Sunday 2 January 2011


or, Triage?
Up, Down, Appendices, Postscript.

Steve Nease - John Baird in CancúnTwo reports on the Tar Sands, released just before Christmas:

The first on December 15 by the Royal Society of Canada's (RSC) Expert Panel, Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry: (all of these links are $#@! pdf's) Press Release (in October), Terms of Reference, Executive Summary (23 pages), Complete (438 pages); and,

Steve Nease - John Baird in CancúnThe second on December 21 by an Oil Sands Advisory Panel convened at the end of September by then-Environment Minister Jim Prentice, A Foundation for the Future: Building an Environmental Monitoring System for the Oil Sands: John Baird's speech, the report on-line in HTML, and as a pdf (49 pages).

The First Rule of LawThe First Rule of Law so ably depicted by Scott Hilburn in Argyle Sweater; a-and then The Second Rule of Consultants & Bureaucrats:
BBB - Baffle their Brains with Bullshit.

TO SEE WHAT THESE REPORTS ARE YOU HAVE TO READ AT LEAST PART OF THEM. So ... here are the Major Findings from the RSC report, and Observations And Findings from the Environment Canada Oilsands Advisory Panel. Here is my summary of those summaries:
Reclamation (of uplands): NO PROBLEM.
Cancer in Fort Chipewyan & Health in Wood Buffalo: NO PROBLEM.
Regional water supply, quality, ecosystems: NO PROBLEM.
Tailings ponds & wetlands reclamation: NO PROBLEM.
Air quality: NO PROBLEM.
Greenhouse gas emissions: NO PROBLEM.
Environmental regulation: NO PROBLEM.

Real or Perceived Impacts: ... perceptions and facts exist ... lack of consensus ... lack of hypothesis-driven sampling regimes ... situation is almost unique ... indelible impact.

Key Players: ... share an integrated vision? ... appear equitable and balanced ... [of RAMP] net effect is the perception ... lack of leadership on reporting on oil sands environmental performance across media.

Scope of Monitoring Activities: ... Hence while there is a significant amount of data being collected, there is a limited capability to ensure that the new knowledge created by the monitoring activity is actually able to be used by decision-makers. ... monitoring system that can effectively track potential future changes ...

Timing strategy: Do it all just before Christmas when no one is looking. Do the RSC whitewash first; then draw attention away from the whitewash with a splashy press conference on the Environment Canada bullshit bafflegab.

One media report deserves special attention: Ottawa, Alberta blamed for lax oil-sands oversight (if and when this link no longer works I have copied the text of it below). By Shawn McCarthy the Globe energy guy, published on the day of the news conference by Baird & Dowdeswell. It is rare to see so much potential confusion seeded by a single Globe article. A link is provided - but not to the report that is ostensibly being discussed. For the rest - read it yourself & weep or not. Who cares? It's all a
The 'industry that dare not speak its name' is outed in a Toronto Star editorial as 'tarsands'. I think 'Tar Sands' is more like it but in k-k-Canada we like to take baby steps. If and when the Globe ever permits such a term you will know something's up.

John Baird & Elizabeth DowdeswellAt the press conference Baird promised to begin to seriously monitor what is going on. In k-k-Canada when a politician is pinned he or she calls for an inquiry, or, say, a panel; and then makes earnest promises; something vaguely technological like 'world class monitoring' is good. Baird uses the phrase "up the federal government’s game," apparently in reference to the fact that hot air rises.

His bureaucrat, Elizabeth Dowdeswell, takes 'dead pan' to a whole new level.

Toles - How to boil a frog AND the cook, in the same pot.The good burghers: Dr. Steve E. Hrudey, Dr. Pierre Gosselin, Dr. M. Anne Naeth, Dr. André Plourde, Dr. René Therrien, Dr. Glen Van Der Kraak & Dr. Zhenghe Xu for the RSC; and Liz Dowdeswell, Peter Dillon, Subhasis Ghoshal, Andrew Miall, Joseph Rasmussen & John P. Smol on the Environment Canada panel (these are mostly 'Dr.' too, except Elizabeth Dowdeswell who really is a bureaucrat and not a scientist - I just grabbed their names as presented in their respective reports).

But yes ... but no ... the good burghers (the milquetoast maggot bafflegab-meisters - Who ARE these people?!) do not go too far. Far enough to permit editorial writers latitude for a little perfunctory hand-wringing; but not so far as to question the efficacy of the Tar Sands enterprise itself. Well, what do you expect? And anyway - it wasn't their mandate; it wasn't their 'charge'; it wasn't in their 'terms of reference'.

If you sift the reports and associated web-sites it is not difficult to get their email addresses; and, being Canadians, some of them do occasionally answer emails; but emphatically not on substantive points. It's just a game after all.
We'll play it out the best we know, whatever it is worth. (brother Bob, Wedding Song)

Life is sad, life is a bust; all you can do is do what you must - do what you must do and you do it well ... (Buckets of Rain)
Keep in mind that 'the good guy everyone likes', Jim Prentice (the scallawag opportunist), thinks that 4 million barrels of Tar Sand oil going south over the border PER DAY will be just fine.

Making monkeys of us all; hell, making dinosaurs of us all.

Looking to see what happened to some of the people ... how some of their stories turned out a little farther on down the line ...

Valentina IribagizaValentina IribagizaValentina IribagizaGlad to find that Valentina Iribagiza looks like she is out of the woods. Look at that smile man! Melts in your mind.

Adenir DeOliveiraThe story of Adenir DeOliveira remains murky.

There is no sign of Judge Susan Cooper since she put the kibosh to the seismic testing in Lancaster Sound in August. I hope she's not being 'disciplined'.

Richard Peck, who is supposed to be deciding if there is enough evidence to charge the killers of Robert Dziekanski appears to have surfaced twice recently: here and here. He must be the Scarlet Pimpernell: comes to Ontario to get Michael Bryant off the hook, testifies at the Frank Paul inquiry ... that's it - he's too busy to get on with deliberating on Robert Dziekanski (not!).

Agathe HabyarimanaAgathe HabyarimanaAgathe HabyarimanaAgathe Habyarimana still lives in luxury in France, struggling against deportation to Rwanda. She's looking good for a 68-year-old.

Lisa Shannon shows up on the scene again - in a year-end reprint mind you. Some points in the story I had previously missed.

A-and the next thing I know it's all Don Quixote & Gormenghast in here ... (?)

FuchsiaSteerpikeWhy is Don Quixote so popular with the bourgeoisie (eye-ee-eye-ee-eye-oh)? Images of him are everywhere in their homes; prints, and little statues on every end-table. Keith gave a course on it way back when and I was there - but I seem to have completely forgot (!?) It has been so long that they have changed the spelling to 'Quijote'; as if ... But I do know they love him and his Sancho Panza, and his Rocinante, and his Dulcinea ... and from there it is a short jump to Fuschia and Steerpike and Lord Sepulchrave in his final 'death owl' phase.

