Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Participatory democracy? Not welcome in London, Ontario.

Why do I bother trying to save the world

by Barry Kent MacKay

After a three hour drive, and a long meeting with two knowledgeable animal protectionists and an accurate and precise lawyer and a wonderful dinner provided by a colleague, I spent several hours in an “overflow” room in London, Ontario’s City Hall.   TV monitors relayed an ongoing series of deputations by property owners, their agents, lawyers and senior company executives, all fighting to maximise profits from the planned “development” of a large swath of nearby land.   It was a massive topic.

Let’s back up a few weeks.   That’s when I took a walk with concerned citizens and media along what is locally called “Stanton Drain”, or more accurately “Stanton Creek”, in what has been, since 1993, part of the city of London, Ontario.  It was my second visit, and we viewed the two beaver dams in the arrow-straight creek which, old maps showed, had once been a naturally meandering creek.  At some point heavy equipment had straightened it out, and wire baskets of stones had lined at least parts of it, to facilitate draining adjoining flatlands for agricultural purposes.   Nature has asserted itself, and the creek now hosts two beaver dams, a lush growth of vegetation and an accompanying diverse population of various native wildlife species.

The city decided to kill the beavers, remove the dams, and ream out the waterway to better drain water from surrounding lands, all now slotted for multi-million dollar urban sprawl.  There were profits to be made and the damn beaver dams were in the way.   It happens all the time.

During my walks each time I identified some species of wildlife I was asked if it was “endangered”.  But by their nature, individual animals that are of endangered species are normally not encountered because there are so few of them.    Finding an endangered species is pretty well the only way protection of the habitat might be afforded and then usually not without a battle that environmentalists may not win. Failing to protect the habitat of species officially recognized in law as being threatened with endangerment will ultimately lead to extinction or extirpation (local extinction).

Hold that thought and let me return the night of October 15.   We were told we could speak to the city council committee at 9:30 p.m., but by midnight we were still waiting.  Finally, around 1:00 a.m., a tired and depleted committee deemed it our turn to speak.  First up was AnnaMaria Valastro, the indefatigable head of Peaceful Parks Coalition, who had invited me to view the Stanton Creek, and now asked me to depute.  I had driven from Toronto with Liz White, Animal Alliance Environment Voters of Canada, with whom I had co-signed a letter to the committee, outlining our concerns.  AnnaMaria had done what we’re told citizens should do; she had gotten involved, and diligently educated herself on the complex issues pertaining to what the city’s legal obligations were under a complex network of confusing legislation.   She began by explaining the results of our meeting with the lawyer, a meeting that had led to serious questions about which of two Operational Plans apply, and other issues too multifaceted to get into here.

But wait.  The Mayor tried to shut everything down on the grounds that AnnaMaria was threatening to sue, and asked if that was her intent?  It’s an absurd question.  AnnaMaria was engaged as a citizen, seeking to assure herself that the city had followed all legal procedures by getting answers to specific questions.  The courts are a last resort, but the law does exist to serve the citizenry and if politicians don’t want to engage in co-operative dialogue, concerned citizens are left with diminishing choices.  The mayor should know that, assuming he believes in participatory democracy.   The alternative to the citizen involvement he seemed to detest is either confrontation or the courts.

It’s hard enough trying to make points and elicit information in the five minutes allocated each speaker, all the more difficult at such an absurdly late hour but that wasn’t enough for the mayor, who, as AnnaMaria was speaking, turned to talk to a fellow political.   When AnnaMaria justifiably asked for his attention he said he could speak and listen at the same time.  Actually, he can’t.  It’s a well proven physiological impossibility to speak while hearing and fully or even reasonably comprehending another person’s comments, or to comprehend two speakers simultaneously. I don’t imagine the mayor cares.   I’m grateful I don’t live in his community.

I spoke last and knew that my task was impossible.  There was simply no way I could encapsulate decades of hard won knowledge into a five minute time slot in a way that could be understood by exhausted politicians and a clearly hostile mayor.   I can’t do it in normally-sized blog, either, so this one is long.

