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Tory MP questions objectivity of sockeye inquiry's scientists

Tory MP John Cummins (Delta-Richmond East) is questioning the objectivity of some of the scientists working with the Cohen Inquiry to identify the causes of the 2009 sockeye crash.

On his website, Cummins (a commercial fisherman) posted a news release on June 7 criticizing the objectivity of the inquiry:

The clear expectation of a judicial inquiry is that it will be presided over by an unbiased judge and supported by a neutral staff who can in no way be identified with the matter under review. This is clearly not the case with the Cohen Inquiry into the decline of the sockeye salmon in the Fraser River.

In staffing his board of scientific advisors Justice Cohen has shown a complete disregard for the most basic principle of any inquiry and most certainly a judicial inquiry and that is the strict neutrality of the presiding justice and his staff with regard to the issues and organization being investigated.

The Department and its “scientific advice” are the target of the Cohen Inquiry. The Terms of Reference “direct the Commissioner to consider the policies and practices of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ... including the Department’s scientific advice.”

Cummins argued in the release that “this is an inquiry into the Department’s scientific advice and management of the Fraser River fishery or more specifically about problems in its scientific advices and management of the fishery.”

In particular, the MP questioned the appointment of Brian Riddell, a longtime DFO scientist involved in the management of the fishery. Riddell is now president and CEO of the Pacific Salmon Foundation, which received over $1.6 million in 2009 from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Cummins wrote:

Cohen ought instinctively to know that a full-fledged judicial inquiry into the department’s management of the salmon fishery should not, indeed must not employ people who had in any way advised the Department or those who had relied on departmental funding for their work. This is akin to asking them to investigate themselves and rule as to whether their advice was appropriate and whether it was properly implemented or disregarded by the Department.

The fact that Cohen is blind to this glaring conflict raises doubts as to his own judgment - a fatal flaw in a judge.

A more prudent judge would avoid engaging current or previous employees or contractors of the Department, persons who depend or whose organizations depend on the Department for research funding or who are likely to in the future and those who staffed previous inquiries or advised the Department on their implementation.

If Justice Cohen were conducting a trial into DFO`s management failures, a mistrial would have already been declared.

Meanwhile, the Wild Salmon Are Sacred website has given prominent attention to Cummins’s concerns.

The site has also announced an event at the National Press Gallery in Ottawa at which NDP MP Fin Donnelly (New Westminster-Coquitlam) will promote his bill to protect wild salmon. Actor William Shatner will speak in support of the bill via phone from Los Angeles, and biologist Alexandra Morton will phone from Sointula.

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

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