Lorenzetti Allegory of Good GovernmentLorenzetti detail PeaceWatching a film by John Berger Women in Art in which one of his collaborators mentions the image of Peace (on the left); which led me to two frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena, Italy (one of them being a sort-of 'instant karma' thing being as it is literally falling to pieces).

(I welcome every opportunity to say 'to two' these days; reminds me of the B52-Two.)

Lorenzetti Allegory of Bad Government detail DivisionLorenzetti Allegory of Bad Government detail DivisionThat nudity is a disguise you cannot simply 'take off' (resonating with McLuhan's famous quip that the stripper is wearing her audience). That the figure of Peace is clothed with self posession. And incidentally that cutting yourself into pieces is not the best solution - better maybe not to permit the discussion to devolve to yes or no.

There are also 'fundamental' symmetries of eyes and breasts which Berger doesn't mention.

Making the king/judge in the 'bad government' allegory a cross-eyed corno ... a light-hearted approach it seems to me. Well, it was early 14th century, early Renaissance, early Secular ... is that it?

A-and finally, we remember that in one of the very very best stories, the old Scandinavian fairy tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon, the girl's heart is not decided until she sees her prince (by the light of a dishonest candle in the middle of the dark dark night); and that this seeing involves her love into terrible jeopardy.

Paul KrugmanSpeaking of 'baby steps' here we have Paul Krugman (twice in a row now, this time with his wife, Robin Wells) with The Finite World. He gets that it's finite; he gets that it's global (really just a restatement of the premise); he gets climate change; but he still doesn't get that growth has to stop. How not?

Paul Krugman & Robin WellsRobin Wells & Paul KrugmanBeing a curmudgeon nutbar I think he is just fitting in; playing the Nobel laureate game, playing the 'I'm all right Jack' game, or maybe the 'Jack in the Box' game with his pretty wife ... monopoly, whatever ... thinking about his cottage in The Hamptons or Kennebunkport or whatever the New York equivalent of Muskoka is. (I know I know I know, Muskoka got on the go with Americans, they started it up in the 20's.)

He does get that "at a fundamental level, it’s not about us." The 'us' in this case being America - this is also a (baby) step in the right direction. Imagine! An American saying that it's not all about us!

'Strengthen the things which remain' says Revelations; and indeed, some very good work continues:

RealClimate - Climate science from climate scientists which includes the highly recommended possibility of receiving email notification of posts (which are irregular, about once a week on average).

At the outset this crowd at RealClimate were a bit stiff - but over the years this has changed; the best of those seriously working at properly dealing with climate change become humbler the longer I follow them: James Hansen and David Suzuki to name just two.

NOAA's Climate Program Office has a booklet:
Climate Literacy: The Essential Principles of Climate Science (17 pages), among other good information.

Skeptical Science: Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism and in particular, a recent post:
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the AGU Fall Meeting.

GreenMan aka Peter Sinclair carries on with his:
Climate Denial Crock of the Week.

Finally (for now) Alan Burke's Climate Insight. In Ottawa, Canada of all places! Imagine! If there are another nine of 'em hidden there somewhere maybe the ridiculous place will be spared? Do you think?

Globe Catalyst (with Star)Burke can be a bit stiff at times too, like the RealClimate boys used to be; some kind of insecurity perhaps, or having stayed too long in that solitude known as Ottawa; luckily he has been elevated to the rank of Globe Catalyst (with one star) which permits him to carry on the good work of gently rebutting the climate trolls posting comments there.

[ah, the link '' to Alan Burke's profile won't work unless you are registered at the Globe AND logged in, sorry about that]

Jia Yi Bing Ding ...

Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire December 22 2010.Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire December 22 2010.Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire December 22 2010.What has she got written on her t-shirt I wonder? As she protests killings in the Abattoir neighborhood of Abidjan.

Abidjan PlateauAbidjan PlateauAbidjan PlateauAnother Abidjan neighbourhood, Plateau, shows you what they are on about, what they are 'after'.

The Ivory Coast/Côte d'Ivoire was raped by the French rather than the Belgians and their Leopold II but it was the same game. What they called it - Ivory Coast - tells you exactly what they saw there - $ signs. I tried King Leopold's ghost : a story of greed, terror, and heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild but was underimpressed with the author's prose & approach and gave up on it.

Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di BrazzàPietro Paolo Savorgnan di BrazzàI read about Pietro Paolo Savorgnan di Brazzà (1852-1905) a few years ago. First in Brazzà, A Life for Africa by Maria Petringa - but this book is an obviously bad joke. Brazza of the Congo: European exploration and exploitation in French Equatorial Africa by Richard West is quite considerably better - I now have a copy of it. West used the picture on the right on his dust-jacket. Look at this guy Pietro di Brazzà. Both of these images are at a reasonable scale - you can enlarge them by clicking on them. Look closely at him for a few minutes & reflect, consider his dates. Ai ai ai!

Broad strokes: mid 1500's beginning of Portuguese slave trade to Brazil; successful Haiti rebellion 1804; British abolition acts 1807 & 1833, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation 1862; Leopold II's Congo Free State 1884–1908; Belgian Congo 1908–1960 ... so, 500 years and no real end in sight.

A-and one last tidbit; speaking of boomers: 'The self-aware & self-absorbed feel less self-fulfilled and are self-diagnosed with self-pity,' (paraphrased from the NYT). I think you have to divide it into at least two waves (ah, I see that Wikipedia calls them 'cohorts') or maybe three - the first being the pre-boomers with Dylan at their head. And yes, I find people about 10 years younger than myself very much self-aware & self-absorbed. Me? Dunno, can't say. Wikipedia lumps me in with Tony Blair & W! Ugh!

Today I am counting my blessings. :-)The arrival of posts from RealClimate often cheers me up. Maybe it will do the same for you, gentle reader. You will find the place to join the list near the bottom of the brownish bar on the right at their site.

Be well.


Golden Mean constructionOn reviewing this mess I see that I never got around to the 'Triage?' in the post title. Forgot what I was up to (as usual). There are certain fundamental mental operations which go on almost invisibly. Charles Taylor (the Canadian philosopher not the Liberian warlord) begins to get at it with his 'social imaginaries'.

Golden Mean 5-way symmetrySymmetry is one of them. Means & extremes. So, for example, it seems perfectly rational when my friend Adriana says to me, "It's a global problem and will require global action so it's absolutely critical that multilateral negotiations work out."

Golden Mean NautilusTriage is another. One must put one's effort where it will do the most good, or even 'where it will have the greatest effect'. Maybe this is how Jim Prentice was thinking when he came up with 4 million barrels of Tar Sand oil going to the US every day.

