Grim and Ironic

A week ago I wrote about Bev Anderson, a former Ministry of the Environment Enforcement Officer in Vancouver, B.C., who was forced out of her job by farmers and an “interested” politician who objected to her diligence in doing her job. It was her responsibility to make sure that farmers complied with regulations when they spread manure on their fields; the area has a high water table and a lot of rain, so if manure is not stored properly or is spread at the wrong time, there is a high risk that dangerous pathogens such as e. coli could enter the public water supply. Bev was not replaced, and her departure leaves the area with effectively no enforcement at all.

On the other side of the country, the Globe & Mail reported yesterday that two men were sent to jail for their role in the Walkerton disaster of May 2000. At that time, a right-wing conservative government was in power in the province, and in keeping with their extreme ideology they stripped the Ministry of the Environment to “reduce costs and bureaucracy”. They also shifted water monitoring responsibilities to local town governments without ensuring that the qualifications and procedures were in place to do the job properly. The two men who were sentenced to jail were the bumbling idiots in charge of Walkerton’s water utility.

With no enforcement officers and no checks in place to prevent it, cow manure from a farmer’s field entered the public water supply in Walkerton in May 2000, killing seven people and making over 2,000 people in this small town seriously ill. Most are left with permanent and disabling injuries.

Keeping in mind the way Bev was harassed and forced out of her job for trying to prevent another “Walkerton” in BC, there is grim irony in this remark by the crown attorney who prosecuted the two men:

“I think it sends a sharp and clear message that if you are employed in an occupation of any kind where public safety is affected, that if you don’t perform your legal duties according to law, there’s a real risk that you can be sentenced to jail.”