I tried, by pointing to the incontrovertible fact that we were in the most severe extinction spasm in some 65 million years, and that by losing such massive biodiversity we are also compromising the environment’s ability to sustain us, and our commerce.   If the laws allow this, they aren’t working in the interest of the environment, thus not in all our interest, either. There are books written and university courses taught to help one understand why this is so, but nothing can explain it in a few minutes.   I ended up resorting to my own experiences, explaining how, in the 1970s, I took part in biological surveys in rural lands east of Toronto, and how the species of birds we saw then, in large numbers, are now absent….not fewer, but altogether absent.   But these people wouldn’t know or care what a vesper sparrow was, or if there were no more bobolinks.   I explained I had held an amphibian that was the end product of three billion years of evolution and is now extinct.

Yawn.   The clock ticked off my five worthless minutes and then it was decided that by gosh, the city’s legal department was right, everything was super-duper legalwise, and okay, the beaver would be live-trapped and moved somewhere or something, and then the wetland could be destroyed as planned so let’s all go home.

I made the point that for ecological reasons it would take a few paragraphs…time not available…to explain it is much harder to exterminate species in Ontario than in many parts of the world, and yet we’re doing it!   Another speaker mentioned turtles.   Let’s think about turtles, since they are aquatic by nature and because the Stanton Creek and adjoining ponds are potential turtle habitats.   There are only seven species in Ontario.  Just seven.  And of those seven, only one, the painted turtle, is reasonably abundant.  The speaker had seem them in the creek, and the snapping turtle, a species common in my youth, but now officially listed as a Species of Special Concern under the provincial Endangered Species Act.  But the problem is that the question is not what has been seen in the creek, but what will forever be prevented from using that creek to assure a viable population.  That conceivably could include the beautiful little spotted turtle.  I saw them as a child but they are now endangered, although Stanton Creek is within its range.   The northern map turtle is also a Species of Special Concern and the creek is within its range.  That category refers to a species with characteristics that make it vulnerable to changes created by human or natural activity. The Blanding’s turtle is unlikely to occur there, although it could, and is listed as threatened.  The attractive wood turtle is endangered, close to extinction, and yet there may still be some in the southeast corner of Lake Huron, an hour’s drive from Stanton Creek.  The spiny soft-shelled turtle is a species at risk, meaning it is at risk of becoming endangered in Ontario if limiting factors are not reversed?   Limiting factors?   I’d list the Mayor of London as one such.

Ah, but who cares?   What does this mayor, these politicians, care about such things?  And yet…

While the city officials claimed they had cleared everything with the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR), some of the speakers pointed out that they had been unable to find anyone at the MNR who could remember such a meeting.   And a day later I saw a letter, written a year earlier, by the MNR that said what, in a more legalistic way, what I and others were trying to say, that the absence of protected rare species (of turtles, for example) does not mean that the city’s plans “will have no negative impacts on the natural heritage features and areas”.  In other words, as AnnaMaria tried to point out, it’s more complicated than the city claims; there are questions to be answered.

I don’t believe the Mayor or many others on council actually give a damn. If they did, how could they dare ask if we will exercise our legal, democratic rights to protect what we know is important, even if they don’t seem to.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Memo to Paul Ryan: Do not call yourself pro-life.

We Canadians are a notoriously polite lot, and being polite, we ought not to comment on the politics of another country.   It’s bad form.  But I don’t care.   I have heard Paul Ryan, the U.S. Republican Party’s candidate for Vice President referred to as “pro-life” just once too often to keep my mouth shut.

Whatever else you think of his politics (and I think they’re idiotic, but I’ll keep that to myself) this man is not pro-life.   I get that he wants the state to control abortion but don’t call him pro-life.