Golden Mean SunflowerBut the word 'triage' has another dimension that embodies a certain horror. That's why I snuck (sneaked?) it in up-front with a question mark. It brings to mind images of people lying in the sun and dying in hospital courtyards in Haiti after the quake last year - just about a year ago now.

There is one other thing. Something I would very tentatively & hesitantly put forward as a fundamental reality (rather than strictly depending upon human thought); and that is the Golden Rule in all of its presentations & transmogrifications. I used to be one of those idiots who figgured that Jesus must be living in our hearts: How else could so many of us know so surely & consistently what is wrong and what is right? Luckily I went around saying it out loud; so eventually someone took me up on it. Nonsense of course. Pure science fiction. ... But I have hung on to some tiny fraction of it, a single spore perhaps.

mute little boy with Tourette'sStill, as Coxeter said of the ubiquitous Golden Section: It is a tantalizing tendency if not a general rule. I no longer have a copy of his Introduction to Geometry which is where I think I came across this notion of his.

FUCK YOU! :-)On the flip side is a mute little boy with Tourette's ... but he is smiling eh? ... sort of ...

"a man who had fallen among thieves lay by the roadside on his back dressed in fifteenthrate ideas wearing a round jeer for a hat"

Hahaha ... Blogger has shortened 'MIND THE GAP' to 'mind-gap' ... Perfect! There is meaning everywhere!


1. Rwandan genocide survivor shares story in Melrose, Jim Haddadin, November 4 2010.

2. Subway pusher will avoid prison, Rosie DiManno, October 25 2010.

3. Tarsands pollution: Ottawa tries to ‘up its game’, Star Editorial, December 27 2010.

4. What Congo taught Lisa Shannon, Sarah Hampson, May 17 2010.

5. Decision not to charge officer should be reviewed: BCCLA, Lori Culbert & Tracy Sherlock, December 23 2010.

6. 'Officers are immune from prosecution': Frank Paul inquiry, Suzanne Fournier, December 16 2010.

7. The Finite World, Paul Krugman, December 26 2010.

8. Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry (excerpt), RSC Expert Panel, December 15 2010.

9. A Foundation for the Future: Building an Environmental Monitoring System for the Oil Sands (excerpt from Chapter 3), Environment Canada Oilsands Advisory Panel, December 21 2010.

10. Ottawa, Alberta blamed for lax oil-sands oversight, Shawn McCarthy, December 21 2010.

Rwandan genocide survivor shares story in Melrose, Jim Haddadin, November 4 2010.

Melrose — When she tells the story of her survival, Valentine Iribagiza avoids discussing the politics of her country.

Iribagiza, who spoke at the Unitarian Universalist church in Melrose on Thursday, Nov. 4, was a 12-year-old girl when ethnic killings broke out across Rwanda, leading to the murders of 800,000 people in a period of about three months. Among the dead were Iribagiza’s parents, two sisters, and three brothers.

Sixteen years after the mass murders took place, ethnic tensions between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis continue to shape Rwanda’s political agenda. Iribagiza, however, now lives in safety in the U.S., as a student and political refugee living in Malden, and uses the Internet to follow developments at home, albeit with difficulty. She is critical of American television stations, which she says don’t report international news, and her remaining family members in Rwanda don’t speak candidly when she talks to them on the phone.

In the latest developments in her native country, a Rwandan businessman was sentenced Monday, Nov. 1 to serve a 30-year prison term for his role in destroying a church in 1994, in which 2,000 Tutsis were taking shelter, according to the BBC.

A similarity is echoed in Iribagiza’s story. In 1994, Iribagiza and her family sought shelter in a church in their village, Nyarubuye, when the violence broke out. Forty-three days later, she was found near the church when a French journalist reached the village with an advancing army. Barely alive, her fingers had been beaten and broken, and a former neighbor had sliced her head open with a machete.

Survival when neighbor turns on neighbor

Iribagiza was hospitalized for six months after the attacks. The fingers on her right hand are now gone. Her brother, Gahini, was the only one of her six siblings to survive the violence in her village.

In published testimony about her horrific experience, Iribagiza remembered, “I asked for mercy, but one of our neighbours, Pascal, said, ‘I recognize that brat. Isn’t she from Bikoramuki’s family? All the rest of her family is dead, so what’s so tough about her that we can’t manage her?’ He kicked me and spat on the ground saying that he wouldn’t splash my blood onto him. He passed me over to another one called Antoine saying, ‘You kill that one.’ Antoine took a club and hit my fingers until the bones were all smashed. Then he cut my head with a machete. I don’t know what happened after that.”

In 1997, the WGBH documentary television series Frontline featured Iribagiza’s story in the program, “Valentina’s Nightmare” and a related report called “Ghosts of Rwanda.” Since that time, Iribagiza has traveled throughout Europe and in a few locations in the United States to recount her story.

When she remembers the atrocities carried out in Rwanda, however, Iribagiza does not explain the conflict through an ethnic narrative of Hutus versus Tutsis.

“I talk about the things I see, my village,” she explained. Iribagiza said she tells audiences about her first-hand experiences, as a witness to mass killings perpetrated by one neighbor against another.

Life today in the U.S.

Iribagiza first visited the U.S. in 2005, returning permanently on a student visit in 2008. Iribagiza has since been granted political asylum by the U.S. and now lives in Malden.

With the financial, emotional and political assistance of Malden’s Refugee Immigration Ministry (RIM), Iribagiza was able to obtain her own apartment in the city, where she has lived since Sept. 1, 2010. RIM, an organization that assists refugees and asylum seekers, also helps Iribagiza with expenses, including rent.

Iribagiza currently works at the Fairmount Hotel in Boston, and attended the University of New Hampshire last year. She’s now taking classes at Bunker Hill Community College, and hopes to eventually become a nurse.

“Since the end of the genocide, I’ve seen some kids really traumatized,” Iribagiza said in published testimony about the genocide, “but it hasn’t happened to me. I had to get used to having the scars and having lost my fingers; at first I had complexes and would hide my hand, but now it’s okay.”

Subway pusher will avoid prison, Rosie DiManno, October 25 2010.

Exempt from criminal responsibility: Another way of saying not guilty.

However phrased, Adenir DeOliveira will not be going to jail for pushing two teenage boys in front of an onrushing subway train.

Ontario Superior Court Nancy Backhouse delivered her verdict Monday morning in the judge alone trial, with both teens sitting in the courtroom.

DeOliveira, a 49-year-old immigrant from Brazil who was dishevelled and apparently disengaged from proceedings throughout the trial — even as a Portuguese interpreter provided simultaneous translation — showed no emotion, no response at all, when it became clear he would soon be free of prison cell walls.

