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Salmon inquiry calls for participants

Individuals and parties who want to participate in the Cohen Commission, an inquiry into the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye salmon, have until March 3rd to apply for standing status.

Standing status allows for formal participation in the hearings. Justice Bruce Cohen, who is heading the inquiry, made the announcement earlier this week, and posted relevant documents on the Cohen Commission website.

But lawyer Andrew Gage, of West Coast Environmental Law (WCEL), said in an email he is concerned that the rules for who can get standing status "have the potential to shut out environmental groups and other groups that are advocating for their view of the public interest."

According to the terms of reference that the federal government put in place when it created the commission, those eligible for standing status must have "substantial and direct interest" in the subject of the inquiry.

". . . there is no doubt that any recommendations that Commissioner Cohen makes concerning the regulation of fish farms will have a very real and direct commercial impact on those fish farms. Presumably the Commission will grant some level of participation rights to one or more representatives of that industry," reads a recent blog post on the WCEL website.

"Any new regulations for fish farms resulting from the inquiry may have a substantial and direct benefit for the Sockeye salmon, and will ultimately benefit the public at large would benefit from healthy salmon runs. But can, for example, the Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform -- a coalition of environmental groups "working to ensure salmon farming in British Columbia is safe for wild salmon, marine ecosystems, coastal communities and human health" -- be said to have a "substantial and direct interest" beyond the interests of the rest of the public? That's a lot less clear."

The WCEL has written a letter to Justice Cohen asking for clarification on this point.

The WCEL notes that "Commissioner Cohen has NOT indicated that his interpretation of "substantial and direct interest" will exclude public interest advocates. We are concerned because of how this term has been interpreted in other contexts." 

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee

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