Minister McRae’s Bill 37 not going to make law
Victoria (May 31, 2012) In the face of enormous public outcry, agriculture Minister Don McRae quietly withdrew his Bill 37 that would have made disease reporting in animals an offence punishable by two years in prison and $75,000. The stated intent of the Bill was to encourage greater disease reporting by farmers in BC.
On May 3, Privacy Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham wrote a highly critical letter calling Minister McRae’s bill “extreme”, pointing out Bill 37 “would override the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act” saying “this is a matter of deep concern considering the importance of disease management” and tying it to salmon farming.
Citing the debate in the House between Official Opposition Critic for Agriculture, Lana Popham and McRae, arguing the definition of the word “person”, Andrew Gage of West Coast Environmental Law wrote McRae, “I strongly advise that you seek legal advice...”.
A change.org petition continues to grow targeting supermarket chains Loblaws, COSTCO and Safeway asking them to stop selling farm salmon that have tested positive for viruses.
On Tuesday, McRae began to retreat telling the media that he was going to amend his Bill to suggest that it would not apply to media or the public, only to government workers, but he left that on the order paper, never standing in Parliament to bring it forward.
“If Minister McRae wants higher disease reporting compliance, why didn’t he create a Bill to make it mandatory that all farmers in BC report disease, instead of attempting to take away free speech in violation of the Constitution of Canada,” says biologist Alexandra Morton. “I am deeply grateful for all the people who wrote McRae and signed the change.org petition, this was an extremely close call with oppression.”
Bill 37 could rise when the BC Legislature sits again.
Contact – Alexandra Morton 250-974-7086
Background on Bill 37, where did this attack on democracy come from?
In 2004, the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation made a Freedom of Information Request for specific salmon farm disease records. The Ministry of Agriculture refused this request and the issue came before the Office of the Information & Privacy Commissioner. In Order F10-06 the four big salmon farming companies operating in BC Marine Harvest, Mainstream, Grieg and Creative Salmon are all quoted threatening BC that they would never give the Province disease information again. The Commissioner ruled the information must be released, however T. Buck Suzuki Foundation decided not to release the information.
Regardless in April 2010, the salmon farmers made good on their threat and the Province of BC was no longer given access to dead farm salmon, even though the Provincial vet, Gary Marty, continued to perform private tests for the same companies. That month the three Norwegian operators signed a Memorandum of Understanding with each other to share information about viruses. Marine Harvest began repeatedly going to the provincial vet requesting tests for the exotic virus, Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISAv).
Though T. Buck Suzuki Foundation never released the data, the Cohen Commission did. In it were over 1,000 reports by the Gary Marty of “classic lesions” associated with Infectious Salmon Anemia, an exotic virus. This prompted Alexandra Morton to begin testing for ISA virus in BC.
Fall 2011, Simon Fraser University scientist, Dr. Rick Routledge and Morton begin receiving ISAv positive test results in wild salmon from the North Atlantic Veterinary College, one of two International certified labs for ISAv detection.
November 10, 2011, Minister McRae released a statement on saying: “Reckless allegations based on incomplete science can be devastating to these communities and unfair to the families that make a living from the sea. Since Premier Clark is currently on a trade mission to China, I have personally asked her to reassure our valued trading partners that now as always BC can be relied upon as a supplier of safe, sustainable seafood..” http://www.newsroom.gov.bc.ca/2011/11/test-results-indicate-no-confirmed-cases-of-isa.html
December 2011, Canadian Food Inspection Agency testified at the Cohen Commission:
…So if, let’s say, we do find ISA in B.C. and all of a sudden markets are closed, our role [CFIA] is then to try to renegotiate or negotiate market access to those countries. Now what it will be is a matter of they'll let us know what the requirements are. We'll let them know what we can do and whether we can meet that market access. If we can't meet it, then there will be no trade basically. (Cohen Transcripts, December 19, pg. 118)
March 2011, Morton begins testing BC farm salmon in supermarkets in Vancouver and Victoria and receives ISAv positive test results for the most virulent mutations of ISAv and Norwegian salmon heart virus, piscine reovirus. The federal and provincial governments never follow up with their own testing. These viruses are being shipped in these fish throughout markets.
On March 27 McRae told the BC Parliament:"...when ISA was first talked about from the lab in P.E.I … There were lawmakers and legislators in the United States — various states bordering British Columbia — and some legislators in Asia who at that time were speculating and pushing for closing our market share." (March 27 Hansard Afternoon session)
May 28, The Province reports: The minister said he's having his staff look at options to deal with the perception that the new act will restrict free speech by citizens and journalists.
One option would be shelving the bill until after the summer recess, he said.
McRae didn't appear to favour that option, saying an outbreak this summer could occur without the new act's protective limits on free speech. http://www.theprovince.com/news/intent+muzzle+media+public+Minister/6689093/story.html