Police not probing recent rail disasters, crude oil derailments, deaths for possible negligence

Finger pointing among railways, outside police, safety officials in investigations, CBC finds

No police are investigating two derailments within two months along CP’s rail line near Guernsey, Sask., despite known track problems. (Matt Smith/The Canadian Press)

Public police forces are choosing not to investigate major accidents at CN and Canadian Pacific Railway, including recent crude oil train crashes and deadly derailments, a CBC News investigation into Canada’s rail system has found.

Instead, the RCMP, Ontario Provincial Police and other forces routinely defer to little-known federal railway police run by CP and CN, leaving the companies to investigate themselves with no outside police looking into potential criminal negligence.

It’s infuriated some families of workers killed on the railways who claim a “double standard” where outside police are willing to move in to clear blockades along Canada’s rail lines but routinely don’t investigate rail corporations in the event of major disasters or fatalities.

“It makes me angry,” said Tara Jijian, whose husband was killed working at CP’s rail yard in Regina.

“Because the blockades and protests affect the economy somewhat, everybody rushes to make sure that, you know, ‘We have to clear this off, this has to be dealt with,’ ” said Jijian.

“But when it’s a person that is killed on those same railway tracks, the police just absolutely refuse to get involved.”

WATCH: Tara Jijian says CP rail police are preventing outside investigation of her husband’s death.

Tara Jijian says RCMP, Regina police won’t probe her husband’s death. 0:25

Instead, outside police defer to the railways, which since the 19th century have employed their own fully authorized federal police forces, which have all the powers of regular police.

But unlike public police, rail police lack any civilian oversight, are paid for by private companies and are not governed by any formal police act.

CBC has uncovered a string of recent major rail crashes where no police force of any kind stepped in – or only railway company police investigated — leaving what some say is a vacuum of accountability when it comes to potential criminal negligence on Canada’s rail lines.

Fiery derailments, no police

In three recent derailments that leaked millions of litres of crude oil in Saskatchewan and Ontario, no police agencies investigated, CBC has found.

In early December, when 33 tanker cars crashed and exploded southeast of Saskatoon, CP Railway said their police service did not investigate and referred inquiries to the RCMP.

“The RCMP has been involved and has jurisdiction,” a CP spokesperson said.

The RCMP appeared dumbfounded.

“I’m not totally sure where you are getting your information,” the RCMP told CBC, pointing back to CP police and the Transportation Safety Board as the lead agencies.

“In this case we were only there for traffic control and to assist if required with any type of evacuation,” the RCMP said.

Two months later, just seven kilometres down the same CP rail line, a second crude oil train derailed and exploded, forcing evacuation of the hamlet of Guernsey.

WATCH: Drone footage shows second derailment in two months

There have been no reports of injuries after a train derailed near a Saskatchewan hamlet. Emergency response says 12 of the 31 cars that derailed are on fire. 0:33

Neither CP police nor the RCMP investigated, despite striking similarities in the crash on the same rail line where regulators had earlier found problems with the track.

In northern Ontario, neither OPP nor CN Police are investigating the derailment of an oil train near Fort Frances on Feb. 18, 2020, involving 26 crude oil tanker cars, CBC has confirmed.

OPP in northwestern Ontario say they are not looking into a Feb. 18, 2020, derailment near Fort Frances. (Transportation Safety Board)

 

Unlike in a highway car crash where police investigate, in rail a crash the Transportation Safety Board is the agency with the responsibility of probing causes and coming up with safety recommendations.

But the TSB does not lay charges and said it is not “legally competent to assign fault.”

The TSB says that’s up to police.

“The fact that TSB is investigating does not preclude any other agency from investigating in accordance with its own mandate (e.g. police, coroner, regulator, etc.),”  TSB spokesperson Geneviève Corbin wrote in an email.

Railway police say outside forces are welcome to step in.

“The RCMP not only have jurisdiction to investigate offences that occur on CP property but are duty-bound to do so,” said CP spokesperson Jeremy Berry.

(CBC)

 

The RCMP and other forces point back to railway police and say they won’t intervene unless asked.

This finger pointing and jurisdictional dodge ball means that in Canada, public police forces seldom — if ever — investigate failures by railways in major disasters, including after a runaway train in the B.C. mountains last winter that killed three crew members.

In connection with that crash, a Transportation Safety Board official has publicly called for the RCMP to investigate potential criminal negligence.

CBC asked both CN and CP whether, in the past 20 years, they’ve ever called in outside police to lead investigations into a major railway incident involving a death, serious injury or derailment. Both declined to answer that question or answer whether they have ever criminally charged an employee related to railway operations.

The RCMP, OPP, Toronto Police or Hamilton Police — all of which helped clear recent rail blockades — couldn’t point to a single case over 20 years where they used their authority to probe a railway crash or fatality.

Rail corporations ‘above the law’

A lawyer for the families of Jamie Jijian, who was killed in CP’s Regina yard in 2012, and Kevin Timmerman, who was killed in CN’s Saskatoon yard in 2015, is going to court to challenge the railway police system.

“The problem is that it puts an elite group of corporations above the law,” said Tavengwa Runyowa, who filed a constitutional challenge last month after seeing a documentary by CBC’s The Fifth Estate on the B.C. derailment case.

“We cannot have a situation in Canada where corporations can own the police who will investigate them, and tell nothing to the victims of the people who died on their premises. We’re saying it’s unconstitutional,” said Runyowa.

In the challenge, the families are arguing that Jijian and Timmerman were denied their right to life, liberty and security of person through a failure of the railway police to effectively investigate their own companies, which they allege allowed safety problems to persist and ultimately costing the two men their lives.

