Canada’s National Report to the WSSD (October 2002)

Dear Mr Anderson,

Re: Canada’s National Report to the WSSD

At the invitation of your Ministry and the government, I represented the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment on the National Report Reference Group (NRRG) for this report. I did so in good faith, and although there was a modest honorarium for attending the meetings, I spent a good deal of my own time working on the report, reviewing it and providing my expert input. The process was presented as one in which, while we were not the final authors of the report, the process was to be participatory, our input was to be given serious attention, and we would have an opportunity to review the final version of the report prior to its publication and decide — individually and as a group — if we could support it and have our names on it.

Although I and others were troubled by the very tight time-frame, which suggested a less than whole-hearted commitment by government, and were concerned that the government, and in particular the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office, would not allow a rather critical — but nonetheless fair and balanced report — to go forward, we received assurance that our work would be taken seriously. Indeed, two of the four principles adopted by your government to guide the development of Canada’s National Report were:

  • It will seek to present an honest, transparent, and balanced account of both the successes and shortcomings of the ten-year progress;
  • It will be developed at arms’ length from government, and compile broad-based input from the private sector, academia, and civil society in addition to government organizations.

Well, we were right to be cynical — but even at our most cynical, we underestimated the more than usually disgraceful, not to say duplicitous and insulting way in which we were treated. The Chairman of our group, David Runnalls, a highly respected environmentalist and — unlike those politicians and senior bureaucrats who dealt with this file — an honourable man, informed us of what went on after our final tele-conference on March 5th. Key excerpts from his letter are reproduced below (emphasis added):

Following our last group conference call on March 5th , Stratos incorporated most of the NRRG’s recommendations and submitted what we expected to be the near-final draft of the report for consideration by Ministers.

The report then underwent several months of in-depth review and revision by senior political and central agency staff. Although these versions of the report were not shared with me, I was told that the revisions were generally asking for fact-checking, removing criticisms from the report , and reinforcing the government perspective.

At various times in this process, I was in touch with those making the changes, as well as the Earth Summit Secretariat. I emphasized the value of the independent review process that had been used, and the degree to which NRRG members, representing a wide range of perspectives, had strived to make the report balanced and credible. I advised them that, given the nature and degree of changes that were apparently being made, the NRRG would certainly be wanting to see the final draft (as had always been promised) , and to review our Statement about the process.

In late June I heard from Stratos that they had reviewed the final draft of the report, and felt that the new edits compromised the balance they had strived to maintain, and that the text, as a result, could no longer fairly be described as an independent report. They had therefore asked the Secretariat to remove the Stratos name from the report.

I still expected the NRRG to be offered the chance to review the final version of the report, prior to publication, and to decide on how to present the nature of our contributions. I was therefore as surprised as you to receive the advance copy of the report on August 8th .

The reference group worked well, in my view, and would have lent credibility to Canada’s Report to the WSSD. Although our hopes for an innovative and independent review process were crushed,

We have become accustomed to your government — and you as Minister — undermining the work of knowledgeable and committed scientists and citizens, and even your own Parliamentary Committee, on environmental issues; CEPA, SARA and PCPA come instantly to mind. As a result, you have squandered the once proud international reputation that Canada had as a leader on environmental issues. To that, you have now added a degree of contempt for a panel of distinguished Canadians that your own government established that I find quite breathtaking — although on reflection, given your track record, I don’t know why I should find it so!

You have ignored the hard work — mostly volunteered — of the members of our group, who — foolishly, it turns out — took the government at its word and worked in good faith. You have ignored the very principles that were to guide the report that your own government proclaimed. You have shown utter contempt for us, individually and collectively. Worst of all, you have betrayed Canadians by presenting a biased and dishonest report to the world. You, and your Prime Minister, have forfeited the right to the title “Honourable”, for clearly you are not. Your resignation is overdue, since you have lost the confidence not only of CAPE but, I suggest, of the people whose life work it is to protect the environment for the benefit of future generations.

Yours truly,

Dr Trevor Hancock
Chair of the Board
cc:
David Runnalls, IISD
Members of the NRRG
Opposition Party Environment Critics
Leading mainstream environmental reporters

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