Barred Dissenters Owed An Apology

Cape Breton Post
Tues., Jan. 30, 2007

Three people were barred Sunday from attending the news conference announcing government approval to proceed with the environmental remediation of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens site. Does anybody care that Bruno Marcocchio, Marlene Kane and Debbie Ouellette weren't allowed in?

They care, of course. So does Valeric Fulford, whose letter to the editor appears on this page. But does anybody who's not particularly enamoured of the "environmentalist" take on the cleanup care? Does anybody care on principle? Does anybody agree with Marcocchio that "this is an insult to the community"?

Well, it is. It's an outrageous display of arbitrary , authority exercised on behalf of governments that unfailing claim as Senator Michael Fortier, minister of public works and government services, did on Sunday to be proceeding in an "open and transparent" manner. The words were spoken moments after Hubert Jacquin, senior public relations officer in Fortier's department, had instructed building security not to admit the aforementioned three to the Membertou Trade and Convention Centre. The reason? According to Jacquin, they had "clearly demonstrated their intention of disturbing" the news conference.

In fact, they had signalled the opposite. The three had participated in a small demonstration on Alexandra Street, well away from the convention centre, in advance of the scheduled
2 p.m. news conference but put away their signs before attempting to attend. Marcocchio has gotten himself noisily arrested more than once while engaging in protest but insists the group had no intention of demonstrating in the building.

In any case, Parker Donham, spokesman for the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, says there was a carefully thought out Marcocchio protocol in place, including a "planned series of phased warnings," ending in expulsion if necessary, should the famously confrontational environmentalist launch into hectoring mode. This nuanced Marcocchio management plan evidently went out the window when Jacquin took it upon himself to employ mind-reading instead.

What were these three subversives up to anyway? Well, the signs said "S/S [stabilization and solidification] Not Proven on Tar Ponds." For authority they might have quoted from that radical manifesto of July 2006, the Joint Review Panel Environmental Assessment Report, which says the review panel was "not convinced that the solidification/stabilization technology is proven for use in the tar ponds context" but that's a bit wordy for a placard.

There is a perhaps unintentional message in this distasteful little episode that the cleanup debate is over and the dissenters are now irrelevant. Sunday's announcement was certainly a turning point in that regard. But when a major chapter in the history of the cleanup came to a close on Sunday it should have been done in a spirit of dignity and respect.

The three people barred on no grounds are owed a public apology. If staff won't do it, Fortier himself should unless he wishes to leave Sydney with the impression that a history of vocal dissent is enough to get you on the exclusion list of the "new government of Canada."