Watch: A lawyer calls for an end to railways investigating themselves.

CN and CP declined to comment and have not yet filed a response with the court.

In the case of Jamie Jijian, the family pleaded with Regina police to step in to conduct an independent probe.

They received a leaked internal Transport Canada death report that’s usually kept confidential, which pointed to failures at CP. It concluded Jijian was crushed to death moving rail cars in a yard amid snow-covered tracks, an “atypical track configuration” and a “risky” decision by a supervisor.

But Regina police refused.

“Despite your assertion that there is a conflict of interest in this matter, it remains our position that this falls within the jurisdiction of the CP Police Service,” a lawyer for the Regina police wrote to Runyowa.

Similarly, in Saskatoon, no outside police stepped in after the 2015 death of CN conductor Kevin Timmerman.

He was walking along the tracks in the CN yard when he was struck from behind by a train.

TSB rail safety advisory concluded that the yard traffic co-ordinator had changed the work plans inside the yard, rerouting a train, and failed to alert all the crew on the ground.

Timmerman’s family says CN police have refused to provide any information.

The Transportation Safety Board is looking into track or maintenance failure in a Dec. 9, 2019, derailment near Guernsey, Sask., but says it isn’t ‘legally competent’ to assign fault. (Transportation Safety Board)

 

“If it was a traffic accident or a murder or anything like that, the RCMP within Canada would investigate it, and there’s reports and there is accountability to everybody, right?” said Lori Desrochers, Timmerman’s former spouse.

“Here you’ve got a police force that’s paid by a company. Well, of course they’re not going to call out their employer,” she said. “When it comes to fatalities, the RCMP should be involved.”

The families have written to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Attorney General David Lametti and Transport Minister Marc Garneau, as well as the commissioners of the RCMP and OPP, pleading for changes in the policing of railways.

“We are concerned with what appears to be a double standard in how the RCMP responds to railway policing incidents,” their letter said.

Tara Jijian is angy that public police forces are willing to clear blockades along rail lines, but don’t routintely investigate rail corporations in the event of major disasters or fatalities. Her husband, Jamie Jijian, was killed working at CP’s rail yard in Regina. (Submitted by Tara jijian)

 

“When Canada’s railway companies need assistance, for example policing the Wet’suwet’en protests and their supporters, the RCMP readily intervenes,” wrote Runyowa.

“However, when there is a workplace death, derailment, oil spill or other railway incident that may be attributable to railway companies themselves, the RCMP defers to the private police forces that the companies fund and control.”

CP Rail’s police chief said in a statement that the Canadian Pacific Police Service is compliant with the Railway Safety Act and is “independent of CP when acting pursuant to their law enforcement powers.”

CN declined to respond to questions from CBC.

‘Untenable, unprecedented’

Canada’s biggest rail union, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, is calling for the total abolition of railway police.

Curt Griffiths, a professor of policing studies at Simon Fraser University in B.C., calls railway police a “historical anomaly” left over from the late 1800s when Canada’s railways were being built.

“It’s quite unbelievable actually that you’re leaving it to a railway police to investigate itself when there are particularly serious injuries or deaths involved and potentially negligence,” Griffiths said.

“I think most Canadians are going to be surprised that you have police officers with all the powers of a public police officer with none of the accountability,” said Griffiths.

Kevin Timmerman, shown with his grandson, Spencer, died when he was struck from behind by a train while walking along the tracks in a CN yard in Saskatoon in 2015. (Submitted by Lori Desrochers)

 

Griffiths believes Canada’s laws need to be rewritten to make investigation of rail disasters the job of the RCMP and to take it out of the hands of railway company police.

“The current arrangement is untenable. It’s actually unprecedented these days and it cannot be fixed within the existing situation. You have to change the structure and you have to change the arrangement: they can’t be both public and private police.”

Garneau, Canada’s transport minister, has not been available for an interview.

In a statement, Transport Canada said outside police have “discretion” and “can investigate any criminal conduct if they have jurisdiction over the area where the accident occurred,” citing the Lac-Megantic derailment in 2013 as one example where both RCMP and Quebec provincial police took charge.

However, the federal regulator declined to answer questions about reforming railway police.

Taking climate change to the courts

Australian wildfire.

SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images

In the capital, Manila, muddy, sewage-filled floodwater trapped Veronica “Derek” Cabe’s family on the roof of their home.

“My family huddled together on the rooftop of our two-story house as the floodwaters sped past,” said Cabe, an environmental activist. “They could see bodies, animals, and even a coffin. It was like a horror movie.”

Cabe got stuck a few miles away from her family. She was getting text message updates from them, but couldn’t reach them.

“The fact that they were trapped in a life-and-death situation, and I had no idea how to help them was the worst nightmare that I’ve ever had,” Cabe told The World.

Since that day, the Philippines has been slammed by storms again and again. In 2012, tropical storm Washi killed about 1,300 people. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan killed 6,000 people.

These kinds of storms and other disasters are expected to grow more intense as the climate warms. The bushfires raging across Australia are an example of how damages from climate change are likely to grow in the future.

Cabe is among those looking for someone or something to hold accountable for the damage caused by these catastrophes.

“What are we going to do, are we just going to count the dead bodies?” Cabe said. “There should be someone that should be accountable to this.”

In 2015, Cabe signed onto a petition that asked the Philippines Commission on Human Rights to do just that. The commission agreed to investigate whether big oil and gas companies could be held legally responsible for harm caused by climate change.

