Are PM Stephen Harper and Hon Gary Lunn above the Law & Science?

Jan 16th, 2008 Update: New entry, “Nuclear-gate: Head of Canada Nuclear Safety Watchdog fired in the dark of night

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Quoting Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission‘s website,

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) is an independent federal government agency that regulates the use of nuclear energy and material to protect health, safety, security and the environment and to respect Canada’s international commitments on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

I am very troubled by Prime Minister Harper’s lack of basic understanding of the meaning of an “independent federal government agency”.

Allow me to also quote the Guide Book for Heads of Agencies (Section II, Point #2) for the record and completeness (emphasis mine),

Maintaining an arm’s length relationship to Ministers is particularly important for those organizations whose mandate is to make decisions that determine or regulate the privileges, rights or benefits of Canadians. Governments delegate decision-making powers to these bodies, in part, to preserve public confidence in the fairness of the decision-making process. In turn, the exercise of these powers requires careful attention to ensure that the appropriate degree of independence is maintained.

The independence of Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), a Quasi-Judicial Administrative Tribunal, is very important.

In the early morning (2:02 am MST) of Friday Jan 11th, 2008, I finally finished reading all 41 pages of the key “Correspondence between Minister Gary Lunn and CNSC President Linda Keen“,

The first 8 pages of Letter from President Linda Keen to Minister Gary Lunn is a must read for everyone interested in this controversy (and it is an easy read). And then the remaining pages are the shocking details. In particular, take a look of the seven safety upgrades including Emergency Power to Two Heavy Water Pumps (see pg 16-17 of the Letter PDF file) explained that the Chalk River nuclear reactor was commissioned in 1957 and this reactor was decided in 1996 that it would **not** continue to operate after **Dec 31, 2005**!

In PDF pg 15 of Letter from President Linda Keen (emphasis mine),

“A comparison of the NRU [National Research Universal reactor] design and new research reactors showed that the NRU design fell below current standards and practices, particularly in the design of defense-in-depth barriers such as shutdowns, emergency core cooling and confinement.”

These are important safety concerns. And in PDF pg 16 of the Letter from President Linda Keen (emphasis mine),

“The upgrades were designed to improve the safety of the reactor by providing systems aimed at preventing accidents or, in the event of an accident, mitigating its consequences.”

Sections 7, 8, and 9 of the Letter from President Linda Keen (pg 23-29 of the PDF file) are important sections. In fact, I think section 9 (pg 28 of PDF) “Withdrawal of Legal Services from the CNSC” in the Letter from President Linda Keen indicated to me that the Canadian government has crossed the ethical line completely.

I am wondering out loud that should some one in the government or Justice department be held accountable (in fact, for criminal obstruction, or at least obstruction in the operation of a Quasi-Judicial Administrative Tribunal)? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that legal services for CNSC were pulled by the Justice Department on Dec 10, 2007, without notice, just the day before the government tabled and passed Bill C-38 on Dec 11, 2007. Did this pull of legal service happen by pure chance? I doubt it. Should the government know the potential impact on the tabling of an upcoming (in 24 hours) piece of critical legislation while CNSC is not served by adequate legal advices? This has critical importance in the normal functioning of a Quasi-Judicial Administrative Tribunal, such as CNSC. In this case, on the surface, it was as if the government became a dictator and took away the needed legal services at the most critical time and then hush in a piece of legislation that may not serve Canadians long term interest (while solving the immediate problem of medical isotope supply).

After reading and evaluating the 41-page of materials from the above freely downloadable PDF files, I’ve drawn the following partial conclusions. Ultimately, PM Harper and Hon. Lunn are both humans and they are not above the Law nor Science.

1) Hon. Gary Lunn, Minister of Natural Resources, should be fired or he should resign. Hon. Lunn has definitely crossed the line of pressuring, intimidating an **independent** federal government agency that Hon. Lunn should have known better.

A careless conversation by Hon Andy Scott cost him his position as Solicitor General. What Hon. Lunn had done was much worst as he actively pressured and threated to fire Ms. Keen, an officer of an independent federal government agency, without cause. And that had lead to a serious erosion of the public confidence of CNSC.

2) Minister of Health, to me, only played a side role and I don’t think the Minister of Health is responsible for the problem or the tactics related to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). I might be wrong, if I am wrong, then the Minister of Health should be reprimanded as well.

3) An investigation of the Justice Department should be launched with respect to the allegation in section 9 (pg 28 of PDF) “Withdrawal of Legal Services from the CNSC” in the Letter from President Linda Keen. This can be a serious offense where the Minister of Justice may be ultimately be held responsible. It is too early to say if the Minister of Justice should resign too.

4) Prime Minister Harper has continuted to defend his ministers. So it is time for PM Harper to come clean that he doesn’t know much about Nuclear reactors and their safe operations. He should fire Hon. Lunn from his position as Minister of Natural Resources for his mishandling of the whole issue.

PM Harper should apologize to Canadians that he had made a mistake when he told Canadians something to the effect that only” paperworks” were missing.

If PM Harper reminds defiant and ignorant of the implication of ministers and as prime minister dictating to a “independent federal government agency”, then the PM should himself resign as well because no one, not even the PM himself, is above the Law of Canada and the Law of Science. Just ask the families of people who died when medical equipment malfunctions. Or the families of the crew of the NASA Challenger Space Shuttle Mission. Well thought out safety measures in the arena of science are usually designed/created for a specific scientific reason. And those scientific reasons/decisions are best left in the hands of scientists and not politicians or managers.

P.S. In my 17th December, 2007 posting “When Politicians go Nuclear Active“, I made the mistake of trusting the House and Senate members’ judgment in taking a calculated risk against the view of Ms. Keen, a scientist by training.

In hindsight, knowing what I know now, the risk of reopening was much more serious than I had originally been aware of (e.g. all these public documents were not available then) and the decision to force open the facility will remain a case of politics trumping science when the politicians from all parties were clueless of the science! I strive to make this the last time I let politicians overrule independent and well-respected scientists on scientifically justified decisions.

My deepest apologies to Ms. Keen, President of Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), for not supporting you earlier.

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