The hulking DeOliveira was to be moved immediately from the Don jail to a mental hospital for a new round of assessment.

Backhouse agreed with the defence position that the defendant could not be held criminally responsible for what occurred Feb. 13, 2009 at the Dufferin St. subway station — a shocking act of random violence that nearly killed three youths and which DeOliveira’s lawyer conceded from the start of trial had been committed by his client.

In her written judgment, Backhouse concluded: “I find that at the time he committed these acts, the accused’s mind was devoid of any thoughts other than pushing the victims or killing himself. His thought processes were impacted at that time to such an extent that he was unable to weigh the pros and cons of his actions and was incapable of appreciating that what he was doing was morally wrong.

The judge continued: “In the result, although the accused committed the acts alleged against him, he has satisfied me on a balance of probabilities that he was at the time suffering from a mental disorder so as to be exempt from criminal responsibility on all charges . . . ”

There had been three charges of attempted murder — for shoving three students onto the subway tracks, two of them actually falling in, and one saving the other’s life by pulling his friend into a narrow spaced beneath the platform ledge, just as the train whooshed past.

There were also three counts of assault.

The onus was on the defence to convince the judge that DeOliveira suffered at the time from a mental disorder so severe he was unable to distinguish right from wrong or appreciate the consequences of his actions.

From here, as DeOliveira undergoes assessment — likely at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health — the matter falls under the jurisdiction of the Ontario Review Board.

The board must provide a decision within 45 days on what’s to be done with DeOliveira.

There are three options: detaining him in hospital, for an undetermined period; conditional discharge, perhaps requiring DeOliveira to seek psychiatric help as an outpatient; and unconditional discharge, which is highly unlikely.

After the short court procedure Monday morning, DeOliveira — clearly rational enough now to understand what had just happened — thanked his lawyer, Ian Kostman.

“My client is very relieved. He’s happy,” Kostman said outside the courthouse.

Asked if DeOliveira was sorry about what he’d done to these boys, Kostman responded: “We haven’t talked about that part yet.”

Tarsands pollution: Ottawa tries to ‘up its game’, Star Editorial, December 27 2010.

After digging their heads in the tarsands for years, the governing Conservatives have seen the light: Environment Minister John Baird vowed last week to “up the federal government’s game.”

This is a remarkable admission by Ottawa. But it had little choice, because the day before Baird’s mea culpa a scientific panel declared that the federal government had failed miserably in its duty to regulate tarsands extraction. The casualty was not only the water and air quality of Alberta, but also the credibility of the whole country at a time when our tarsands gambit has become a growing global target.

Before he quit as environment minister two months ago, Jim Prentice admitted over lunch with the U.S. ambassador that he was deeply troubled by the regulatory gaps and the foreign outcry, according to a diplomatic cable released last week by WikiLeaks. Prentice was prepared to step in with legislation if the industry didn’t clean up its act, according to the ambassador.

He never did. But Prentice did go public, before departing, with his concerns about evidence of heavy metals in the Athabasca River, traceable to industry sources. He asked the independent Oilsands Advisory Panel to report back. Its verdict is a stinging indictment of the Conservative inaction and denial in both Alberta and Ottawa.

The scientists described an embarrassing lack of systematic analysis and continuing “public distrust” in government’s oversight role.

“There is no holistic and comprehensive system,” said panel chair Elizabeth Dowdeswell, president of the Council of Canadian Academies and a former head of the UN Environment Program.

Concerns about pollution, water consumption, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions have given the industry a black eye around the world, eroded confidence in Canada and exasperated the scientific community. Yet Alberta and the industry have long ignored calls from environmentalists and from the likes of former premier Peter Lougheed to slow down tarsands projects until the technology improves.

The scientific panel described the rush to development as the equivalent of flying blind: “The impact of future industrial activity related to oilsands extraction and processing is not yet fully known.”

A report earlier this month from the Royal Society of Canada also criticized the lack of scientific data about tarsands development, which prevents analysts from reaching rigorous conclusions.

Traditionally, industry advocates and their apologists in government have responded to the growing public outcry with high octane publicity campaigns and political denunciations. Alberta has built up a $25 million war chest to counter the boycott campaigns, while Ottawa has played along.

Now Baird has promised to “be guided by science and by facts, not by politics and public relations.” But his earnest talk sounds like yet more PR spin.

One way for Baird to show he’s serious would be to pressure Alberta to slow down its breakneck pace of tarsands development; current plans call for the industry to double production to 3.4 million barrels a day in a decade. With the economy rebounding, the lull of the last two years is ending. This is the best possible time for Canada to take stock rather than dig itself into an even deeper environmental hole.

What Congo taught Lisa Shannon, Sarah Hampson, May 17 2010.

(Republished Wednesday December 29 2010.)

“My job was about hiring perfect-looking people, taking them to a perfect-looking location and then generating an image to sell anything to make people happy,” Lisa Shannon says.

The 35-year-old shakes her head. “Creepy!” she exclaims of her former work as a partner in a stock photography business. “It’s so manufactured. You have to Photoshop the grass and clean up the teeth.” She sighs. “Creepy,” she says again, this time with disbelief. She looks down at her lap, silent for a moment. “It blows me away,” she continues. “My life has gone topsy-turvy in opposite worlds.”

The shift began in January, 2005, when Ms. Shannon watched a 20-minute segment on The Oprah Winfrey Show about the plight of women in Congo. Four million people had died at that point in a conflict the world had largely ignored. Women suffer the most because of rape and often sexual slavery. Ms. Winfrey implored viewers not to pretend they hadn’t heard of it – the deadliest war since the Second World War, she and others have reported. Sponsor a Congolese woman for $27 (U.S.) a month, she instructed.

Ms. Shannon did. She sponsored two, in fact. But even that wasn’t enough to quell what she describes in her new memoir, A Thousand Sisters: My Journey of Hope into the Worst Place on Earth to be a Woman, as her hunger to be “the person I always imagined I would be.”

She created a foundation called Run for Congo Women with the goal to raise money to sponsor 30 Congolese women. That soon turned into an organization connected to Women for Women International: Run for Congo Women holds fundraising runs across the United States and in three other countries.

Ms. Shannon, who is based in Portland, Ore., has been to Congo three times as part of her work with her foundation; her latest trip earlier this year lasted two months.

“For me, the lines are very blurry because the work is very personal,” she says when asked what draws her back. “I don’t relate to it as a job. Congo is my life.” When she sponsored those first two women, she had no idea that the cause would become her obsession. “I am wed to Congo,” she says a few minutes later, as though to underscore her commitment. Her business card now reads “activist and writer.”