And the case is not unique. Citizens, nonprofit organizations and governments around the world are increasingly turning to the courts in their search for accountability.

“Litigation in the field of climate change has grown significantly in recent years,” said Alice Hill, a former judge and climate change policy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“And it’s anticipated that it will continue to grow on a number of fronts as we experience more impacts, and there’s greater anxiety about the very urgent need to cut emissions.”

Hill calls some of these climate change lawsuits “failure to adapt” cases. The plaintiffs are suing governments or businesses for not doing enough to protect people or their property from the impacts of climate change.

In Texas, the Army Corps of Engineers just fought and lost a case filed by homeowners claiming they didn’t do enough to prevent flooding during Hurricane Harvey.

“It’s those types of cases that will just be replicated across the nation,” Hill said, “because the damages are happening, and the courts are one of the most frequently sought-after places for people to get money.”

The number of lawsuits against oil and gas companies is also on the rise.

Several U.S. cities and states are suing for damages, seeking money to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change — by building seawalls, for example.

Attorneys general in Massachusetts and the U.S. Virgin Islands are also suing Exxon Mobil Corp. for misleading investors about climate change risk.

New York lost a similar case in December, and so far, Hill said, none of these big cases against oil and gas companies have been successful.

“We see in these large-scale cases the fossil fuel companies raising the issue that, ‘Look, everyone’s emitting carbon, and to point your finger at the fossil fuel companies isn’t really fair,'” Hill said.

The science of climate attribution has advanced in the past few years, allowing scientists to estimate how much climate change contributed to the severity of an individual hurricane or drought.

But so far, litigants haven’t been able to successfully prove that emissions from a specific company caused damages from a particular weather event. It’s a linkage, Hill said, that is typically required in many tort cases.

Geographic expansion expected to continue in 2020

Climate change lawsuits began in the litigious United States in the late 1990s, and for years remained largely a U.S. phenomenon.

That started to change after 2015 when a Dutch court ruled that the government had to cut emissions to protect the human rights of its citizens.

“A number of other countries and litigants started seeing how litigation could be used strategically against governments and against companies,” said Joana Setzer, a climate litigation expert at the London School of Economics and Political Science. That included cases in Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg, and Chile.

Setzer predicts the trend is likely to continue in 2020, especially in developing countries.

“I expect to see more cases being brought in countries where either we haven’t seen any case of strategic climate litigation or where there’s been one or two,” Setzer said.

Some of those cases might come in the Philippines, where, in December, the head of the Commission on Human Rights announced on the sidelines of a U.N. climate conference that the body had decided in favor of petitioners like Cabe looking to hold oil and gas companies legally responsible for future harm caused by climate change.

The full decision, expected to be released in early 2020, won’t be legally binding. But the activists behind the petition hope it lays the groundwork for future court cases.

Still, even those behind these climate change cases recognize that the courts might not be the best place to fight the battle against rising carbon emissions.

“Courts can’t make climate policies. Courts are obviously not the best intuition to deal with these issues,” said Dennis van Berkel, one of the lawmakers who worked on the landmark Dutch case that inspired climate lawsuits around the world.

“What courts can do is they can look at the facts and they can say, ‘Well, here the government really crossed the line,’ and what we really want is for governments not to cross the line, and to start acting in the interest of the people.”

Van Berkel and others hope that the threat of lawsuits will at least nudge them in that direction. SOURCE

 

Women Activists Escalate Demand for “Bodily Autonomy” as 19 Nations Dissent

Credit: UN Women

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 17 2020 (IPS) – The United States and 18 other UN member states have come under fire for denying a woman’s legitimate right to “bodily autonomy”—the right to self-governance over one’s own body without coercion or external pressure.

The Executive Director of Women’s March Global, Uma Mishra-Newbery, told IPS the United Nations has worked towards progress in fighting for women’s rights.

But many countries on the Human Rights Council continue to negotiate women’s human rights off the table, she pointed out.

In Sept 2019, she said, the world watched as the US, in partnership with 18 other member states, put forth a statement saying there is no international right to abortion.

She said UN member states have also witnessed “the continued and grave human rights violations in Saudi Arabia”, including the continued torture of imprisoned women human rights defenders like Loujain al-Hathloul.

“Yet the UN and member states fail to hold Saudi Arabia truly accountable for its actions. The UN must hold these governments accountable as they work to strip women’s rights away without repercussions”, she declared.

Beside the United States, the 18 countries singled out include Bahrain, Belarus, Brazil, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Poland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.

The member states who deny women access to safe and legal abortion represent 1.3 billion people, according to Women’s March Global.

As part of a global campaign for women’s reproductive rights, Women’s March Global has called attention to the “dangerous and alarming repeal of women’s rights to bodily autonomy, bringing international attention to these pressing issues.”

The 45 marches—the fourth annual event, with the participation of millions of women and allies – took place in Africa, Canada, Central and South America, Europe and Asia.

Purnima Mane, a former UN Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), told IPS the March on January 18 to protest the inadequate progress and sometimes downright rollback of women’s right to exercise bodily autonomy through the right to abortion, “comes at a critical juncture in our history.”

She said as many as 48 of the 58 existing UN countries, signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Nonetheless, the UN as a body, has been limited in its work on abortion, due to its exclusion as a right from human rights treaties as a result of significant opposition from many quarters, she added.

“Besides, these treaties are not legally binding and some countries specifically see these issues as covered by domestic law.”

For example, she said, the Programme of Action (PoA) of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD), focuses on the obligation of governments to prevent unsafe abortion but does not refer to making abortion legal.

