No 1023 Posted by fw, April 2, 2014
“Kennedy pulled no punches in a sobering 15 minutes of remarks on the state of environmental protection and democracy – both in Canada and in his own country. ‘Canada has always been the moral paradigm of nations. It was famous for its humanity, for its commitment to future generations…and, really, for its strong sense of community amongst Canadians and the rest of the world…. It’s not good to let oilmen run your country ’”—Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
“I wished [Americans] were more like Canadians…until you elected Stephen Harper,” quipped Robert F. Kennedy Jr. at a recent Vancouver event.
“You used to have this great law called the Fisheries Act…but now that law is gone.“
Kennedy was in town last Wednesday to address Vancouver’s annual Globe conference, an “international forum on business and the environment”. Following his panel discussion at Globe, titled “Clean Capitalism”, the renowned environmental lawyer and president of the global Waterkeeper Alliance was the main attraction at an evening gathering of business and environmental leaders from BC and around the world.
Canada’s fall from grace
Kennedy pulled no punches in a sobering 15 minutes of remarks on the state of environmental protection and democracy – both in Canada and in his own country.
Canada has always been the moral paradigm of nations. It was famous for its humanity, for its commitment to future generations…and, really, for its strong sense of community amongst Canadians and the rest of the world.
“And then BC was kind of the fulcrum of morality for the rest of Canada,” Kennedy added. “It was a place where people valued the environment, where they said ‘no’ to big polluters – even when they promised a lot of cash and jobs,” he continued, before launching into a chronicle of how far the country has fallen in recent years from its perch as an environmental leader.
Corporations aren’t bad – they just shouldn’t run our governments
Kennedy laid much of the blame on the increasing control of corporations and big polluters of the democratic process. ”Democracy and the environment are intertwined,” he stated.
As long as these big incumbents – the carbon cronies – are subverting our democracy and turning government into a tool to serve their mercantile interests, rather than serving the interests of the public, we’re not going to have an environment or a democracy.
Drawing an unflattering parallel with his own country, Kennedy acknowledged. ”We pioneered this whole area when we elected George Bush. It’s not good to let oilmen run your country, okay?”
“A corporation does not want for Canada what Canadians want for Canada. Corporations are designed to want profits,” he added. “It doesn’t mean they’re bad but it does mean that we shouldn’t be letting them run our governments.”
We don’t want to create the kind of corporate plutocracy or kleptocracy* which is now what we’ve got in both our countries. [*kleptocracy — government characterized by rampant greed and corruption]
220 Waterkeeper groups around the world
The event was co-hosted by Waterkeeper’s local chapter, Fraser Riverkeeper – which Kennedy praised as a global leader among his organization’s 220 groups, spread across 37 countries – and Vancouver-based Kumu Agency.
Both Fraser Riverkeeper and Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, whose Mark Mattson also spoke at the event, have been at the forefront of ground-breaking private prosecutions of industrial polluters in Canada.
Pollution = theft, child abuse
Kennedy’s most powerful remarks came on that point. “The waterways of British Columbia belong to the people…every child in this city – whether they’re Native or Asian, or white or black, or rich or poor…has the right to go down to that harbour or the local river, pull out a salmon, bring it home and feed it to their family, with the security that they’re not going to poison somebody,” he reflected. “And that right has been stolen.”
“When somebody pollutes that water…that is an act of theft…It’s a victim crime.” Given that every freshwater fish in the US today contains mercury – according to the National Academy of Sciences – Kennedy offered the example of a child whose mental development is impacted by consuming that contaminated fish:
God gave her that brain to solve that problem, to read that book – but that coal company took it away. And that’s child abuse. That’s assault and battery.
The poignant remarks surely provided a new perspective on environmental laws and the public interest to a room of thought-leaders, including a number from extractive industries. If they were expecting to hear soft-edged platitudes on corporate sustainability, they came to the wrong party.
Canadian Waterkeepers develop innovative apps for public
In recent years, Canadian waterkeepers have evolved beyond the law into technology, working together to create a pair of innovative “Swim” and “Drink” apps and web tools which offer the latest public health information on recreating in and drinking from water bodies across the country. The program is run out of the newly-launched National Water Centre in Saint John, New Brunswick.
Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues – especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada’s wild salmon – working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.
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