A couple of good things happened in Canada this week. I have to credit the Harper government in both cases.
First came the announcement by Environment Minister Jim Prentice stopping the proposed Prosperity gold and copper mine in the Chilcotin district of British Columbia.
Then we had the decision of the federal government, announced by Industry Minister Tony Clement, to bar the acquisition of Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan by the Australian mining giant, BHP Billiton.
I’ve written here previously about the Prosperity mine. It’s said to have offered promise of five billion dollars in jobs and other benefits over the next 20 years. This in an area that’s been hard pressed economically.
But even that’s too high a price to pay to destroy the ecology of this incredibly beautiful and pricelessly pristine region. The idea of draining Fish Lake and using it as a tailing pond was an obscene and despicable concept.
The scheme would have been fought “to the death” by First Nations of the area, according to the local chief.
I first gained an appreciation for the grandeur of the Chilcotin district when I read Rich Hobson’s classic book, Grass Beyond the Mountains.
It tells the two of two young Americans who meander into the Chilcotin country in the 1930s and establish a cattle ranch far beyond the existing ranches of that day. I finally had the opportunity to visit the district just a few years ago. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and we need to keep it that way.
Grass Beyond the Mountain has since become a classic of Canadian pioneering literature, a 20th century counterpart to Susanna Moodie who wrote of the primitive life of early 19th century Upper Canada.
Both decisions of the federal government this week were a little bit unexpected, although it seemed to me that in the case of Potash, Harper & Co. had little or no choice in view of the almost universal opposition the deal ran into in Western Canada.
The Saskatchewan mines of Potash Corp. hold about a third of the world’s known supply of potash, the key ingredient in fertilizer. The world is going to massively need this stuff if a global famine is to be avoided in the next fifty years.
Potash, along with oil and water, has the potential to make Canada the richest country in the world in the 21st century.
Some see the decision as a betrayal of Harper’s pro-business Conservative philosophy. The rejection supposedly imperils Canada’s claim to be open for business. Foreign investors won’t want to come here, according to this argument.
That’s a fallacy.
The Billiton bid was for Potash shares, which would of course have given it ownership of the company. The proceeds would have gone to current shareholders, fewer than half of whom are resident in Canada.
The only Canadian investment that could have come from this deal would have been if Billiton were to back up its share purchase with additional money to expand the business, open new mines, and create more jobs for Canadians. The record of other foreign buyers, such as U.S. Steel (Stelco) and Vale Inc. (Inco and Falconbridge) in this regard, is not good.
The government has made the right decision. It also probably saved a dozen Tory seats in Saskatchewan – most of which might have been picked off by the NDP in the next election. No wonder Jack Layton tried so hard to characterize the Clement announcement as but the prelude to an eventual cave-in.
In the case of the Prosperity mine, Mr. Prentice cited the “scathing” report of an environmental commission that looked at the project. He has since resigned from cabinet, announcing he has accepted a senior position at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC). He’ll be missed. Don’t be surprised if you see him back one day in some future Conservative party leadership campaign.
A sizeable crowd of legal types has gathered at Osgoode Hall, the pre-Confederation Gothic building that serves as York County’s courthouse, for the annual book launches of the Osgoode Hall Legal Society. I’m attracted because one of the titles marks Toronto writer Chris Moore’s latest foray into the legal jungles, The British Columbia Court of Appeal: the First hundred Years.
There’s a bit of coincidence at work here in that a couple of my current writing projects involve crime and punishment. I’ve had to do a good deal of research on arcane aspects of case law (got me talking just like a lawyer) and the appeal process, and how it’s worked throughout Canadian history.
As a native of B.C., I found Chris’ book an opportunity to learn more about famous cases I was either only vaguely aware of, or had forgotten about entirely.
Another coincidence was the release by the B.C. Court of Appeal last week of its findings in the case of Ivan Henry who was locked up for 27 years for a series of rapes of which he was innocent. He’s the longest-serving, wrongly convicted, Canadian. The appeal court’s judgment makes powerful reading on such matters as the unreliability of witness testimony, the willingness of a judge to allow tainted evidence, and the foolishness of trying to represent yourself at trial.
Ivan Henry, now 64, was arrested in 1982 and charged with 10 counts of sexual assault involving eight women. He objected to being put in a police lineup where witnesses might identify him. Police handcuffed him and dragged him into the lineup where an officer held him in a headlock. Three witnesses identified him definitely; during the trial all eight said they recognized Henry from the lineup or from his voice.
Pictures were taken. Henry somehow got hold of one and acting as his own lawyer, entered it as an exhibit. He argued that the picture of himself in the grip of a policeman proved the lineup had been a farce. The police used force, although the law does not require a person to take part in a lineup.
Because of a previous conviction for sexual assault, Henry was jailed indefinitely as a dangerous offender. He spent years studying the law and submitted fifty applications for a review of his case. All were denied, including his request for legal aid so he could have a lawyer prepare a proper appeal. While in jail, his wife, mother and father died. His two daughters grew up without ever seeing him.
It is to the credit of the justice system that when certain information came to light in 2005 during an investigation related to serial killer Robert Picton, a special prosecutor was appointed. After a thorough investigation (and the conviction of another man), Henry was released and his case was referred to the B.C. Court of Appeal.
The appeal court noted that the attacks took place in the dark, the attacker took steps to obscure his face, the police line-up was “flawed and unfair” and much evidence was never disclosed to the defence. The judge erred in telling the jurors they could give weight to the Crown’s argument that Henry’s objection to the lineup suggested a “consciousness of guilt.”
Released, Henry expressed little rancour over his fate. He spoke of his pride in his grandchildren and added: “I got a little dog I look after. He is my friend.” The victims, meanwhile, can only wonder where their justice had gone.
My upcoming article, Reasonable Doubt, explores the frequency with which Canadians were wrongfully hanged during the time that Canada had capital punishment. It will appear in the December issue of Canada’s History.
I know a lot of people think our justice system is weak and ineffective in dealing with criminals. I think it’s as important to protect the innocent as to apprehend the guilty.