This obligation can of course open the door for national debates on how women’s overall health and bodily autonomy are linked. International human rights treaties which most governments have ratified, support the right of women to liberty and to health.

The UN often provides platforms to learn from examples of countries which have implemented these rights successfully, integrating women’s rights more broadly, including the right to bodily autonomy, said Mane, who is a former President and CEO of Pathfinder International.

Antonia Kirkland, a global lead at Equality Now, told IPS that UN Women, alongside the Mexican and French governments and feminists around the world, have chosen bodily autonomy and sexual and reproductive health rights as one of the Generation Equality Forum’s six Action Coalition themes to in the lead up to Beijing +25.

“This is a good sign that attention and resources are being focused in this direction and can hopefully help counteract moves towards greater restrictions on access to abortion in countries like the USA, as well as forced pregnancy and motherhood in Latin American countries”. MORE

Canadian politics needs way more shame

Scott Gilmore: Canada needs men and women in power who are afraid to lie to us, who would be embarrassed to be caught out, who blush and fear the consequences

Ford laughs as he speaks with the media at Queen’s Park on Nov. 28, 2019 (Nathan Denette/CP)

I have spent a significant part of my professional life working in places where things have gone wrong—in countries afflicted with war, poverty or corruption. In the early years, I found the work especially challenging. I was often flummoxed by circumstances, unable to solve basic problems because I simply did not understand the context.

For example, it took me a long time to realize that “truth” is not necessarily objective, and the concept of shame varies widely from country to country. When I was still a diplomat, I had a moment of epiphany one day in Rawalpindi, a cantonment town in northern Pakistan, in the dusty office of an army general. The meeting was not especially important (I was so junior I was often used as a “walking insult”—an intentional snub to foreign officials who would be offended that Canada sent someone so unimportant to meet with them). The topic was their clandestine support for the Taliban, and we were getting nowhere.

READ MORE: Scott Reid’s confession, and the dream of honesty in politics

We sat in two large and worn wingback chairs, flags behind us, note-takers in front, and tea in hand. I was jet-lagged and irritable and confused. My confusion was because the general was contesting basic points of fact. I would say something irrefutable, well-documented and widely reported, and he would respond with a flat denial. “No. That didn’t happen.” I would try a different angle, hoping to find some point of truth upon which we could both stand. But my search was fruitless. He denied reality with an air of patient kindness—as though he were helping a pleasant but slow cadet. And, the facts he presented were so clearly false that I could only respond in stammering bewilderment.

As we left, I asked my colleague, who was based in Pakistan, what had just happened. He shrugged and explained shame was not a universal constant and suggested I needed to adjust my expectations accordingly.

I would later have similar experiences in other countries, usually in places where accountability was scarce. I eventually understood that if a person does not need to worry about consequences, they also do not need to worry about how others see them. Since my general knew Canada was powerless to do anything about Pakistan’s support for the Taliban, he didn’t care what I thought of his answers.

Being Catholic, this connection between consequences and shame should have been obvious. The priests in my life warned me impure thoughts would send me straight to hell, planting the seeds for a lifetime of guilt and shame.

I am writing about this, as we begin a new decade, because I have the impression the last 10 years saw a distinct decline of shame in Canadian politics. It’s hard for me to count or calculate; this is not something tracked by Statistics Canada. But it distinctly feels like our politicians are growing more shameless by the day.

RELATED: To our new Parliamentarians: Don’t be a**holes

The examples are endless, whether it’s the current government lying about the SNC-Lavalin scandal, the previous one lying about the F-35 contract, Conservatives lying about climate change, the NDP lying about the economy, or the supporters and surrogates of all parties swarming social media and news panels refuting the irrefutable, denying reality and presenting their own set of facts without a fig leaf of shame or apparent regret. And it’s not just at the federal level. Whether it’s Doug Ford on deficits or carbon taxes, or Jason Kenney on equalization or his government’s war room, provincial leaders seem to do and say things every day that can only be described as “shameless.” Perhaps the most common and most egregious example of this is when any of our politicians speak about an opponent: without hesitation they describe the other and their policies as disastrous or corrupt, when it’s quite clear neither of these are true.

If this is getting worse, I suspect there are two causes. First, our politicians are increasingly living in protective cocoons that filter out dissenting voices. Due to a proliferation of news sources, they are able to surround themselves in radio stations, news sites and social media followers who support them. If they’re being called liars, they can’t hear it. And if you can’t hear it, does it even matter?

Second, journalism is shrinking and becoming less and less capable of holding liars to account, while those who protect politicians with spin are multiplying. In 1991 there were two public relations professionals for every one journalist in Canada. The ratio is now more than four to one. And, an increasingly ineffectual media means fewer consequences for politicians.

Regardless of why shame is apparently declining, I hope the trend is reversed. The ideals of peace, order and good government are built on a base of shame. We need men and women in power who are afraid to lie to us, who would be embarrassed to be caught out, who blush and fear the consequences.

Of course, this depends on you and I, the voters. After the decade that was, it would be easy for us to simply adjust our expectations—acknowledge the death of shame, and pick our team. But it would be nice to think it was possible for us to do the opposite, to realize we can all hold politicians to account, and understand that when they lie to any of us, they are lying to all of us. If we did that, imagine the problems we might be able to solve. SOURCE

Did Ottawa mislead Canadians about the true cost for Trans Mountain?

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finance Minister Bill Morneau in Ottawa. Tuesday, March 19, 2019. Photography by The Canadian Press / Sean Kilpatrick

Ever since Finance Minister Bill Morneau announced the Liberal Cabinet decision to buy Trans Mountain from Kinder Morgan for $4.5 billion on May 29, 2018, Canadians have been asking “How much will this pipeline end up costing us?”

