News — 16 April 2013

By Jon Thompson

The woman who once led the movement to reinstate funding to the Experimental Lakes Area (ELA) says the democratic process has failed scientists, who are running out of legal options to continue their work.

In an extensively footnoted letter addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Diane Orihel outlined the avenues the movement has taken over the last 11 months since the government announcement it would withdraw funding to ELA. From demonstrations to petitions to letters and raising the issue in Parliament over 200 times, she expressed frustration that the democratic experiment isn’t turning out the hypothesis of keeping the 58-lake research station open.

“What we’ve done already should have worked,” she said. “I’m trying to make the case that he’s (Harper) imposing the situation on us, not that we’re imposing the situation on him.”

The letter is worded more sternly. She appeals to Harper’s strategic brilliance as she borders on threatening to take the fight to save ELA beyond the legal means she argues the government has failed to address.

“Must we resort to acts of civil disobedience to get your attention? I have been surprised to hear from respected scientists right across the country, and even across the border in the United States, who are so fed up that they are ready to chain themselves to fences or participate in sit-ins in protest over your refusal to save the ELA,” her letter reads.

“Do you really want scientists staging illegal acts? Do you want to be responsible for scientists and their allies starting an ‘Occupy ELA’ movement? Do you really want photographs of Canada’s best and brightest scientists being taken away in handcuffs? Can you imagine the international headlines? This would be a political nightmare for you.”

Orihel insists she isn’t advocating civil disobedience but feels Canada is disrespecting both domestic and international scientists, whose whole-ecosystems hang in the balance and still haven’t heard whether they’ll be permitted to continue their research this summer.

In an Apr. 2 letter addressed to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ Dave Gillis, Orihel requests clarification as to whether she can access Lake 227, which has been the open-air laboratory studying algae since 1969. It is the longest-running lake eutrophication experiment in the world and she argues the phosphorus fertilization has never missed a year.

In response, Gillis’ representative sent along the following: “As you know, negotiations are ongoing with the Province of Ontario and potential operators of the Experimental Lakes Area. We will be in touch in due course.”

The federal government will lead discussions regarding a possible suitor to operate ELA until Oct. 1, 2013, at which point its agreement with Ontario will end and any further discussion would fall to the province. Orihel argued the experiments can’t afford to miss a year.

“Over the last 10 months, Canadians have tried everything possible within their democratic and legal rights. The government should have listened. The government should have reinstated funding for the ELA. What’s the point of having all these democratic rights for Canadians if they’re just futile?”

MP Greg Rickford did not respond to interview requests.


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About Author

Chris Marchand is a native of Dryden, Ontario. He served his first newspaper internship at The Dryden Observer in 1998 while attending journalism studies at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops B.C. He's worked desks as both reporter and editor at the Fernie Free Press as well as filled the role of sports editor at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman. Marchand was named editor of the Dryden Observer in Aug. 2009.

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