Attack on Sierra Club inaccurate and unfair

By Amelia Clarke
Cape Breton Post - Weekend Feedback
Saturday, Mar. 20, 2004

As President of the National Board of Directors of the Sierra Club of Canada, I would like to confirm that the board is fully in support of our local volunteers and professional staff and their tireless work on behalf of the people of Sydney and the environment of the Muggah Creek watershed.

There are factual errors in Mr. Hanam's march 6 article (Weekend Feedback: Former chair of JAG takes environmentalist to task that require correction.

The Sierra Club, founded in 1892, includes the Sierra Club of Canada. Contrary to Mr. Hanam's claims, the Sierra Club of Canada and the Sierra Club in the U.S. are two national entities within the Sierra Club internationally. Sierra Club of Canada is independent to the extent that our volunteers and the national board determine the conservation priorities of the Club in Canada.

We are equal partners in international concerns. We work closely together, with each national board sending a liaison member to the meetings of the other organization's board meetings. Sierra Club staff and volunteers work across borders on issues such as the climate change commitments of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers Forum and the "Toxic Community Exchange" that brought residents of Fort Valley, Georgia to Sydney, with a reciprocal visit of Sydney residents to the toxic site in Fort Valley. The relationship between the two organizations is public knowledge and can be easily checked by referring to Sierra Club web sites.

Mr. Hanam appears to want to create the impression that there is something mysterious about Sierra Club of Canada's operations. Nothing could be further from the truth. While due to federal privacy laws the list of individual members is not posted, the names of all the volunteers who serve as executive committee members across Canada at the group, chapter, Sierra Youth Coalition and national level is publicly available on our web sites and in newsletters.

We are a volunteer run and led organization. We are extremely pleased that a community volunteer of the stature and reputation of Order of Canada recipient Clotilda Yakimchuk of Whitney Pier is among our democratically elected national board members.

Our audited financial statements are also available on our web site. They reveal an organization that accomplishes a great deal on a very small budget. The accusation that Sierra Club of Canada has engaged in tactics that include disrupting meetings, is simply false. Before becoming involved with Sierra Club, some of our staff and volunteers have been involved in the use of other tactics; however, the Sierra Club of Canada articles of incorporation and code of conduct requires that all our actions are within the law and respectful toward others.

As for the technology that our local Cape Breton Group has identified as a strong contender to meet the Prime Minister's focus on "innovative environmental technology", Eco-logic has been endorsed by Dr. David Suzuki, PhD, and award winning journalist Holly Dressel as the ideal solution for much of Sydney's wastes. In Good News for a Change, they explain that "Eco-logic can treat anything organic no matter how frighteningly toxic it is...". It is precisely because there are zero toxic emissions that Dr.Suzuki identified the process as "good news." The heavy metals that remain can be returned to industrial processes.

However, even more disturbing than Mr. Hanam's numerous factual errors, is his attack on the motivations and character of Sierra Club volunteers and staff. Our staff is paid significantly less than staff in other environmental groups. They are not motivated by greed, any more than are our thousands of volunteers. In fact, our volunteers and staff have made many personal sacrifices, including a 17-day long hunger strike in 2001 by our Executive Director [Elizabeth May]. Nearly all of our staff, including Bruno Marccochio, began by working as volunteers: we are very proud at Sierra Club of Canada to have retained such a knowledgeable and courageous individual to work with our team.

We are also proud to have an office in Sydney in addition to our offices in Halifax, and Corner Brook. As a native Nova Scotian myself, the growth of our membership base in Atlantic Canada is a genuine source of pride. I encourage anyone that supports the efforts of Sierra Club of Canada in Cape Breton to join our organization. We are driven by our grassroots members and volunteers.

Surely, a first step to cleaning up the tar ponds must be to put aside the toxic accusations that appear to be in the air in Sydney. Decent and fair people are entitled to disagree. It is entirely unhelpful to accuse people who have worked for decades in the interests of the public good of greed as a motive. An apology is in order.

Amelia Clarke is President of the
Sierra Club of Canada
with national office in Ottawa