There are two price tags. First, the cost for the 66-year-old pipeline. And, second, the cost to build the expansion.

Canadians were assured by Morneau that, “This investment represents a fair price… The core assets required to build the Trans Mountain Expansion Project have significant commercial value, and this transaction represents a sound investment opportunity.”

On that same day Canadians were also led to believe that the second price tag was $7.4 billion.

Facts tell us otherwise.

Hidden deep in hundreds of pages of government documents is one small figure. And it’s strong evidence that on the day the government told Canadians the cost to build the pipeline was $7.4 billion, its own estimates showed the cost to be an extra billion dollars.

What we now know is that Morneau’s advisers were well aware of escalating project costs. Internal government documents released through Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) tell us the government’s project team ordered a study from Leidos Engineering to determine the cost to build the expansion. That study was underway in April 2018 before Trans Mountain’s purchase was announced.

Briefing notes in the ATIP documents show that the Leidos report was meant to include “new costing and scheduling for (an) $8.4 B project” — 15 per cent more than the cost Ottawa admitted to publicly when it announced the purchase. The new cost is tucked away on page 272 of a 601-page release — the only reference to expected higher project costs that isn’t redacted. Current indications, as detailed in my brief, are that the cost to build the project has likely reached $12 billion.

Taxpayers as owners are at serious risk. An increase in the cost to construct of this magnitude might not be a problem if Trans Mountain could pass all these costs onto the shippers who use the pipeline through higher toll rates. The problem is that Ottawa cannot do so, and this is where the huge taxpayer funded subsidy on the expansion project comes in. At a capital cost of $12 billion, and with the information available, Canadians are on the hook for an additional $3.5 billion from Trans Mountain’s expansion.

That’s the cost of subsidies we are on the hook for a new expanded pipeline. But we are already paying subsidies for the existing pipeline which are currently about $3.4 billion over five-years because Trans Mountain has been losing money since Ottawa bought it. That and the fact that the government paid way too much for the 66-year old pipeline.

Then there are other promises Ottawa has agreed to such as First Nations accommodations, revenue sharing with B.C, and marine safety that exceeds more than $1 billion. Adding it all together subsidies have reached $8 billion and counting.

The cost of the construction has always been a concern to Canadians — for good reason

After Morneau’s press conference announcing Trans Mountain’s purchase in May 2018, his officials held a more detailed briefing with reporters. Staff promised that if the minister knew Ottawa would buy Trans Mountain by July 22, 2018, Canadians would be given an update on the estimate of the cost to construct the expansion. That date came and went and still no mention of the $8.4 billion provided in the Leidos report. Given what we now know, it was clear then that Ottawa had something to hide.

Leidos engineering wasn’t the only one to come up with that $8.4 billion figure. Kinder Morgan knew it and was more forthright with its shareholders than Ottawa has been with Trans Mountain’s new shareholders — the Canadian public. In July 2018, Kinder Morgan filed an Information Circular with the U.S. and Canadian securities regulators that included a Fairness Opinion prepared by TDBank. The opinion included a capital cost estimate of $8.4 billion if the project’s in-service date was 2020 — which everyone knew at the time was the earliest possible date of completion — and a $9.3 billion if the project’s in-service date became December 2021.

When the likely $1.9 billion increase in the project’s cost hit the papers, Ottawa would not support the figure, claiming it was “not an official cost forecast.” But what was known about the delays of the project at that time made $9.3 billion more accurate than $7.4 billion. Instead of advising the public that Ottawa’s own estimate had risen to at least $8.4 billion, it clung to the false narrative of $7.4 billion cost estimate as its ‘official’ figure.

When the project was approved by the prime minister last June, we were again promised an updated cost, but none has been provided. Trans Mountain Corporation CEO, Ian Anderson, was reported as saying on June 19, 2019 that, “there is no update on the last estimated project cost of $7.4 billion.”

So has the government misled Canadians all along or did it have an honest belief that the $7.4 billion expansion cost was accurate?

It seems unlikely. In fact, it seems bizarre.

Because no project manager with a modicum of budget-control expertise would enter into a construction phase for a multi billion-dollar project without an updated and detailed construction budget and reliable construction schedule. And where is Trans Mountain’s Board oversight in all of this? Why would a Crown corporation board allow the project to proceed if they don’t know what it’s going to cost to build and how long it’s going to take?

But what does it matter given that the project is long delayed and costs have skyrocketed, likely well beyond the $8.4 billion in any case?

The apparent lack of project control is chilling. On Dec. 3, Trans Mountain held a press gathering to generate fanfare around construction on Phase 1 in Edmonton. There were appearances by Federal Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan and Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage. No one explained the disconnect between promises of construction start in August, and an announcement that construction had begun four months later in December. No one mentioned that the announcement indicates another major delay.

At the press gathering Trans Mountain refused to cop to the out of control costs for this project. Mr. Anderson was reported as saying the pipeline will take 30 to 36 months to build, which means it could be completed in the second half of 2022, but he declined to update the last cost estimate of $7.4 billion because the schedule is not yet confirmed. Remember, Trans Mountain used to say it would take 24 to 30 months to build, so a 20 per cent increase in time line has been quietly slipped into the schedule—that’s a 20 per cent addition in construction activity and carrying costs.