But her marriage to philanthropy – “I’ve been a full-time volunteer for five and a half years” – came at a cost. She was 29 when she watched that “magnetic” Oprah episode. She was planning to marry her long-time partner, who co-owned the stock photography firm with her. The relationship ended as she became more involved in her volunteer work, and the business floundered. “It was a very big price tag,” she says, adding that she and her ex-boyfriend still receive some royalties from the business.

Does she have regret?

She looks across the table separating us. She is dressed simply: her blond hair loose, in a black dress, no make-up. “No,” she replies quietly. “Because what I’m doing now, I can’t think of a better reason to be alive.” If her stock photography business was about perfection, “Congo is the worst of humanity and the best of humanity in your face. It’s real and it’s raw and it’s right there.”

Now when she looks back on her younger self, she sees someone who had fallen under the hypnotic influence of modern American life.

“We have a whole culture that’s geared to numbing out. We go to movies where we watch people get killed with no feeling at all. We objectify people. People are viewed through the status lens. We’re stuck in our cars listening to music. We’re geared toward shutting down and not feeling.”

She was depressed the year she saw the Oprah episode.

Her father had died. She sat on the couch for four months unable to do anything. After she got involved with the Congolese women, she realized that even her five-year relationship with her partner wasn’t right – just another form of self-anesthetization. He didn’t support her passion to volunteer. They fought. “I’m a human being, not a lifestyle,” she spat at him at one point.

“It’s haunting,” she says now of their relationship. “It’s shocking that we didn’t share a value system, that I thought we had and how easy it is to get swept up in the day to day and bond without really being able to step back and look at the bigger picture. There can be an illusion of connection,” she says, shaking her head again.

It was that very thing – the power of human connection – that turned out to be her greatest lesson in Congo, even though she had started out with just a desire to make a difference and find meaning.

One of her first discoveries was the difference between pity and compassion. “Pity separates us from other people. It’s a top-down approach as opposed to being open-hearted and feeling with someone. But I wouldn’t fault anyone for approaching these issues with a sense of pity. It’s where we all start.

“You go in with lots of grandiose dreams about what it means to make a difference, and in the end what you learn is a sense of trust in the process. You have to just show up, give it your best effort.”

She was intimidated at first, thinking that she would be viewed as “just a white girl showing up, and they would think I was silly.” But the women were immediately warm and generous.

Their joy, despite their hardships and the horror many of them have experienced, overwhelmed her. In her book, one of the women Ms. Shannon writes about is Generose, whose leg was hacked off by machete after she yelled for help when the Interahamwe militias entered her house and killed her husband. They cut her leg into six parts and cooked the flesh on a fire, commanding the six children in her care to eat some. One child refused. They then killed him in front of her.

Still, Generose is happy. “She dresses to the nines,” Ms. Shannon reports. “She paints the toenails on her prosthetic leg. If I’m honest I would say that someone like Generose has a deep religious life. I’m not religious. But the women also have a deep connection to other human beings. They value people over things. And if there’s anything I’ve gotten out of this journey, it’s knowing that joy comes from this kind of human connection.”

She has also learned about her own capacity, not just for simple happiness, but for her ability to grow and adapt. “I’m way off script,” Ms. Shannon acknowledges when asked how she feels about many of her contemporaries’ focus on marriage and family.

“But I don’t feel any pressure to live by a script. I write my own script.” She shrugs and smiles with enviable calm. “And I’ve learned I can kind of make things up as I go along and that it will unfold in an amazing way.”

Decision not to charge officer should be reviewed: BCCLA, Lori Culbert & Tracy Sherlock, December 23 2010.

Special prosecutor should investigate evidence that arose during inquest into Paul Boyd's death, says civil liberties association

A special prosecutor should review the Crown's decision not to lay criminal charges against a Vancouver police officer in the shooting death of a mentally ill man, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association says.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the attorney-general's ministry, BCCLA executive director David Eby argued new evidence arose during the just-completed coroner's inquest into the August 2007 death of Boyd, who was shot eight times by Const. Lee Chipperfield.

B.C.'s criminal justice branch (CJB) ruled in August 2009 there was "insufficient evidence" to suggest the officer's use of force was excessive, but the BCCLA argues that decision should now be revisited.

"We have found several troubling contradictions between the [2009] CJB summary and [inquest] witness testimony, on key points, that lead us to believe a different decision might be arrived at concerning criminal charges," Eby said in his letter to the government.

There is a recent precedent in B.C. for such a request.

In June, retired appeal court judge Thomas Braidwood released his damning report from the inquiry into Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski's death -- which said the officers' "shameful conduct" was not justified -- and then the government appointed lawyer Richard Peck to reconsider the CJB's decision against laying charges in that case.

A month later, Peck said there was sufficient reason to reconsider whether four RCMP officers should be charged in connection with the Tasering and death at Vancouver International Airport. (Peck has not yet completed his final report.)

Prosecutor Neil MacKenzie, who speaks for the criminal justice branch, said it was too early to address the discrepancies alleged by the BCCLA or to comment on the need for a special prosecutor in the Boyd case.

"We only received the correspondence from the civil liberties association [Wednesday]. We're reviewing the concerns they raised, but I can't speculate what steps the branch will take to address those concerns," he said.

The weeklong inquest into Boyd's death wrapped up Friday, after the jury was told eight of the nine shots fired by Chipperfield struck Boyd. The final bullet killed the talented animator, who suffered from bipolar disorder and was off some of his medications at the time he confronted police on Granville Street near 16th Avenue and hit one officer in the head with a chain and lock.

The BCCLA compared the facts in the 2009 CJB decision that exonerated Chipperfield and the witness testimony at the inquest, and alleged it found several discrepancies, including:

- A pathologist testified Boyd was most likely on his knees when hit by the final bullet, which was supported by other witness testimony. However, the CJB report noted Chipperfield thought Boyd was "attempting to get to his feet" at the time.

- The CJB report suggested Chipperfield could reasonably have feared for his safety, but witness testimony suggested Boyd was not, in fact, repeatedly swinging the chain and lock in a threatening manner; he had been disarmed by the time the fatal shot was fired; and there were 23 seconds between the eighth and ninth shots for Chipperfield to assess the threat Boyd posed.

It is becoming more common for outside police agencies to investigate cases involving officers, but in the Boyd matter the CJB based its decision not to proceed with charges on an investigative report prepared by the Vancouver police department itself.

Eby's letter further alleges that the CJB "is in a conflict of interest on this file" because prosecutors work with police on a daily basis. (Special prosecutors are typically appointed to avoid a real or perceived conflict of interest when an accused has some legal or political connection.)

In the meantime, the Vancouver police department says it will immediately study the recommendations made by the jury at the coroner's inquest, to see where it needs to make changes or enhance its policies, procedures and training.

But a justice consultant with the Canadian Mental Health Association, Camia Weaver, said that many of the recommendations would not have helped Boyd.