I read that Chicago just experienced its 400th homicide of the year…it will be more by now, I’m sure.  Toronto has yet to reach 30.   It’s guns that make up the difference, that snuff out so many human lives, innocent or otherwise, and yet Ryan is determinedly pro-gun.  Yep…he has the National Rifle Association’s undivided support against those bleeding hearts who dare to suggest any restriction on “the right to bear arms”.  And yeah, they’ll say Chicago has gun regulations, but that’s like putting ink only on one half of a bowl of water and expecting the other half to stay clear.   The country’s awash with guns, and a hell of a lot of lives are lost; graves filled with people who should, as  you read this, be feeling the sun on their skin, their grandkids on their knees, or be smelling the cool smell of autumn in their nostrils, loving their companion animals but are forever dead in the interest of the “right to bear arms”.

So what does this numbskull do?  He buys his ten year old daughter her very first rifle.  Never mind that at age ten  your cognitive abilities are far from well-formed and decisions are not always wise, she has to be inculcated into the fellowship of shooters, because her daddy likes to kill things.  He is a life-destroyer.  There is nothing remotely pro-life about him.

I’ve known many a non-human animal in my time, shared my home with some, observed many more in forests, seas, jungles, deserts and other such habitats around the world, and guess what?   They are alive.  They cherish their lives, they feel pain.   They don’t want their lives ended, least of all for fun.

This killer sometimes favours bows and arrows over guns, and since he has long dipped deeply into the tax-filled public trough, never making anything of use but always positioning himself to direct others in their endeavours, the proceeds of which by way of taxes pay for his private arsenal, this right wing loony does not need to fire arrows into deer to save on the price of meat!   Research by various agencies shows that about thirty percent of deer struck by arrows don’t just drop dead…they are the walking wounded, suffering so people like Paul can enjoy their “sport”.

And one aspect of such “sport” many of us have only recently learned about is “noodling”.  Flathead catfish lay their eggs in holes in the banks of rivers or ponds or pond bottoms, and the male will defend those eggs against any perceived threat, including a closed fist!  Noodlers take advantage of this defensive behaviour.   “You get your hand inside the fish, and they kind of, they come up on your hand,” Ryan explained to the press.  “Then you just squeeze wherever you are on that fish and pull it out.   I know it sounds crazy, but it’s really exhilarating.”

Right.   Hurting and killing fish guarding their eggs is not how I’d seek exhilaration, and shows no trace of respect for life.

Okay, so by “life” he somehow excludes the 99.999 percent of life that happens not to be human.  One has no choice in what species one is, any more than one has a choice in what colour of skin one has, but no matter…if you were stupid enough not to be born human, your life is no longer of concern, and “pro-life” becomes code for “pro human-life only”.

So for those of our American neighbours who will vote for you, they deserve what they get – someone who likes weapons that kill both human and non-human animals, someone who likes to play cruel games with animals – and someone who is definitely not a “pro-life”.  The only good thing about those people who will vote for you.  They are a tiny minority and given the breadth of your hypocrisy, it is likely to stay that way for a long time.

Barry Kent MacKay
General Manager
Animal Alliance / Environment Voters Party of Canada

