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Fish farms protected by Ottawa cone of silence

THE STAR

Fish farms protected by Ottawa’s ‘cone of silence,’ says B.C. chief

By AINSLIE CRUICKSHANKStarMetro Vancouver
Mon., June 4, 2018

VANCOUVER—Fisheries and Oceans Canada has refused to release the names of salmon farms that have been investigated for infractions since 2016, in part because the department claimed it could result in “financial loss or gain” or “prejudice the competitive position” of a third party.

In response to an access to information request filed by the Star in April, the federal department released three pages that show companies were investigated after whales became trapped at the facilities. Others were investigated, issued warnings, and in one case charged for spilling damaging substances into waters used by wild fish.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there were incidents where farmed salmon escaped and young salmon were spilled near a salmon river. No further details were provided.

In all cases, the department concealed the name of the company involved. The government argued releasing the names could affect the investigation or enforcement of laws and cause a financial loss or gain to a third party.

The government’s lack of transparency is “troubling,” said Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation Chief Bob Chamberlin, who is also the vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs.

“Everything, it seems, that is negative winds up falling under a cone of silence within government,” Chamberlin said. “It’s either characterized as proprietary or it’s a concern about whether it’s going to hurt the company’s profitability and so on.

“But that is just in stark contrast to looking after the environment and wild fisheries.”

It’s this kind of situation that led Justice Bruce Cohen to observe Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s conflicting roles of promoting the industry and protecting wild salmon, he said. Cohen investigated the decline of the Fraser River sockeye and raised serious concerns about the risks posed by the salmon farming industry.

“Prime Minister (Justin) Trudeau has committed to Canadians that there would be transparency in governance, science-based decision-making and so on and so on, and yet this continues where essentially the government is keeping secrets and allowing this industry to keep dumping harmful things into the ocean,” Chamberlin said.

Asked Monday about the response to the Star’s access to information request, a spokesperson for the federal department said, “The information requested in this case relates to matters under investigations. Disclosure of this information while investigations are ongoing could be injurious to the operations as well as respecting non-disclosure of third-party information. If investigations lead to charges, that information is made public.”