The jury ruled the death was a homicide and made nine recommendations, including four directed at Vancouver police.

One recommendation was that all police officers interacting with people suffering from mental health issues receive mandatory training with emphasis on effective de-escalation tactics.

"All VPD officers have been receiving enhanced crisis intervention training for more than a year now," Const. Jana McGuinness said in an e-mail. "We will review how the recommendations relate to this training as well as any future training that may be required."

Weaver, however, said that just because officers are trained, it does not mean that they are suited or appropriate to the task of de-escalating mental health crises.

Chipperfield testified he shot Boyd because he did not obey commands to drop his weapon. He testified he didn't recognize the situation as a mental health crisis.

Weaver said it would be better if police were trained in tiers, so select groups of officers would be more highly trained in mental health de-escalation and could be called out specifically to mental health calls.

The jury also recommended the establishment of a joint data bank, between the mental health department and the VPD, of people with mental health issues. Police did not know Boyd was mentally ill.

"An enhanced data bank would benefit front-line officers by providing more complete information regarding a person's mental health history early on in a specific incident," McGuinness said.

Weaver said that the CMHA is not opposed to information sharing, but that privacy issues must be considered. "People are concerned about stigmatization, or being treated differently if their names are in a databank as being mentally ill," Weaver said, adding that a databank would not have helped Boyd because the police did not know his name.

Another recommendation was that "intermediate" weapons be made available to all officers. Chipperfield didn't have a Taser, but did have pepper spray which he didn't use.

'Officers are immune from prosecution': Frank Paul inquiry, Suzanne Fournier, December 16 2010.

Crown shouldn't decide on charges in police-involved deaths, say advocates

Crown prosecutors should not decide whether police officers involved in a death will face criminal charges, legal advocates urged Wednesday on the final day of the Frank Paul inquiry.

Inquiry commissioner William Davies has already made an interim recommendation that police should not investigate themselves — but lawyers have now taken that a step further by urging that prosecutors who deal every day with police shouldn't be doing charge approvals on police-involved deaths.

"In all cases involving death or serious injury caused by police, the charge assessment and prosecution should be handled independently," said Mike Tammen on behalf of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Tammen recommended that a special prosecutor from "the private bar" be appointed in such cases.

Final arguments concluded Wednesday.

The inquiry had heard in November from several former prosecutors, three of them now judges, as to why no police officer was ever charged in Frank Paul's death.

Davies' interim report, Alone and Cold, released in March 2009, was scathing of Vancouver police and said officers should never investigate themselves.

The prosecutors involved in the Frank Paul case were eventually forced by Canada's highest court to testify before the Davies inquiry.

Several said they were "deeply conflicted" about the Frank Paul case and took many months to decide not to charge police with manslaughter or negligence.

Paul, a 48-year-old homeless Mi'kmaq man, died of exposure on Dec. 6, 1998, after police dumped him in an icy east-side lane in a state of severe intoxication. Paul had been dragged, sodden and motionless, from a city jail.

"It would seem police officers are immune from prosecution in homicide cases," charged lawyer Cameron Ward, on behalf of Frank Paul Society president David Dennis and the United Native Nations.

Ward said that although there were 267 deaths in B.C. of people in police custody from 1995 to 2007, no officer in B.C. has ever been criminally charged in a death.

More than 10 per cent of those deaths were of aboriginal people, although First Nations make up no more than four per cent of the B.C. population.

There have been 52 deaths involving police in Vancouver alone, yet no officer has ever faced charges, Ward said.

"No other citizen would ever enjoy the benefits of immunity from prosecution in a case involving a death," Ward said.

He argued that Crown prosecutors, who work closely with police, find it impossible to lay criminal charges against police.

The prosecutors also testified that in all cases where police investigated their own role in a death, reports to Crown counsel were "charge neutral" or took no position on whether charges should be laid.

Lawyer Richard Peck, appearing for the B.C. Criminal Justice Branch, argued Wednesday that Crown prosecutors have always acted fairly and dispassionately and should continue to handle charge approvals on police-involved cases.

The Finite World, Paul Krugman, December 26 2010.

Oil is back above $90 a barrel. Copper and cotton have hit record highs. Wheat and corn prices are way up. Over all, world commodity prices have risen by a quarter in the past six months.

So what’s the meaning of this surge?

Is it speculation run amok? Is it the result of excessive money creation, a harbinger of runaway inflation just around the corner? No and no.

What the commodity markets are telling us is that we’re living in a finite world, in which the rapid growth of emerging economies is placing pressure on limited supplies of raw materials, pushing up their prices. And America is, for the most part, just a bystander in this story.

Some background: The last time the prices of oil and other commodities were this high, two and a half years ago, many commentators dismissed the price spike as an aberration driven by speculators. And they claimed vindication when commodity prices plunged in the second half of 2008.

But that price collapse coincided with a severe global recession, which led to a sharp fall in demand for raw materials. The big test would come when the world economy recovered. Would raw materials once again become expensive?

Well, it still feels like a recession in America. But thanks to growth in developing nations, world industrial production recently passed its previous peak — and, sure enough, commodity prices are surging again.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that speculation played no role in 2007-2008. Nor should we reject the notion that speculation is playing some role in current prices; for example, who is that mystery investor who has bought up much of the world’s copper supply? But the fact that world economic recovery has also brought a recovery in commodity prices strongly suggests that recent price fluctuations mainly reflect fundamental factors.

What about commodity prices as a harbinger of inflation? Many commentators on the right have been predicting for years that the Federal Reserve, by printing lots of money — it’s not actually doing that, but that’s the accusation — is setting us up for severe inflation. Stagflation is coming, declared Representative Paul Ryan in February 2009; Glenn Beck has been warning about imminent hyperinflation since 2008.

Yet inflation has remained low. What’s an inflation worrier to do?

One response has been a proliferation of conspiracy theories, of claims that the government is suppressing the truth about rising prices. But lately many on the right have seized on rising commodity prices as proof that they were right all along, as a sign of high overall inflation just around the corner.

You do have to wonder what these people were thinking two years ago, when raw material prices were plunging. If the commodity-price rise of the past six months heralds runaway inflation, why didn’t the 50 percent decline in the second half of 2008 herald runaway deflation?

Inconsistency aside, however, the big problem with those blaming the Fed for rising commodity prices is that they’re suffering from delusions of U.S. economic grandeur. For commodity prices are set globally, and what America does just isn’t that important a factor.

In particular, today, as in 2007-2008, the primary driving force behind rising commodity prices isn’t demand from the United States. It’s demand from China and other emerging economies. As more and more people in formerly poor nations are entering the global middle class, they’re beginning to drive cars and eat meat, placing growing pressure on world oil and food supplies.