Friday, October 5, 2012

Please Protect the Rouge - all of the 100km2 of the public land assembly

October 3, 2012
Dear Prime Minister, Ministers, MPs and Parks Canada:
We are writing to thank you for your vision in establishing the Rouge National Park. 
Parks Canada’s spokesperson, Catherine Grenier highlighted the importance of the park “as a gateway to connect the entire network of wilderness, marine and historic attractions.”
This letter includes our comments on the draft Rouge National Park Concept released by the federal government and Parks Canada in May 2012 and on general issues regarding the future of the park. 
We ask that the Park Concept adopt the long-established Rouge Park vision which states that "The Rouge Park will be a special place of outstanding natural features and diverse cultural heritage in an urban-rural setting, protected and flourishing as an ecosystem in perpetuity.  Human activities will exist in harmony with the natural values of the park. The park will be a sanctuary for nature and the human spirit.  ...  The primary focus of the vision centres on the protection and appreciation of the park ecosystem. "  
Therefore, in keeping with the vision statement, we seek the inclusion of all of the 100 km2 public land assembly surrounding the Rouge River watershed as part of Rouge National Park.  This will build on and re-enforce the provincial Greenbelt Plan initiative because the majority of these lands are also designated as a natural heritage system.
Establishing the Rouge National Park would allow for "the protection and restoration of Carolinian and mixed woodland habitats in a sustainable natural heritage system linking Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine".  In addition, it would provide protection for the animal species who reside there, recognizing them as an integral part of a healthy Carolinian ecosystem.  
There has already been a significant investment of public resources and community involvement that has led to the creation of the existing Rouge Park plans including the 1994 Rouge Park Management Plan, the Provincial Greenbelt Plan, Rouge Watershed Strategy, Rouge Natural Heritage Action Plan and the TRCA's Targeted Natural Heritage System.
Any legislative or regulatory changes, or modifications to management plans for Rouge National Park should strengthen the vision, goal and objectives as set out in the above reports and facilitate the implementation of those plans.
Incorporating all 100 km2 as part of the park is critical to meet federal and provincial scientific minimums of 30% forest cover and 10% wetland cover needed to protect watershed health and native species diversity.  At the present time, only 13 percent forest cover and 2 percent wetland cover of the Rouge Watershed does not come close to meeting the science based ecosystem targets.
In order to achieve this, we ask that you provide Parks Canada and Environment Canada with the necessary tools to restore forests and wetlands on the public lands within and beyond the Rouge Park to meet and exceed the scientific minimums for forest and wetland cover and to protect and restore the water quality and aquatic health of the rivers that flow through the park. 
We are concerned because at the present time approximately 70% of the public Rouge Park lands in Markham are in fact leased for industrial cash-crop farming of primarily corn and soy beans. 
This industrial type farming uses pesticides, chemicals and genetically modified crops which are inconsistent with the values of a wilderness urban park and may very well compromise the very wildlife the Park is meant to protect. 
In addition, large cash-crop farms distort wild populations because of food attractants and result in increased human/wildlife conflicts.   Alternatively, smaller farms which utilize a diversity of crops, modern organic methods, wildlife corridors and peaceful coexistence with wildlife would fit more naturally into a urban wilderness park.  These farms produce a variety of healthy local food, jobs and revenues for the local economy. 
We urge you to ensure that Parks Canada take this unique opportunity and create a spectacular Rouge National Park including the entire 100 km2 land base. Thank you in advance for your support and we look forward to hearing from you.
Barry MacKay
Canadian Representative
Born Free USA

Liz White
Animal Alliance/Environment Voters

Lia Laskaris
Animal Alliance of Canada


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Important Action Alert from the CHDC on Horse Traceability

Today, the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC) released a significant report on Canada’s horse traceability program, Pro-Slaughter Group Attempts to Cash In on Horse Traceability Program While Canada Falters on its Deadline.

This paper addresses the outcome of Equine Canada’s CanEQUID traceability program and its apparent demise.  Also, it addresses the desire of Horse Welfare Alliance of Canada (HWAC), the paradoxical pro-slaughter “horse welfare” group, to implement their solution for an equine traceability program.

HWAC has recently put out a Call to Action where founder Bill desBarres describes their Equine Traceability Canada program and asks Canadian horse organizations and stakeholders:  “Do you and your constituents support HWAC, as a non-partisan national organization, to facilitate Canadian equine identification and traceability (the ETC project) through proven, internationally accepted and secure technology?” Recipients are to respond by October 3, 2012 since “decisions must be made and action taken”.

The CHDC has answered today with this response:  “The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition does not recognize HWAC as a non-partisan national organization since it has a vested interest in maintaining and growing Canada's horse slaughter industry.  We also do not support HWAC in its attempts to facilitate a Canadian equine traceability project through ETC, Animal ID Solutions, or any other means.”

After reading our report and understanding the implications of supporting this program, we are asking CHDC supporters and all concerned people to respond to HWAC’s question, by responding to info@horsewelfare.ca, if not by October 3rd, then at your earliest convenience.

We also ask you to notify Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) at info@agr.gc.ca.

Thank you, and we’d like to hear from supporters and see the responses they receive.

For the horses,
Canadian Horse Defence Coalition