Why Justin Trudeau should be watching the #TripleDelete scandal

Freedom of information laws exist in every province in Canada and federally. We have them so that the public can peek behind the controlled messaging of government and see what’s going on. These laws are routinely used to expose government excess, wrongdoing and corruption; stories ranging from Allison Redford’s “sky palace” to the Afghan torture scandal of the early Harper years have been aired in public only because someone was able to request the damning records from the government itself.

So yes, like any other leader, Justin Trudeau should be afraid of freedom of information.

But governments should ignore these laws at their peril. In B.C., a government staffer is being investigated by the RCMP after he “triple deleted” (permanently deleted) emails that should have been provided in response to an FOI request. Nobody in their right mind believes this is an isolated incident. Meanwhile, the former Conservative government was consistently blasted for its undermining of freedom of information laws – ironic, since FOI reform and government accountability was something that Harper once campaigned on following the Liberal sponsorship scandal. Instead of following through, he undermined them, tightened control, and kneecapped the public’s ability to keep him accountable.

After two decades of neglect The Freedom of Information Act is a joke. Anyone requesting information from the federal government must cut a $5 cheque (who still uses cheques?) and mail it to Ottawa with a letter (a pre-email form of written communication) asking for the records. It’s like writing to Monsieur Eaton to ask for a Canadiens sweater. If he or she is lucky, a few months later a stack of papers or a CD containing photocopies of printouts of documents will arrive – not the original electronic files in any searchable form, but photocopied pages that could number in the hundreds or thousands. After months of waiting for the Canadiens sweater, wouldn’t you know it, the bastard sent you a Leafs jersey.

This must be the least efficient way of accessing government data that could ever be devised, and to some degree I imagine that’s deliberate. But it’s 2015, we have have a new government with a new mandate, and it’s time to fix it.

The Trudeau campaign made a lot of promises to a lot of people, but his promises on open access and freedom of information reform are some of the most critical. An accountable government is something Canadians have been waiting for since well before Harper, and ensuring the public’s right to know is the first step to bringing that back.

Toronto Star: Russians blamed for attack on Syrian hospital

Russia is being blamed for an airstrike on a hospital in the northeastern Syrian city of Hama, continuing a pattern of attacks begun by the regime of Bashar Assad.

While Russia maintains it is striking Islamic State (IS) targets in the country, the hospital that was hit Friday was more than 70 kilometres from the nearest IS-supporting region.

Video posted on YouTube, apparently shot in the aftermath of the attack, shows doctors and nurses sprawled out on a floor littered with debris and medical supplies.

Read more here.

Syrup Trap: Western world horrified to learn there are Syrian children

Three years into the Syrian civil war, citizens of western countries were appalled this week to discover that there could be children among the war’s mounting casualties.

The image of drowned three-year-old Aylan Kurdi galvanized the public to do something about Syrian children, who definitely exist, and who are dying after they make it outside the country, which appears to be when they become humans.

“I knew it was bad over there,” said Janet Kwan, a Vancouver nurse. “But nobody told me there were kids in Syria.

“I thought places like that were just all dudes in their mid-20s with guns.”

Read more here

Hakai Magazine: Epishelf Lakes – an Ecosystem Facing Extinction

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Once upon a time, northern Canada harboured a remarkable kind of freshwater lake, a distinct glacial environment found nowhere else in the Northern Hemisphere. In these special freshwater lakes, known as epishelf lakes, life thrived, effectively cut off from the rest of the world. Many of these hidden lakes formed between 4,000 and 800 years ago. But now there’s just one left, and it won’t last long.

“I would be surprised if the lake lasted for more than a decade,” says physical geographer Derek Mueller. “It could go really at any time.”

Keep reading here

Hakai Magazine: Why Australia Should, and Shouldn’t, Take Humpback Whales Off Its Endangered Species List

Earlier this week, an international team of marine researchers caught a lot of attention,and flack, for their argument that Australia should take humpback whales off its threatened species list.

Since 1972, when commercial whaling was outlawed internationally, Australia’s east and west coast humpback populations have recovered by 63 and 90 percent respectively, as compared to pre-whaling numbers. Ecologist Ari Friedlaender and colleagues argue in a new study that because Australia’s humpback populations are nearly back to normal, the money and attention currently being devoted to them could be directed elsewhere. He also says that down-listing the whales, or removing their “threatened” designation entirely, would give hope to other conservation efforts.

“These success stories are important for the animals themselves, but also to legitimize conservation biology, and conservation practices,” he says. “It’s a trophy to be able to say, ‘Look, we did this. We’ve done our job, it’s time to refocus,’” he says.

But would the gains Australia’s humpbacks have seen over the past four decades hold if they are taken off the threatened species list?

Read more at Hakai Magazine

CANADALAND: I was a Canadian Geographic Intern

Cannibalizing readers’ trust by partnering with organizations whose interests obviously prevent even-handed reporting on science and nature in Canada will build up over time. Even a publication with a history and reputation like Canadian Geographic can only go back to the well so many times before readers catch on and their credibility starts eroding. When that happens – when they have mortgaged their only valuable resource enough times – they will have gone so bankrupt that even CAPP won’t have any use for them.

Read more at Canadaland.

Hakai Magazine: A Requiem for an Ice Shelf

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When you’re careening across the undulating surface of an ice shelf, anything that isn’t white, black, or gray stands out. But an old broken-down snowmobile—a first- or second-generation Bombardier with flecked yellow paint and a rust-eaten body—offers more than a splash of color. It’s a reminder that even here, in this empty world where not even trees can grow, people have made their mark. Yet as the world warms and this ice disappears for good, so too will many of these human traces. And, with them, the legacies of those who ventured to the extreme parts of this planet.

Read more at Hakai Magazine. This story was also reprinted in the Tyee.