And those supplies aren’t keeping pace. Conventional oil production has been flat for four years; in that sense, at least, peak oil has arrived. True, alternative sources, like oil from Canada’s tar sands, have continued to grow. But these alternative sources come at relatively high cost, both monetary and environmental.

Also, over the past year, extreme weather — especially severe heat and drought in some important agricultural regions — played an important role in driving up food prices. And, yes, there’s every reason to believe that climate change is making such weather episodes more common.

So what are the implications of the recent rise in commodity prices? It is, as I said, a sign that we’re living in a finite world, one in which resource constraints are becoming increasingly binding. This won’t bring an end to economic growth, let alone a descent into Mad Max-style collapse. It will require that we gradually change the way we live, adapting our economy and our lifestyles to the reality of more expensive resources.

But that’s for the future. Right now, rising commodity prices are basically the result of global recovery. They have no bearing, one way or another, on U.S. monetary policy. For this is a global story; at a fundamental level, it’s not about us.

Environmental and Health Impacts of Canada’s Oil Sands Industry (excerpt), RSC Expert Panel, December 15 2010.

The major findings in the report addressing health and environmental issues included, in brief:

Feasibility of reclamation and adequacy of financial security: Reclamation is not keeping pace with the rate of land disturbance but research indicates that sustainable uplands reclamation is achievable and ultimately should be able to support traditional land uses. Current practices for obtaining financial security for Reclamation liability leaves Albertans vulnerable to major financial risks.

Impacts of oil sands contaminants on downstream residents: There is currently no credible evidence of environmental contaminant exposures from oil sands reaching Fort Chipewyan at levels expected too cause elevated human cancer rates. More monitoring focused on human contaminant exposures is needed to address First Nation and community concerns.

Impacts on population health in Wood Buffalo: There is population level evidence that residents of the Regional Municipality off Wood Buffalo (RMWB) experience a range of health indicators, consistent with “boom town” impacts and community infrastructure deficits, which are poorer than those of a comparable Alberta region and provincial averages.

Impacts on regional water supply: Current industrial water use demands do not threaten the viability of the Athabasca River system if the Water Management Framework developed to protect in-stream, ecosystem flow needs is fully implemented and enforced.

Impacts on regional water quality and groundwater quantity: Current evidence on water quality impacts on the Athabasca River system suggests that oil sands development activities are not a current threat to aquatic ecosystem viability. However, there are valid concerns about the current Regional Aquatics Monitoring Program (RAMP) that must be addressed. The regional cumulative impact on groundwater quantity and quality has not been assessed.

Tailings pond operation and reclamation: Technologies for improved tailings management are emerging but the rate of improvement has not prevented a growing inventory of tailings ponds. Reclamation and management options for wet landscapes derived from tailings ponds have been researched but are not adequately demonstrated.

Impacts on ambient air quality: The current ambient air quality monitoring data for the region show minimal impacts from oil sands development on regional air quality except for noxious odour emission problems over the past two years. Control of NOx emissions and regional acidification potential remain valid concerns.

Impacts on greenhouse gas emissions (GHG): Progress has been made by the oil sands industry in reducing its GHG emission per barrel of bitumen produced. Nonetheless, increasing GHG emissions from growing bitumen production creates a major challenge for Canada to meet our international commitments for overall GHG emission reduction that current technology options do not resolve.

Environmental regulatory performance: The environmental regulatory capacity of the Alberta and Canadian Governments does not appear to have kept pace with the rapid expansion of the oil sands industry over the past decade. The EIA process relied upon by decision-makers to determine whether proposed projects are in the public interest has serious deficiencies in relation to international best practice. Environmental data access for cumulative impact assessment needs to improve.

A Foundation for the Future: Building an Environmental Monitoring System for the Oil Sands (excerpt from Chapter 3), Environment Canada Oilsands Advisory Panel, December 21 2010.

Observations And Findings

A high level summary of our observations and key findings follows below.

Real or Perceived Impacts of Oil Sands Development

We found that a wide range of polarized opinions, perceptions and facts exist concerning the real or perceived impacts of oil sands development on the environment. Although a significant level of monitoring and research activity is occurring within the oil sands region, it is dwarfed by the level of activity that was expended on other major environmental issues of the past few decades, such as the acid deposition problem in eastern Canada. Furthermore, work carried out to date has not led to a consensus on the degree of impacts.

This lack of consensus stems from a number sources. The sheer number of institutional and academic players has resulted in a vast quantity of data and literature. It is difficult for any one player or institution to have a comprehensive view of the evidence of oil sands impacts across environmental media. However, there is not a widespread scientific acceptance of this negative finding because of the lack of complete confidence in the monitoring system that produced the result. Many of the monitoring programs were unable to definitively distinguish (with reasonable statistical confidence and/or power) oil sands industrial impacts. This inability to adequately measure impacts was often attributable to deficiencies in sampling program design (including insufficient replication in space or time), lack of hypothesis-driven sampling regimes, ill-defined or undefined baseline conditions for inter-comparisons and inadequate analytical capabilities.

The Panel recognized the extremely challenging environment in which monitoring and research must be performed in the oil sands. Remote sites are expensive and time consuming to access, although to provide perspective, the costs probably represent only a fraction of the profits generated by the oil sands. The landscape is already unavoidably impacted because of existing monitoring activities. Sampling locations that had been monitored for some time when they were undisturbed, and could have been assumed to represent a baseline condition, have been overtaken by development and are now clearly impacted. It is likely that the continued rapid pace of development will result in further loss of baseline monitoring stations to development.

Natural loadings of bitumen into surface waters continue today but unfortunately the magnitude of these contributions has not been quantified. This situation is almost unique in monitoring for toxic compounds. Although challenging, it is important to establish as rigorously as possible the background or baseline level of pollution, against which any future trends can be assessed.

The natural, pre-development state of the waters could be further investigated by analysis of information preserved in sediment profiles that can be obtained from lakes and ponds that are situated in locations prone to river flooding (e.g., along the lower Athabasca River and its tributaries and within the floodplain lakes of the Peace-Athabasca Delta). In contrast, river bar deposits are unlikely to provide informative data, because rivers are dynamic systems where sediment is constantly remobilized and transported downstream. Within the watershed, there are many lakes and ponds that are likely to retain undisturbed, informative sedimentary records that extend back several centuries to millennia, where careful sampling and analysis could provide essential information on natural background levels of contaminants transported via the rivers and atmosphere and to quantify trends over time since the onset of industrial activities. Investigations of sedimentary records as a way of quantifying baseline, pre-impact conditions and post-impact trajectories provide an opportunity that has not been fully exploited in this region, at least not in a comprehensive manner that is required for this region.

There is considerable effort being put toward finding chemical fingerprints, unique substances that are only produced during oil sands development that could be used to distinguish between natural and anthropogenic sources of pollutants. This is a challenging but worthwhile pursuit.

