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[This is an independent archive of an archive item removed from the NHS site. Some links may not work. Sorry.]

NHS Forum No. 1, 20041113



"Feds issue historic extinction decision" (Nature Canada 041022) [orig EC release]
"Special designation would protect Cod" (St. John's Telegram, 041106) [fuller version 041020]

Cheating the Future
SARA and the official "writing-off" of endangered populations

[NHS] WEBITORIAL -- 041113

K.N.I. Bell (M.Sc., Ph.D.).
Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the NHS, Inc. Opinion pieces can be sent to the NHS (policy)

Conservation depends on the will of people to care, to inform themselves, and to act where necessary. Anti-conservation depends on the crazy notion that ecology is a luxury, which is like a willingness to pretend that we don't eat or breathe or drink anything that comes from natural ecosystems. (Anybody know anyone who can make a salmon or a codfish?)

The promise of SARA (the Species-at-Risk-Act), by the government that enacted it, was to protect species that approach danger of extinction.
    That promise is being cynically circumvented by the same government that enacted it. Politicians are using scare tactics, in hearings that are not even provided for by SARA, to generate opposition to Listings they want to avoid.  SARA was not about the protection of biodiversity, it was all about the management of perceptions.

These outside-SARA hearings were undoubtedly a planned end-run long ago, a sneaky ace up the sleeve.  The hearings are built on the notion that protection regimes under SARA will cause hardships -- even though this is not necessarily true because SARA {see Sec. 73} does give leeway for exceptions, including, explicitly, fisheries. The hearings easily generate unfounded fears, so Cabinet can harvest the resulting objections in order to defeat, ironically, their own legislation. Even more ironic is that a few environmentalists thought SARA was going to be better than nothing -- but they were wrong because, like all snake-oils, the illusion of a solution is more dangerous than the patent absence of one.
   And why use these extra, outside-SARA, hearings, instead of the ones provided for within SARA? The ones provided for are for consideration of staged plans, so that everybody knows what they are talking about and where the flexibility is. If you had to admit some flexibility in implementation, you couldn't scare people off a Listing so easily. So of course, if you seek to harvest unfounded fears, you need to have the hearings earlier, in a cloud of rumour and scaremongering, rather than later, on a foundation of fact.

SARA otherwise permits a degree of political control that makes no more sense than politicians deciding the value of Pi or the force of gravity. The biological status, the population's risk of extinction, is something we have objective means of assessing, just as a company accountant can assess the company's financial status. But SARA gives politicians a tool to ignore the best advice. It lets them, figuratively, go with the advice of Enron's accountants. It lets them back away from tough problems at the expense of biodiversity. It lets them protect, instead of species, the bureaucracies that already bungled them.

SARA is a spin-doctor's dream: it legitimises the deception 'we protect all Listed species', while they just find an excuse to avoid Listing any species they don't want to protect. The Listing thus has nothing to do with what straits a species is in. SARA whistles a green tune while wasting time and money. If only they'd put that much trouble into preventing the problems in the first place.

SARA lets government write off any species, lets it ignore its obligation to protect biodiversity for future generations. Will we let them pull it off?

Some people who have worked "within the system" are grumbling that the Cod Listing is being stalled. Why did they operate "within the system"? Didn't they know, and know well, the record of COSEWIC and the Government with Cod? Some of them even signed a letter calling SARA's cabinet control of COSEWIC 'unacceptable', but then turned around and worked with COSEWIC.
    I'm sorry, but you waste your time being polite with a process that is not honest. I watched it happen 1994-8, and you could see it coming this time; even COSEWIC is crooked because (as naively admitted in writing from COSEWIC's chairs) they think it's okay to alter Reports to fit decisions -- i.e. to make up phony 'science' -- to alibi bad political decisions. And it gets worse, but there isn't enough space here for it. Nevertheless, remember that their tendency will therefore be to understate risk, which means we should still argue for its designations to be accepted (until properly revised).
    So, those folks, scientists and academics that worked "within" COSEWIC/SARA, that tried being Nice; what have they proved? They proved it didn't work, or they wouldn't themselves be grumbling about a Listing being stalled. (In fact it's worse than that: COSEWIC itself helped stall the Cod Listing by a 9-month delay in sending the Minister its assessment, and it wasn't because the assessment wasn't ready, because the Minister got it months after the public could get it!)
    We need to ask, ask strongly, that politicians clean up the rotten system enabled by SARA.

Politicians must either not know what's going on, or must think nobody cares, or must think nobody can figure out the scam that is SARA. This is not only an issue of conservation, it is also an issue of democracy.
Politicians operate on the basis of approval. If you do not approve writing-off of species or populations, if you do want conservation and not a huge waste of time and money covering up the lack of it, tell them.

Write to the Government, the Opposition, and your newspaper to express your dismay and disgust at the public deception called SARA.

Write the Rt. Hon. Paul Martin, Prime Minister of Canada: or
Write the Hon. Stephen Harper:
Write the NDP leader, Jack Layton:
Contact other parliamentarians via: .


Species at Risk Report Cards 2004, download PDFs:    Newfoundland   and   Federal

Government's site for SARA, the Act, and its controlled organs (COSEWIC), current processes, etc.
Envt. Min. Dion's Press Release including Cultus & Sakinaw Lake Salmon 041022
DFO's poster on its hearings (called "Species At Risk Act" consultations but they are nothing provided for by SARA)