What have we learned from all this? First we have learned that Ottawa makes promises to give us information about the financial future of Trans Mountain but repeatedly goes back on its word. And then, when Ottawa does give us information we are entitled to, we now know it can’t be relied on. SOURCE

Former Ontario police commander Brad Blair challenges new law that limits lawsuits against province

Former Ontario Provincial Police commander Brad Blair filed in Ontario Superior Court this month, arguing that the Constitution safeguards everyone’s right to seek justice in the courts for alleged wrongs committed against them.

Ontario’s new law that gives the provincial government immunity from many lawsuits is being challenged as unconstitutional in the courts.

The law – the first of its kind in Canada since suing governments became possible decades ago – took effect July 1. It bars lawsuits that allege negligence against provincial government officials and agencies, and puts procedural hurdles in the way of lawsuits alleging corrupt acts or abuse of office.

It could affect lawsuits involving everything from tainted-water scandals such as the one in Walkerton, Ont., two decades ago, to negligent police investigations in wrongful convictions, says lawyer Julian Falconer.

He is bringing the legal challenge on behalf of Brad Blair, a former Ontario Provincial Police commander who was passed over for the force’s top position last year in favour of a friend of the Premier’s.

Mr. Blair, who was later terminated from the OPP, has launched several legal actions related to the hiring process as well as his firing. His latest action, filed in Ontario Superior Court this month, argues that the Constitution safeguards everyone’s right to seek justice in the courts for alleged wrongs committed against them.

In an interview, Mr. Falconer called the new Ontario law “a shameless exercise in public officials trying to duck accountability at every level.”

Under the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act, lawsuits alleging government negligence are barred, and those alleging intentional misconduct by government officials need prior permission from judges to go ahead. Claimants are obliged to present evidence at the outset of their claims that their cases can succeed – before they are allowed access to any government documents or testimony from government witnesses.

Mr. Falconer called that part “the most extreme” aspect of the legislation. “You could have corrupt officials, officials engaged in abuses of power, doing it on purpose, and the private citizen has to subject themselves to this Kafkaesque exercise of being cross-examined on their case before the case even starts.” He says that would allow the government “to use the public purse to drain the person [of funds].”

Ontario Premier Doug Ford has said the law is designed to prevent “frivolous nonsense in the courts.”

On Wednesday, a government spokeswoman said that the new act will not “block” any claims against officials who abuse their power. “The claimant must show that the proceeding is being brought in good faith and there is a reasonable possibility that the proceeding would be resolved in the claimant’s favour,” said Jenessa Crognali, the press secretary for Attorney-General Doug Downey.
In September, Mr. Blair announced he would be pursuing a multimillion-dollar wrongful-dismissal claim against Mr. Ford and top Ontario officials. The lawsuit is now on pause, because his latest legal action essentially asks a judge to first clear the barriers imposed by the Crown Liability and Proceedings Act.
“This isn’t just about me. It’s about anyone in the province of Ontario who may be harmed by the government and is unable to hold them accountable,” Mr. Blair said in an interview.
The law has been widely criticized in Ontario’s legal community. MORE

B.C. grants $1.2 billion in deep well subsidies to fracking companies in two years: new report

Although the amount of natural gas fracked in the northeast corner of the province has increased by 70 per cent over the last decade, British Columbia is increasingly out of pocket when it comes to collecting on this industry’s resource royalties, according to newly released data

Fracking Farmington B.C.
Fracking operations near Farmington. B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

As deep well credits are used to reduce the amount of royalties companies pay to the province when the production process has ended, that means B.C. is increasingly out of pocket even though the amount of gas produced in B.C. has risen more than 70 per cent over the last decade.

The total in the deep well credit account now amounts to $2.2 billion.

Last year, natural gas royalties flowing into the provincial treasury amounted to $102 million compared to $1.3 billion a decade earlier and, although the decline is partially due to falling market prices for gas, the deep well credits are partially responsible for the shrinking revenues, says Ben Parfitt, CCPA resource policy analyst.

“And, with a combined $2.62 billion in credits sitting in the credit account, thanks to the credit program’s 17-year duration, those anemic revenues will be a fixture for years to come,” Parfitt, who is also a contributor to The Narwhal, said.

Oil and Gas Development. Farmington Area.Gas development near Farmington, B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

“That’s a huge sum of money and it’s getting bigger each year. It’s high time the province explained why such subsidies are necessary or, if they are not, why they continue,” he said.

The ongoing loss of revenue means less available funds for healthcare, education and other public services, said Parfitt, who spearheaded a battle to force the provincial government to release the data, which was being kept a closely guarded secret.

From grain country to gas land

Deep well credit data withheld for two years

The CCPA made a Freedom of Information request for the figures two years ago, but the Finance Ministry fought release of the documents claiming that the information could not be made public because it constituted sensitive tax information.

That argument was successfully appealed by the CCPA, but last year, the government argued that publicizing such figures would harm the interests of “third parties.”

That was also successfully challenged by the CCPA and — finally — the figures were released.

The figures show that 26 companies received credits and the top three recipients last year, receiving almost half the credits, were the Cutbank consortium, led by Encana, Painted Petroleum and Tourmaline Oil. Between 2005 and 2017 Encana donated $1.2 million to the provincial Liberals and $113,000 to the NDP.

Also on the list of recipients is Petronas Energy Canada Ltd., one of the principal partners in the planned LNG Canada export facility at Kitimat, which is also benefittng from discounted electricity prices, exemptions from carbon tax increases, corporate income tax breaks and deferral of provincial sales tax on construction.

6 awkward realities behind B.C.’s big LNG giveaway

“If you see a pattern here, you are not alone,” Parfitt said.