Rivers are dynamic systems. Water quality can change very quickly, thus making monitoring a challenge in both space and time, as "spot" water samples can easily miss important pollution events. New developments in, for example, passive samplers that monitor water quality over extended periods of time, should be pursued aggressively. The panel recognizes that these are not fool-proof approaches, but a comprehensive program should be implemented employing passive samplers as part of an integrated monitoring protocol.

And as a final note, our site visits had an indelible impact. It is hard to forget the sheer extent of landscape disruption, the coke piles and the ubiquitous dust.

The Key Players

The Panel wanted to understand who the key monitoring players are in the oil sands region. Did they share an integrated vision? What was the nature and extent of synergies and interactions among the programs? Were multi-stakeholder approaches to environmental monitoring effective?

We observed that while on the surface the multi-stakeholder approaches often appear equitable and balanced, they lack clearly defined and recognized and accepted leadership. An holistic and systemic perspective, a clearly focused set of objectives, and a statistically sound decision-making process that can allow for adaptive management in a rapidly changing oil sands environment does not exist. The system is driven by independent projects and their associate environmental assessments activities and licensing approval requirements.

Collectively the monitoring efforts by provincial and federal governments and other stakeholder groups including industry, lack a coherent data management framework where information can be uploaded, organized, and accessed in a standardized and coordinated manner. Until recently much of the data has been submitted to Alberta Environment in annual hard copy reports.

While some of the elements of an integrated, coordinated system can be seen working in WBEA, and to some extent in CEMA, they were most noticeably lacking in RAMP. The RAMP program is industry funded and is the largest aquatic monitoring initiative in the oil sands region. Although we are confident it was conceived and currently implemented by people with the best of intentions it is not designed to be systemic, holistic, or adaptive. There seems to be little integration across media or with other organizations. While environmental data is being collected on water quality and ecosystem parameters, the program suffers from a lack of scientific leadership, it is not focused on hypothesis testing, (i.e., the sampling program design is not effects based). It is not producing world-class scientific output in a transparent, peer-reviewed format and it is not adequately communicating its results to the scientific community or the public.

Significant aspects of RAMP have been publicly criticized (e.g., Ayles et al., 2004; Kelly et al., 2010; Schindler, 2010). Some groups flagged their doubts about the statistical power in RAMP sampling designs and whether endpoints that are the most sensitive to potential impacts are being selected. There is a perception that RAMP is designed to fulfill permit requirements but is not adequate for quantifying ecosystem change as a result of oil sands development. Although some of the formal criticisms of RAMP have been addressed there has been little communication of these changes. The timeliness of responses is also an issue that should be critically addressed. The net effect is the perception of a rigid organization and that is not open to active continuous improvement.

In addition to the established monitoring programs, there are significant academic-based environmental research activities concerning water quality in the oil sands region. Several of these studies have produced important results that challenge some of assertions made by some of the ongoing monitoring efforts. The inability of the institutional monitoring programs to explain the water quality issues raised in the research is of concern.

Despite the myriad programs ongoing in the oil sands region, the Panel observed that there was no evidence of science leadership to ensure that monitoring and research activities are planned and performed in a coordinated way, and no evidence that the vast quantities of data are analyzed and interpreted in an integrated manner. Similarly there was a lack of leadership on reporting on oil sands environmental performance across media.

The Scope of Monitoring Activities

It is evident that a wide range of long-term and surveillance-based monitoring and research programs and activities are currently being conducted in the oil sands region involving many players (provincial and federal government, industry, stakeholder consortia, universities, First Nations). Each of these programs/activities was developed and implemented to address specific environmental issues or knowledge gaps.

For example for water quality in the Athabasca River and tributaries, Alberta Environment maintains a long-term, water quality monitoring network on the Athabasca system involving approximately 10 sites, Environment Canada maintains a water quality monitoring stations in the oil sands region, RAMP uses more than 40 monitoring/sampling locations for the Athabasca River and tributaries involving a wide range of sample types (e.g., geochemistry, sediments, biota, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)) and individual companies monitor surface water as part of their permit requirements. However, there is often no consistency or coordination among these and other programs in Quality Assurance/Quality Control (QA/QC) protocols, sample size and the type and timing of environmental samples being taken. Hence while there is a significant amount of data being collected, there is a limited capability to ensure that the new knowledge created by the monitoring activity is actually able to be used by decision-makers.

Another observed shortcoming of the design and implementation of the monitoring programs in the oil sands region is that they are not fully adaptive to the different phases of oil sands development. Currently, the monitoring programs are attempting to address legacy environmental conditions resulting primarily from historical and present-day surface-mining operations, related tailings ponds, and increased emissions related to up-graders. However, it is the potential environmental effects associated with the likely rapid expansion of in-situ extraction projects that could be the most concerning in the future.

Specific areas where additional monitoring and research attention is required include: information of regional groundwater hydrogeology and related aquifer sustainability and water quality; interactions between aerial deposition and water quality and ecosystem impacts; connectivity between surface and ground water systems; and the assessment of cumulative impacts of multiple environmental stressors on aquatic ecosystem health and integrity; and more rigorous acid deposition quantification including transboundary deposition in Saskatchewan.

Future scenarios of climate change, technological change and fast-paced industrial development have not to date catalyzed thinking and action. A monitoring system that can effectively track potential future changes and produce reliable data will be essential for those who must make decisions that are both challenging and opportunistic.

Ottawa, Alberta blamed for lax oil-sands oversight, Shawn McCarthy, December 21 2010.

Federal and provincial governments have contributed to public distrust of the oil sands by failing to properly monitor the environmental impacts, a high-level panel says.

In a report released Tuesday, a high-level oil-sands advisory review panel said the two governments need to rebuild regulatory oversight of the massive energy projects.

“Until this situation is fixed, there will continue to be uncertainty and public distrust in the environmental performance of the oil sands industry and government oversight,” it said.

The panel, appointed by former environment minister Jim Prentice, is the latest to point out the serious shortcomings in regulatory oversight.

The new environment minister, John Baird, said Ottawa accepts the recommendations of the report and will act to build a "gold standard" monitoring system.

"If there are costs, we will find a way to make it happen," he said, adding that the government generally supports a "polluter pays" principle.

Last week, the Royal Society of Canada said the two governments have failed to keep up with the booming development along the Athabasca River in northeastern Alberta.

Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner announced Monday that he will appoint a new panel to advise his government how to build a “world-class” monitoring, review and evaluation system.

In the federal report, the panel said there should be a “shared governance” approach, with Environment Canada taking the lead.

“There is clearly a lack of leadership and co-ordination,” panel chair Elizabeth Dowdeswell said.

The report urged governments to devote significant new funding to assess the environmental impacts of the oil-sands development, primarily paid for by the oil companies.


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