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Flood of applicants seek standing at probe into decline of Fraser River salmon

A federal inquiry into the decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River has received more applications for standing from interested parties than did commissions that investigated the bombing of Air India Flight 182 or the sponsorship scandal.

British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Bruce Cohen, who last November was appointed to head the salmon commission, said 50 applicants sought standing before him as formal participants.

"This number is significantly greater than for other federal commissions of inquiry," Mr. Cohen said in a ruling that grants standing to less than half the applicants.

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To illustrate the overwhelming interest in the salmon commission, he noted that the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182 received 21 applications for standing, the Gomery Inquiry into the sponsorship scandal had 15 applications and the inquiry into the Maher Arar case had 24 applications.

Mr. Cohen said he was granting standing to only 20 groups and individuals because "I am concerned that too many participants could make the process unwieldy and expensive and impede the completion of the commission's work."

Although anyone can make written submissions to the Cohen Commission, only those who are granted standing are considered formal participants with the right to propose witnesses, make oral submissions and cross-examine witnesses.

Among those granted standing are the federal and provincial governments, the Pacific Salmon Commission, B.C. Salmon Farmers Association, Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. (which has a dam on a tributary of the Fraser), researcher and activist Alexander Morton, the Conservation Coalition (representing several environmental groups), the B.C. Wildlife Federation, and several native coalitions representing about 25 bands.

Among those not granted status were former B.C. cabinet minister and radio broadcaster Rafe Mair, who has long been outspoken on fisheries issues, and the B.C. Wilderness Tourism Association, which has complained its businesses have been damaged by the collapse of wild salmon stocks.

Mr. Cohen was appointed last fall to look into the decline of sockeye stocks in the Fraser River, after only about one million fish returned to spawn when more than 10 million had been predicted.

The commission is expected to begin public hearings in the fall. It is currently seeking disclosure of documents and will do a preliminary report to the government this summer that may influence the management of this year's sockeye run.

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The Fraser this year is expected to get between 4.5 million and 29.8 million fish.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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