Georgia Strait Alliance is the only citizens' group focused on protecting the marine environment in and around the whole Strait of Georgia – Canada's most at-risk natural environment, and the place where 70% of British Columbians live, work and play. We are committed to a future for our region that includes clean water and air, healthy wild salmon runs, rich marine life and natural areas, and sustainable communities.

March 29, 2012

No time to be silent

It’s an unfortunate fact that when you are an advocate for improved environmental health and literacy, being in disagreement with government leaders frequently comes with the territory. As challenging as that can feel, the focus of disagreement generally tends to be about the issue at hand—and not about our right to hold certain views, or represent others who do.

So I found it more than a bit shocking when this year began with a visible and intense outpouring, in just about every media outlet in the country, of vitriol, anger and outright lies about environmental groups. Although the context for the attacks was the review process on the proposed Enbridge pipeline in northern BC, the tremors were felt throughout Canada’s environmental movement and in much of our broader civil society.

These inflammatory attacks have been disturbing on many levels. Some of them revealed that all you need is a conspiracy theory and a website in order to undermine the civil engagement that is at the root of our democratic process—ironically, at the same time as most of the world, including Canada, has been expressing justifiable outrage about the trampling of democratic rights in Syria. More worrisome attacks, coming from our Prime Minister and some of his Cabinet, took aim at the financial support that makes advocacy work possible and even hinted at possibly stripping environmental groups of their charitable status.

But in all the misguided conspiracy theories and hyperbolic diatribes, what disturbed me the most was this: that we were told that the opinion of you, Mr. or Ms. Average Canadian, does not matter when it comes to what our shared future looks like—and that the person who said this was one of our federal government’s highest officials.

In his Open Letter, the Honorable Joe Oliver, Minister of Natural Resources, clearly discounted the opinions of the approximately 4500 individuals who wished to speak at the Enbridge hearings—while overvaluing the opinions of oil industry representatives.

Regardless of how or why each person signed up to speak, each of them clearly cares enough about the issue to take the time to attend and address the hearings. That many of the speakers may have a similar message is not a reason to discount that message—in fact, it’s a reason to pay closer attention. These passionate voices share a common vision for what they want our future to look like: a world free of fossil fuels and the risks that come with them, where renewable energy lights our way.

It’s also worth reminding Mr. Oliver and our other leaders that each of these speakers represents thousands more who, for whatever reason, will not be at the hearings, so their message needs to be taken into consideration by the panel and the government that appointed them.

These are frightening times when it comes to the protection of our most important resources: clean air, clean water and healthy ecosystems on land and water. Over the last many decades, big industry has increasingly had the ear of our elected representatives, while ordinary citizens are only valued at election time.

Today, as we await the release of the federal budget which may include dramatic deregulation of environmental protection laws, the ability to protect our natural environment could become even more difficult. We are at risk of seeing the weakening of the very pillars that Canadians have relied on for generations to ensure that the natural environment we value so dearly is protected, including the Fisheries Act, Species at Risk Act, Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Migratory Birds Convention Act and Canadian Environmental Protection Act -

Ironically the result of the targeted attacks on our environmental protection laws and on the very groups who work every day to ensure Canadian values are not lost in a rush for short term economic profit, has been a renewed commitment among environmental groups to work even harder on behalf of the communities we represent. We have also seen a renewed commitment of individuals to provide the needed financial support so groups like ours can continue this vital work.

If we have learned anything so far this year, it is that those citizens who might disagree with our federal leaders’ views on the environment need the help of advocates now more than ever. Georgia Strait Alliance will continue to speak out and work on behalf of our many members and supporters, advocating for our region’s future to be one with healthy communities, rich salmon runs, growing orca populations and sustainable economies. That is our promise to you.

March 26, 2012

Crossing The Strait of Georgia - A Very Personal Journey

Just over 2 months ago I suffered a very severe cardiac arrest while teaching a Karate class on Gabriola Island on the west side of Georgia Strait. It was pretty instantaneous as I felt strange for just a few seconds before I collapsed and I was essentially dead before I hit the floor. There was no way of knowing this could happen to me and in fact I'd had check-ups fairly recently and in retrospect the medical folk can't pinpoint any definitive factors that would have contributed to it happening.

Thankfully, our local vet, who also trains the volunteer firefighters in CPR, was right beside me when I dropped and his quick assessment and action, and along with my wife/ fellow instructor, kept my blood and oxygen flowing until help arrived. The rest of the class was amazing too. After 10 minutes of very aggressive CPR I was zapped back to life when the first responders arrived. One of the island doctors was also there within minutes.

With blood coming out of my lungs and a skin colour that I understand was less than attractive, it was pretty obvious that I needed to be airlifted ASAP and calls were made. Our local ambulance service raced me to the island's sports field where we were met by a cardiac team from Nanaimo. When the helicopter arrived a decision was made to fly me straight to Vancouver rather than Victoria, where cardiac patients normally go, because of a big storm closing in on Southern Vancouver Island.

Despite having crossed the Strait of Georgia hundreds of times before, that journey in the middle of the night with a winter storm bearing down on us was the most significant of my life. I had a very clear choice that, despite all the medical help I was receiving, was one that only I could make. The easiest choice by far was to die. All I had to do was let my will go. It was not at all scary and not actually that challenging to contemplate. In fact it was quite a desirable choice.

When we landed in Vancouver yet another team of dedicated caring people took amazing care of me. I was in hospital for 6 days as I recovered enough to go home.

I may never know all the reasons why I chose to live that night as we flew in the dark across an amazing body of water that I have spent more than 10 years trying to protect but that was the conscious choice I made. It is without a doubt the hardest thing I have ever done, physically, mentally and/or spiritually. A fraction of a second loss of focus and I would have died.

It has been a long and challenging road since that night and although I knew that when I made the choice, I sometimes briefly wonder what possessed me to fight to live. Every medical person I have seen since shakes their head and says how lucky I am to have survived. Despite that I have essentially remained very positive most of the time even when things were bad enough to send me back to hospital. What has helped my recovery a lot is the amount of support I have had (and am still getting) from my family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and all the communities of which I am a part.

As my healing continues my thoughts are returning to my work with Georgia Strait Alliance and the magnificent body of water we are trying to keep healthy. As I've be convalescing I have spent a good amount of time looking out on the Strait of Georgia and trying to harness it's healing energy. I am very thankful that we can connect to this special place.

I've also pondered on the parallels of my experience to the state of the world and in particular how people (me included) often take the easy route and accept the status quo especially where making money or keeping egos safe is concerned. No doubt if we all chose the easy path and stayed with selfish thought there would be no-one to left to keep watch over our waters, lands, and skies and everyone would be out there trying to make a profit without wanting or able to give anything to the planet in return.

Thank-you to all of you who choose to undertake and survive the hard journeys of this world! You make the world a kinder and healthier place and you inspire me to make more of those hard choices.