Stephen Harper on trial, in Alternatives Journal A\J. By Ted Heeley. His Day In Court, by Ted Heeley

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.

Polly Higgins' TEDxExeter talk on Ecocide

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 re-electing 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. Review the evidence and deliver your verdict below.

The charge: Promoting willful ignorance by eliminating advisory bodies, restricting data gathering and destroying scientific records.

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.)
  • New January 2014: After seven out of nine Department of Fisheries and Oceans libraries were closed in 2013, decades of public research documents the government claimed would be digitized were dumped in the garbage, sent straight to landfills or even burned, according to numerous reports from government scientists. Affected institutions inlude the Freshwater Institute library in Winnipeg; the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre in St. John's, Newfoundland and the St. Andrews Biological Station (SABS) in New Brunswick, where Rachel Carson conducted research for Silent Spring. The destroyed documents included critical baseline data from up to 100 years ago.
  • New January 2015: Environment Canada is accused of attempting to halt further investigations after the Commission of Environmental Co-operation, a part of NAFTA, was called to action to find out whether tailings ponds in Alberta are leaking into nearby water sources, thus breaking Canada's Federal Fisheries Act. 

The charge: Preventing knowledge from reaching the public by muzzling government scientists.

The evidence: 

The charge: Systematically dismantling decades of environmental protection legislation.

The evidence: 

The charge: Limiting scientists’ ability to provide perspective by reducing environmental research and think tank funding.

The evidence:

The charge: Undermining conservation and monitoring efforts by cutting funding, staff and programs.

The evidence:

The charge: Obstructing and threatening environmental education and advocacy efforts.

The evidence:


Or, join the resistance movement with the David Suzuki Foundation, Ecojustice, Evidence for Democracy, Democracy Watch, and Shit Harper Did, just some of the groups working to expose and fight attacks on environmental protection and science.

Read Laura's blog post "Why You Need to Talk About Science More" for more on how you can help build a science-friendly society and Janet Kimantas' post on DFO library closures.

Laura is a past A\J managing editor. She has an MA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University, is an organizing aficionado, lackadaisical gardener, and former musical theatre producer. @inhabitings

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