A federal public inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon on the West Coast has come under fire for being too secretive.
Alexandra Morton, one of the participants in the Cohen Commission of Inquiry, says the legal undertaking that all participants had to sign to gain access to documents is so restrictive it is keeping important information from the public.
"I have become very concerned about the extent to which important aspects of the Cohen Commission are operating in secret," said Ms. Morton in a written statement she said was approved by her lawyer.
Ms. Morton, a scientific researcher and environmental activist who is campaigning against fish farms on the British Columbia coast, said she recently applied to the commission "to be released from the undertaking on a limited basis so that I might report information I consider to be urgent to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) in respect to a very significant risk to wild salmon."
Ms. Morton said her application was denied, but she can't say why - because of the undertaking - nor can she discuss her concerns.
"The report I want to make is in regard to disease," she said, but refused to discuss the issue further.
Carla Shore, a spokeswoman for the Cohen Commission, said an application was made to commission counsel by Ms. Morton, but neither the application nor the decision is being released.
"I can't share any of that because it's covered by the undertaking," she said.
Ms. Morton said the undertaking at first applied just to the commission's database of documents, but it has been expanded to cover all applications, correspondence and legal material filed by participants.
"Under the Commission's new rules, the outcome of this Application cannot and will not be made public, and all Application material, including the submissions of the government and other participants are being kept secret from the public," states Ms. Morton.
"Commission counsel has directed that I cannot say what the information is, I cannot say whether I have made a report or not, and I cannot say what the position of the Federal and Provincial Governments were [regarding the application]" she states.
"This is an inquiry into the fate of wild salmon, and not matters of national security!" she complained.
Gregory McDade, a Vancouver lawyer who is representing Ms. Morton at the inquiry, said undertakings are common in trials, but when the Cohen Commission starts to withhold details about its decisions on applications, he feels it has become too secretive.
"I cannot say what the ruling is. I cannot say what the application was," Mr. McDade said.
"There's a matter of urgent public interest here," he said. "Nobody I know has ever seen a public inquiry conducted in this way. It seems to me the commission should be making its decisions public."
The Cohen Commission was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper after the sockeye salmon run in the Fraser River collapsed in 2009. The commission is currently holding evidentiary hearings in Vancouver.Report Typo/Error