Continuing the secrecy trend, the Finance Ministry is now fighting CCPA efforts to obtain figures on what each of the companies receiving credits pays the government in royalty fees. The ministry is again claiming the information would be harmful to undisclosed third-party interests, Parfitt said.

“We think it is shocking that we have to appeal such a decision to the Office of Freedom of Information and Privacy,” Parfitt said.

“Royalty payments are a form of rent and are made in recognition that resources like natural gas belong to the people of B.C. There is no reasonable justification for withholding such basic information,” he said.

‘Resources practically given away’

The aim in obtaining the information is to allow the public, for the first time, to compare credits to revenues and ask some necessary questions, Parfitt said.

“Is the government lowering royalty fees and effectively propping up fossil fuel extraction that would otherwise be unprofitable and, if so, at what cost?” Parfitt asked.

Pipeline construction near Farmington

A gas pipeline is laid across farmer Rod Strasky’s land in Farmington, B.C. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

The obvious comparison, Parfitt points out, is that, for decades, the public has had access to details of what logging companies pay the provincial government for trees cut on private lands.

“If the dollars paid by Canfor for the trees it logs are part of the public record, then the dollars that Encana pays for the natural gas it extracts from the ground should be part of the public record too,” he said.

“By withholding such information, the public is quite naturally left with the impression that its resources are practically being given away to private business interests with the government’s active and very generous support.”

The deep well credit program, which started in 2003, was initially supposed to cover some of the costs fossil fuel companies incurred when drilling deep or horizontal wells, but such practices are now common, meaning most companies are eligible for the credits.

The subsidies have also raised the ire of Green Party of B.C. leader Andrew Weaver who, speaking in the legislature earlier this year, said that, since the program started in 2003, the program has reduced existing and future royalty liability by nearly $6 billion.

“Why is there not a standard public disclosure of these credits and royalties that are received,” he asked in the House. “There is, for example, for stumpage fees in the province, under the harvest billing system. Why are we not making public the royalty credits that are being claimed here?”

 Weaver, in his blog, said the B.C. Greens are deeply troubled “by the generational sellout embodied in B.C. NDP corporate welfare aimed at trying to attract LNG to B.C.” SOURCE

RELATED:

BC’s Drilling and Fracking Credits a $1.2 Billion Subsidy in Recent Years, Researcher Finds

Making Ecocide Punishable Under International Law

Image result for tar sands ecocide
Alberta’s tar sands toxic tailings ponds
Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard of suicide, homicide and genocide, but what is ecocide?

—Leslie P., Carrboro, NC

While the concept of “ecocide” may be new to many of us, the practice of willfully destroying large areas of the natural environment has been around about as long as humans — although we got a lot better at it using the machinery we developed during the industrial revolution. Bioethicist Arthur Galston first started batting the term around in the 1970s to describe intentional widespread ecological destruction, especially as it pertained to ruining inhabited environments so people couldn’t live there anymore.

Scottish barrister and activist Polly Higgins led the charge to get “ecocide” recognized as a “crime against peace” by the International Criminal Court. Credit: Elevate Festival, FlickrCC.

One classic example of ecocide in modern history is American troops’ widespread application of the toxic herbicide Agent Orange across Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War in the late 1960s. It was used to clear some 12,000 square miles of tropical rainforest to enable flushing out the “enemy,” despite the toll on civilians and the environment.

There are also plenty of present-day examples, including: mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia whereby miners blast through hundreds of feet of earth to access thin seams of coal; the “fracking” for oil and gas across wide swaths of Canada’s Alberta tar sands that has so far destroyed thousands of square miles of boreal forest and peat bogs while releasing hundreds of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere; the dumping of crude oil and toxic waste into Ecuador’s Amazon by oil companies too focused on profits to do the right thing about waste removal; and deep sea mining whereby the use of heavy machinery to ply veins of precious metals from the seabed is ruining marine ecosystems we still know little about.

In recent years Scottish activist Polly Higgins championed the cause of getting the International Criminal Court (ICC), an independent judicial body created by the United Nations in 1998, to recognize ecocide as a “crime against peace” in the eyes of international law. Her work focused on getting the ICC to add ecocide as the fifth prosecutable “core international crime” (along with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression). Sadly, Higgins succumbed to cancer at age 50 in April 2019, but her efforts to institutionalize ecocide as a major international crime lives on with other activists.

“Destroying the planet is currently permitted,” says Jojo Mehta of the non-profit Stop Ecocide. “That is how ecosystems are being destroyed every day by dangerous industrial activity, exacerbating the climate emergency and destroying our forests, our soils, our rivers and the lands that we love.”

Mehta points out that any of the 122 member states of the ICC can formally suggest adding ecocide as a major international crime. Stop Ecocide is working with small Pacific island nations which are already “feeling the sharp end of climate change” to urge ICC to finally adopt ecocide as another crime it prosecutes.

“Serious harm to the Earth is preventable,” urges Mehta. “When government ministers can no longer issue permits for it, when insurers can no longer underwrite it, when investors can no longer back it, when CEOs can be held criminally responsible for it, the harm will stop.” SOURCE

Andrew Coyne: The question of what is Trudeau hiding is not going to go away

The issues involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair are too important to be treated flippantly. This isn’t some question of policy on which people of goodwill can differ

Another campaign begun in the shadow of scandal. The first weeks of the 2015 election campaign were dominated by the trial of Sen. Mike Duffy, at much subsequent cost to Stephen Harper’s re-election chances. Whether or not the latest revelations in the SNC-Lavalin affair prove to be as consequential to the current campaign, the implications are deeply troubling.

