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Toxic Tar Sands: Scientists Document Spread of Pollution, Water Contamination, Effects on Fish

Today federal scientists from Environment Canada presented research at an international toxicology conference in the U.S. that indicates contaminants from the Alberta tar sands are polluting the landscape on a scale much larger than previously thought.

A team lead by federal scientist Jane Kirk discovered contaminants in lakes as far as 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations. The federal research confirms and expands upon the hotly contested findings of aquatic scientist David Schindler who, in 2010, found pollution from the tar sands accumulating on the landscape up to 50 kilometers away.

“That means the footprint is four times bigger than we found,” Schindler told Postmedia News.

Senior scientist Derek Muir, who presented some of the findings at Wednesday's conference, said the contaminated region is “potentially larger than we might have anticipated.” The 'legacy' of chemicals in lake sediment gives evidence that tar sands pollution has been traveling long distances for decades. Samples show the build up of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, known to cause cancer in humans and to be toxic to aquatic animals, in 6 remote and undisturbed lakes up to 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations.

The pollutants are “petrogenic” in nature, meaning they are petroleum derived, and have steadily and dramatically increased since the 1970s, showing the contaminant levels “seem to parallel the development of the oilsands industry,” Muir said.

Heavy is the Head That Wears the Crown: Tar Sands Expansion May Violate Crown's Legal Obligation to First Nations

Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) will argue in the Alberta Court of Appeal that Shell Canada’s proposed Jackpine Mine expansion is in violation of their Constitutional rights and represents a failure on behalf of the federal government to uphold their legal duty to consult (DTC). The First Nation, which originally made this argument in a joint federal/provincial hearing on October 1, was told the panel did not have jurisdiction to hear constitutional questions.

When the ACFN applied for an adjournment, in that case, their request was denied. In response the First Nation is claiming they have “no other option but to file legal arguments for the protection of their constitutionally protected rights through the Alberta Court of Appeal.” 
The government’s refusal to consider the ACFN’s best defense against the megaproject, which will increase Shell’s tar sands bitumen mining capacity in this one project alone by 100,000 barrels per day, appears out of step with the federal government’s own admission that they must accommodate the rights of First Nations when considering industrial projects that entail irreversible impacts.
First Nations rights, especially as defined in the 1982 Constitution and subsequent court decisions, must be accommodated, according to an internal federal discussion paper, released to Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart through access to information legislation.

"Stephen Harper Hates Science": Federal Scientists Muzzled to Protect Tar Sands Reputation

The Canadian government is working hard behind the scenes to cover up the negative effects that tar sands extraction is having on the local environment, wildlife, communities and the global climate. According to Access to Information documents obtained by Postmedia's Mike De Souza, the Stephen Harper government has actively suppressed the release of vital information regarding the spread of tar sands contamination by muzzling federal scientists.

The gag order, according to De Souza, came on the heels of a newly researched government report in November 2011 which confirmed the findings of University of Alberta scientists Erin N. Kelly and David Schindler. The scientists discovered concentrations of toxics such as heavy metals were higher near tar sands operations, showing a positive correlation between tar sands activity and the spread of contaminants in the local environment.

The government of Canada and the government of Alberta denied the correlation, saying local waterways tested showed no signs of toxic contamination and reports of mutated and cancerous fish downstream from the tar sands were unfounded.

Defend Our Coast Rallies Demonstrate Diversity of Public Opposition to Tar Sands Export and FIPA

Standing within the throng of demonstrators at last month's Defend Our Coast rally it became clear to me that a palpable shift in the collective expectations of Canadians had taken place. 

It is evident we expect positive action on climate change; we expect steps to be taken towards clean energy alternatives; we expect those alternatives to be made available to us, not by corporations, but by the individuals we've selected as our leaders; we expect those leaders to respect the rights of First Nations; we expect limits to be placed on the corporate exercise of power; and we expect abuses of that power to be met with swift and strict accountability.
Such expectations, however, appear increasingly out of step with our current political and economic regime, showing just how backwards Canada's bitumen bottom line obsession has become.
Under the current Harper government, scientists have been intimidated and silenced, production of oil and gas has accelerated at an unprecedented and unhealthy rate, massive budget cuts have gutted environmental legislation which would slow the pace and scale of bitumen production and its export, and those voices calling for balance, for sobriety, in the way we manage our resources have been blacklisted as foreign-funded radicals trying to “hijack” Canada.
Adding to the fury, the Harper government is now trying to undemocratically strong-arm a powerful international trade deal called FIPA through the House of Commons even though it's been called unconstitutional and a threat to Canadian sovereignty.
But if anything, the growing and diverse chorus of public opposition - as seen at the Defend Our Coast rallies - demonstrates just how bold the Canadian populace is prepared to be in the midst of an increasingly hostile battle to preserve our rights and democracy. 

Rush to Ratify: FIPA May Violate Constitutional Protection of First Nations Rights

The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) may be ratified as soon as tomorrow, November 1. This despite a massive demonstration of Canadian opposition to the investment trade deal that will lock the federal government into a dangerously undemocratic agreement with China and Chinese investors for 31 years

The proposed agreement, signed by Stephen Harper in Russia on September 9 and kept secret until September 26, is being strong-armed through the house of commons after the required 21-day session in Parliament. Political action and environmental groups, opposition party leaders and experts in the field of international trade law are urging the Harper government to reconsider the agreement's immediate ratification, demanding an open parliamentary debate before the trade deal's future is decided.
So far all requests to throw out the deal, host a national debate, investigate the deal in emergency Parliamentary discussions, or indefinitely delay the deal's ratification, have gone unheeded by the Harper government.
Under FIPA the federal government is obliged to protect investor rights and profits, even to compensate for lost profits. That means when it comes to disputes involving Chinese investors, like the one over the future of Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline, the Canadian government will have a duty to protect investor profits and not necessarily the jurisdictional rights of the British Columbian government, people or First Nations. 

Supertankers, Earthquakes, and Tsunamis, Oh My: Enbridge Has No Spill-Response Plan for Northern Gateway Pipeline

Earlier this month British Columbians were surprised to hear that Enbridge, the main proponent of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline, was unable to explain how the company's world-class spill prevention and clean up practices were either world-class or preventative.

At a public hearing in Prince George, Enbridge failed to instill confidence in the audience, admitting the company had no land-based spill prevention plan at all. During cross-examination the company admitted they will not have a spill-response plan until six months before the proposed pipeline would begin operation.

The company was unable to explain how they would respond to land-based spills from a pipeline designed to cover 1,172 km, crossing more than 770 of British Columbia's pristine watercourses. 
BC Environment Minister Terry Lake said “the responses that Enbridge/Northern Gateway representatives are giving our legal counsel are long on promises, but short on solid evidence and action to date,” adding, “the company needs to show British Columbians that they have practical solutions to the environmental risks and concerns that have been raised. So far, they have not done that.”
Enbridge will be cross-examined regarding maritime spill prevention in Prince Rupert on November 22, less than one month after the town was on high emergency alert after the second largest earthquake in Canada's history threatened coastal towns with tsunami warnings. The 7.7 magnitude quake put the entire Pacific Northwest on tusnami alert, with late-night sirens prompting regional evacuations from Alaska to Hawaii.

Conference Board of Canada: Economic Benefits of Tar Sands Hinge On Climate Inaction

By 2035 operators in Alberta's tar sands expect to produce 5 million barrels of the world's most environmentally dirty and energy intensive oil per day. Current daily production hovers around 2 million barrels. According to a recent Conference Board of Canada report, projected expansion of the tar sands will require roughly $364 billion in investment over the next 25 years and will create significant economic benefits for both Canada and the US.

However, the report, commissioned by the Canadian federal and Alberta provincial governments, acknowledges that the economic benefits of oil production in the tar sands hinges on continued global climate inaction.
Based on the 'New Policies Scenario' from the International Energy Agency (IEA), the Conference Board report, “Fuel for Thought: The Economic Benefits of Oil Sands Investment for Canada's Regions,” anticipates Canada and other participating countries will not achieve their 2009 Copenhagen Accord goal to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Projected growth in the tar sands is consistent with at least 3.5 degrees of warming.

No Herd Left Behind: Federal Caribou Recovery Strategy On "Collision Course with Industry," Leads to Caribou "Zoos"

This post is a part of DeSmog's investigative series: Cry Wolf.

Five years overdue in a legal sense and ten years after caribou were officially listed as 'threatened' according to the Species at Risk Act, the Canadian government has finally released its controversial Recovery Strategy for the Woodland Caribou. The report, originally released in draft form in August 2011, ignited severe public criticism for emphasizing 'predator control' options like a provincial-wide wolf cull in order to artificially support flagging caribou populations in Alberta. 

The wolf cull garnered wide-spread condemnation from the scientific community, environmental organizations and First Nations who said the province's wolves were not the cause of caribou declines. Instead, Alberta's reckless industrial development in caribou habitat was to be blamed for the near-decimation of one of Canada's most iconic species. The caribou famously adorns the Canadian quarter.
The new and improved federal recovery strategy seems poised to remedy that, however, with dramatic improvements made to habitat protection and restoration legislation. Under the current strategy, the oil and gas industry, and the government of Alberta must work together to ensure a minimum of 65 per cent of caribou habitat is left undisturbed for the species to survive.

At least 65 per cent of caribou habitat must be left undisturbed for caribou herds to have a 60 per cent chance of being self-sustaining. Government and industry must make immediate arrangements to remediate caribou ranges that currently do not meet that 65 per cent benchmark within the next five years.
But the recovery strategy does not outline how Alberta must accomplish that task, leaving the 'immediate' ground work necessary for such accomplishments undefined. And given the rate at which the tar sands are currently experiencing expansion, Simon Dyer of the Pembina Institute described the strategy as “on a collision course with industry.” 

The Rush to Ratify: BC Rejected International Investment Deal in '98 and Should Do So Again

This past weekend trade investment lawyer, Gus Van Harten, spent his time in his basement, rifling through old files. He knew that somewhere, buried in piles of international investment and legal trade documents, there was the answer to this one nagging question he couldn't shake: hadn't British Columbia already refused an investor-state treaty like the China-Canada Investment Deal once before? And wasn't that rejection because the trade deal was 'unconstitutional?'

And there the answer to his question lay: in a 1998 special legislative report BC published on the OCED's then-proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). In this document, a BC Special Committee outlines why an investor-state mechanism like MAI - which is essentially the same as the proposed China-Canada Investment Deal - is dangerous for provinces determined to protect their jurisdictional rights when it comes to governmental sovereignty, natural resources, First Nations, environmental protection and human and labour rights. 
The legislative committee recommended that “when negotiating the MAI or any future investment treaty, the federal government must ensure that the agreement does not apply to matters within provincial jurisdiction, including local government measures, without the express consent of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia…If the federal government fails to provide for such consent, then the provincial government should explore all means, including legal action, to defend vigorously its own jurisdictional rights and those of local governments to represent the interests of British Columbians.”
According to this logic, British Columbians and all of our elected provincial officials should be up in arms over the proposed China deal. 

BC Coastal First Nations Appeal For Help In Enbridge Pipeline Battle

If there was one message that stirred me during Monday's Defend Our Coast action, it was this: First Nations need you to join the fight to protect British Columbia's forests and coast from tar sands pipeline and tanker threats. 

The message came loud and clear from Coastal First Nations executive director Art Sterritt in his speech delivered to thousands spread out on the lawn of BC's legislature building in Victoria. Addressing the crowd he said, “Ladies and gentlemen, today is all about you. Coastal First Nations and all of the tribes of the interior, we've been stating our opposition for a long time now. But we're so happy that 3000 of you have come out to join with us today, 3000 people. And it's your voices that are important today, not ours. It's your voices that we need to join with us.”

Sterritt asked the crowd, “Who is going to lay down in front of the bulldozers?” To which the crowd resoundingly replied, “We will!”

Monday's Defend Our Coast rally demonstrated the extent to which First Nations and other British Columbians are prepared to stand together to protect the province's right to refuse the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline. The overwhelming emphasis during Monday's event was “the people, united, will never be defeated,” a line sung in unison across the crowded square.