The Department of Justice has assigned Crown lawyer Todd Gerhart to review the materials in my charge against Marine Harvest for illegal possession of wild salmon. Mr. Gerhart specializes in resource and fisheries offences. The Department of Justice is an entirely separate body from Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and I sincerely hope this will allow a fresh and unfettered look the importance of this charge. As a result, the court date that was set for Tuesday, September 22, 2009 in Port Hardy was postponed (adjourned) at the request of Mr. Gerhart. I appeared in Port Hardy Court with my lawyer and a new court date was set.
I laid this charge because endangered wild pink salmon are being retained in salmon farms. I have been asking the Minister of Fisheries, Gail Shea, since March to put observers on the fish farms, just like the observers that are put on many fish boats to protect non-target species. In addition, herring, rock cod and black cod (also called sablefish) are all under very strict quotas, regulations and licensing, and they too may be retained in the net pens. But none of this will actually protect the fisheries if there is a large, unregulated and unmeasured harvest going on.
When a witness saw wild salmon spilling onto a road out of a farm fish transport vessel and collected some of these fish we contacted the local Fisheries enforcement officers. They assured me that the incident would be investigated. However, although Marine Harvest has publicly admitted to transporting and possessing wild salmon in their vessel, Orca Warrior, no charges have been laid.
After 22 years of living among salmon farms, my neighbours and I have begun to question if salmon farms are above the law. Displacing whales, using pit lamps, releasing deleterious substances, losing exotic salmon into the Pacific, possessing wild salmon without a licence and many other activities go on without consequence to the fish farming industry. While DFO was actively out on the water this summer laying charges against tourists and commercial fishermen for violations under the Fisheries Act, it seems DFO was told to stand down on enforcement against fish farms.
Now that the Department of Justice is on the case it is possible this will move forward to a prosecution. The incident was well documented, samples collected and the company admitted to the offense. The next step is for the Department of Justice to use its considerable resources and legal expertise to move this case forward, ensuring all Canadians are treated equally under the law. There is an amazing instruction book written that governs DOJ policy.
The Federal Prosecution Service Handbook states:
“The right of a citizen to institute a prosecution for a breach of the law has been called a ‘a valuable constitutional safeguard against inertia or partiality of the part of authority.’ ”
“A private citizen’s right to initiate and conduct a private prosecution originates in the early common law. From the early Middle Ages to the 17th century, private prosecutions were the main way to enforce the criminal law. Indeed, private citizens were responsible for preserving the peace and maintaining the law.”
“Deciding whether to prosecute is among the most important steps in the prosecution process. A wrong decision to prosecute and conversely, a wrong decision not to prosecute, both tend to undermine the confidence of the community in the criminal justice system…”
A charge should not be denied due to; “Possible political advantage or disadvantage to the government or any political group or party”
My lawyer, Jeffery Jones (who is acting for me Pro Bono) and I, both feel the weight of government inertia. We remain concerned that the activities of salmon farms impacting on Canada’s wild salmon will continue if government abdicates its power to enforce the laws of Canada against certain industries. We know that certain political parties are anxious to encourage arrange of Norwegian investment in Canada and may be reluctant to disturb any Canada/Norway investment decisions. But relationships like this are reasons specifically excluded when it comes to enforcing the law in a democratic country.