Not only is the RCMP reported to have been inquiring into the affair, in which the prime minister and other government officials attempted to interfere in a criminal prosecution, as a possible case of obstruction of justice, but investigators have apparently been prevented from gathering evidence from key witnesses — obstructed, if you will — by the government’s continuing refusal to release them from the bonds of cabinet confidentiality.

No, it’s not yet a formal criminal investigation, and yes, whatever else you want to call it has been “paused” until after the election — a protocol installed after the 2006 campaign, which was knocked sideways by the revelation that the RCMP was investigating the then minister of finance. No doubt that will be of some relief to the Liberal campaign, but it does leave the public in a bind: it would be a hell of a thing to re-elect the government only to have its top officials charged afterward with serious crimes.

And the questions — the first from a reporter, immediately after Justin Trudeau’s opening statement: “what is your government trying to hide?” — are not going to go away. Seven months after the scandal first came to light, they boil down to one: why not lift the obligation to keep cabinet conversations secret if it will help police get to the bottom of the matter?

This is not, after all, the first time the subject has come up. While the prime minister made a great show of waiving cabinet confidentiality earlier this year with regard to his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, the waiver applied only to discussions that took place while she was still in the job, and only to those in which she took part. The ethics commissioner reported last month that nine witnesses with evidence relevant to his inquiry had been kept silent by the same restriction.

Cabinet confidentiality is an important principle — ministers could not otherwise speak frankly on sensitive matters — that ought not to be taken lightly. But it is not as important as the rule of law. It might be invoked for reasons of state — or, more often, to spare governments political embarrassment — but it cannot be extended to cover discussions of potential crimes.

Or at any rate it should not. Maybe Trudeau, as he insists, did nothing wrong, legally or ethically. If so, the witnesses will presumably exonerate him. But if not, all the more reason why they should be allowed to tell police what they know.

Former Canadian Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould arrives to give her testimony about the SNC-LAVALIN affair before a justice committee hearing on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Feb. 27, 2019. LARS HAGBERG / AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Certainly it is within his power to do so. The explanation, offered both to the ethics commissioner and the RCMP, that it was a decision of the clerk of the privy council, even if true, will not wash. The clerk works for the prime minister, not the other way around. Whatever power the prime minister chooses to delegate he can also choose to take back.

The prime minister, in any event, long ago undermined any principled defence of his position by his readiness to go public with his side of the same conversations. It is no part of the doctrine of cabinet confidentiality that it should be strictly applied to material that might incriminate government officials, but may be relaxed where it shows them in a better light.

I say all this in the vain hope that the question will be considered on its merits, and not merely as a matter of optics, or polling, or tactics. We have an unfortunate tendency in our trade to cover the campaign, rather than the election — who’s up, who’s down, how the parties are or should be positioning themselves on a given issue, as opposed to what’s right, what’s wrong, and which party’s position is closest to the truth.

Cabinet confidentiality is an important principle. But it is not as important as the rule of law

But the issues involved in the SNC-Lavalin affair are too important to be treated so flippantly. This isn’t about whether to raise or lower taxes or some other question of policy on which people of goodwill can differ, but whether we are to have an impartial system of justice, or one in which powerful corporations can wriggle out of prosecution by lobbying the right politicians. MORE

RELATED:

‘Epic Fail’: Government Bungled Response to Youth Reconciliation Call to Action, Advisors Say

Lack of communication and consultation in awarding $15.2-million contract, failure to act on report cited.

Carolyn-Bennett.jpg
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett: ‘Our government is ensuring that the voices of Indigenous youth from coast to coast to coast are heard and incorporated into decision-making process.’ Photo via Shutterstock.

The federal government’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Call to Action on Indigenous youth is “an epic fail,” says Gabrielle Fayant, a former government advisor.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett announced this month that Canadian Roots Exchange, a Toronto-based charity, would get $15.2 million over three years to implement Call to Action 66 on youth reconciliation.

The Call to Action urged “multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation and establish a national network to share information and best practices.”

But Fayant, one of three youth advisors appointed in 2017 to guide the government’s response to the Call for Action, said Bennett’s announcement falls short of what is needed and ignores key recommendations of their report, titled “A Roadmap to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Call to Action #66.”

The report called for the creation of an independent, community-based and Indigenous-led organization called Indigenous Youth Voices to hold the government accountable on Indigenous youth welfare in Canada.

“The money that we asked for, the $15.2 million, was specifically to start an organization to hold the government accountable,” said Andre Bear, another one of the three advisors.

Fayant agreed. “TRC [Call to Action] 66 was always about getting funds to grassroots for multi-year funding,” she said. “CRE has done a lot of great work around building relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, but that’s not what TRC 66 is about.”

Bear said the government initially wanted them to develop plans for a national Indigenous youth advisory council.

But the youth advisors rejected that approach, because there was no assurance it would be independent, he said. Future governments could easily turn the council into “puppets,” said Bear, who is from the Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan.

582px version of Bear-Fayant.jpg
Gabrielle Fayant and Andre Bear, both former Special Youth Advisors to the Minster of Indigenous-Crown Relations. Photo courtesy of Gabrielle Fayant and Andre Bear.

“We advised that the ‘TRC 66’ calls for a national network to share best practices, so we said we’d build that national network instead of the youth council,” he said.

Over 2.5 years, the three advisors travelled to Indigenous communities, administered a national survey, and organized a national youth gathering to get feedback on the best ways to address the diverse needs of Indigenous youth.

The government failed to implement their proposal in the 2018 budget. MORE

 

 

%d bloggers like this: