Crimes against ecology: is the harper government guilty? You be the judge.


IN 2011, the CEOs of oil companies operating in the tar sands were found guilty of ecocide in a mock trial staged by the Eradicating Ecocide Global Initiative. The trial was part of British lawyer Polly Higgins' campaign to have ecocide recognized as an international crime by the United Nations. The UN already acknowledges "widespread, long-term and severe damage to the natural environment" as a war crime in the Rome Statute, but there's no peacetime equivalent.

In Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation and Ecojustice are currently fighting to have the right to a healthy environment enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. About 100 other countries' constitutions have already recognized this right, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has gone the opposite direction, chipping away at environmental protections, research and programs over the last seven years.

Harper has been Canada's worst prime minister from an environmental perspective, says David Boyd, lawyer and author of The Right to a Healthy Environment. He argues that Canadians have failed in their responsibility to hold Harper accountable by reelecting him, "eroding our reputation as a green nation."

Boyd says that if the Right to a Healthy Environment campaign is successful, we'll have more opportunity than elections to ensure accountability. "Non-regression," a common principle in countries recognizing environmental rights, sets existing standards as "a baseline that can only be improved, and not weakened," explains Boyd. "Thus, the recent weakening of key Canadian environmental laws ... would have been unconstitutional!"

Is the Harper administration guilty of ecocide? You be the judge.

The charge

Promoting willful ignorance by eliminating advisory bodies and restricting data gathering.

The evidence

* In January 2008, the Office of the National Science Adviser was phased out.

* The mandatory long-form census was replaced with a voluntary national household survey in July 2010, reducing the availability of reliable and detailed data.

* The 2012 budget halved $5-million in annual funding for the First Nations Statistical Institute and eliminated it completely in 2013, leading to 23 staff layoffs.

* The 25-year-old National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy was shut down in March 2013 because the government didn't agree with its reports. The NRTEE was prohibited from publishing its final report online and from transferring historical materials to another organization. (They circulated them anyway.)

The charge

Preventing knowledge from reaching the public by muzzling government scientists.

The evidence

* Restrictive new protocols were implemented at Environment Canada in 2007 and Natural Resources Canada in 2010 requiring scientists to obtain government permission before speaking to the media. Meanwhile, the Department of...

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