the Conservative Party was born. While most Canadians didn’t vote for it, we did split our votes among the opposition parties, with the former leading party, the Liberals, reeling from a couple of scandals and falling to third place. So the Conservative Party now rules, or dictates, as it has little respect for any rules or parliamentary traditions (even to shutting down parliament, twice) that don’t support its agenda. I mention the above foul-up, routine for this government, only to emphasize how inept the Conservatives can be; the latest of many examples. I’ll explain why I want you to know that, in a moment.
But, the Conservatives are also anti-environment and anti-environmentalist, not to mention fearful of humanitarians. Less than a year ago, then-Public Safety Minister Vic Toews (who just announced he was quitting politics, thank goodness) warned us that, in addition to foreign threats, we would be guarded from those extremists who, “based on grievances – real or perceived – revolving around the various promotion of various causes such as animal rights, white supremacy, environmentalism and anti-capitalism” pose such a danger. (But it’s really comforting to know that the same government is busily building more jails—really big ones—even though crime rates are in decline. Gee, I wonder who they expect is going to occupy them.) (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/ottawas-new-anti-terrorism-strategy-lists-eco-extremists-as-threats/article533522/).
It was then-Environment Minister Peter Kent (also no relation to me, despite my middle and his last name being the same) who accused environmentalists in Canada of criminal activity, when he said, “Essentially, what our government is doing through the finance committee is investigating allegations that offshore funds have improperly been funneled through — laundered if you will, that's a fairly accurate word — through Canadian organizations that have charitable status to be used in ways that would be improper given that charitable status." (http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/05/01/pol-peter-kent-environmental-charities-laundering.html). Wow. And, here I thought I was a law-abiding citizen; good to know the government has its eye on me and my friends. I had no idea that disagreeing with the government could make us so dangerous.
All of this by way of introducing my present dilemma, and that of my very close friend, colleague, and fellow birder, Dr. Ronald I. Orenstein: author and conservationist CITES expert. Ron is trying to get to the bottom of a recently discovered, and unreported, very strange fact. Canada has posted “reservations” against decisions to list species on the appendices of CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora, made in the last two Conferences of the Parties (COPs).
CITES is an international convention signed by nearly all countries. (See: http://www.ssn.org/cites_intro_EN.htm). At COPs, decisions are made regarding which species can be traded, and which should be documented, or be partly or fully protected from international trade, all for conservation purposes. Species listed on Appendix I cannot be traded internationally “for primarily commercial purposes;” those listed on Appendix II can be, but with accompanying documentation to help prevent endangerment or extinction; and those not listed – the vast majority of wildlife species – can be traded without CITES involvement. Very rarely, a country will post “reservations” against such specific decisions made at a COP, effectively exempting itself from whatever level of protection for which other countries have voted. Reservations are often of short duration and limited scope, generally frowned upon, and certainly anti-democratic.
So, what has Canada done? It has posted a reservation for ALL decisions made at the most recent COP last spring, as well as for the previous COP in 2010.
Is this just more Conservative Party bumbling ineptitude, or deliberate indifference to preventing species from going extinct? So far, we have been told that a decision in 2008 led to the requirement that Parliament had to approve any amendments to treaties generally, and that requires something called an Order in Council, which is normally routine. We haven’t learned why it’s taken so long, while being assured that it is, essentially, a mere formality. In other words, we can’t manage, in Canada, what the rest of the world, including tiny and impoverished third-world countries, seem to be able to do in a timely fashion.
All of this, including Canada turning its back on the Kyoto Accord and, more recently, a Convention fighting desertification, (see: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/harper-defends-pulling-out-of-un-desert-convention-says-it-is-too-bureaucratic/article10510768/), comes while trying to convince our biggest market, the U.S., that Canada is serious enough about protecting the environment to be entrusted as a source of energy from the Alberta oilsands (via lengthy pipelines opposed by many environmentalists).
The Obama administration in the U.S. is struggling to convince its dwindling base of supporters (including those concerned, for what should be obvious reasons, about the effects of fossil fuel use on the environment) that it understands the threat and will act accordingly—while also confronted with its own Harperesque right-wing ideologues, disinterested in facts and populated by climate change deniers in a federal party every bit as zealous as Harper’s. And, at the same time, the U.S. President is aware of both business interests and his country’s rapacious appetite for energy.
Canada’s tawdry environmental record does nothing to convince thoughtful people elsewhere in the world that this country has any interest in protecting the environment, and we should not be surprised if Obama finds the reasons he needs to cater to his supporters, and say a resounding “no” to Alberta’s oil.