April 2009

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It is quite surprising that this was not the norm, to manage the public good!

the Federal Court of Canada released late yesterday that it will force the federal government to stop withholding data on one of Canada’s largest sources of pollution – millions of tonnes of toxic mine tailings and waste rock from mining operations throughout the country.

The Federal Court sided with the groups and issued an Order demanding that the federal government immediately begin publicly reporting mining pollution data from 2006 onward to the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI). The strongly worded decision describes the government’s pace as “glacial” and chastises the government for turning a “blind eye” to the issue and dragging its feet for “more than 16 years”.

I look forward to reading the court order. According to Ecojustice (Formerly the Sierra Legal Defence Fund) the ruling includes the following strong wording:

* It calls the federal government’s pace “glacial”[paragraph 145];
* It says the government’s approach has been simply to turn a “blind eye”[207];
* It notes that the frustration felt by advocates trying to uncover this information “after more than 16 years of consultation” is “perfectly understandable” [124];
* It states that not reporting “denies the Canadian public its rights to know how it is threatened by a major source of pollution”[127];
* It highlights that the minister has chosen not to publish the pollution data “in deference to” the mining industry[220];
* It used unusually simple language even I understand when it said that the government was simply “wrong”[177].

The advocates were: Justin Duncan and Marlene Cashin and their dedicated clients at Great Lakes United and Mining Watch Canada who launched the case in 2007.

It is uncertain how these data will be released. Currently, these types of pollutant data are released on the National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) which is:

The National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI) is Canada’s legislated, publicly accessible inventory of pollutant releases (to air, water and land), disposals and transfers for recycling. (Mining Watch)

The NPRI is fairly usable & accessible, includes georeferencing and some mapping services. I tried to use their library and it was however not working!

The Mining Association of Canada wants to read the ruling “carefully” to assess how Environment Canada should release these data. I find this confusing, since I thought the Government got to decide how these data are to be released and what is to be included, and that decision was based on ensuring the public good and the public right to know. The fight is not yet quite over. It will be important to ensure the data are not watered down for public consumption.

It is another wonderful example of creating an infrastructure – NPRI + law – to distribute public data. This also teaches us something about gouvernementalité, and who the government thinks with, in this case the mineral and mining industry and not citizens. Citizens should not have to lobby for 16 years and expend incredible resources to get the courts to get the government to ensure the public good!

Articles:

  • Court orders pollution data from mining made public, By Juliet O’Neill, Canwest News ServiceApril 24, 2009
  • Environment Canada forced to reveal full extent of pollution from mines
    Court ruling considered major victory for green organizations
    , MARTIN MITTELSTAEDT, Saturday’s Globe and Mail, April 24, 2009
  • Great Lakes United Press Release, Court victory forces Canada to report pollution data for mines, April 24, 2009 – 11:16am — Brent Gibson
  • Mining Watch Press Release: Court Victory Forces Canada to Report Pollution Data for Mines, Friday April 24, 2009 11:31 AM

    To Save the Earth, Start With Data

    That is the title of a Wired Article I just read! Short! Sweet! and to the point as to ways to put good data to use!

    Happy earth day all!

    Now were talkin’ data

    The World Atlas of Language Structures (WALS)

    is a large database of structural (phonological, grammatical, lexical) properties of languages gathered from descriptive materials (such as reference grammars) by a team of more than 40 authors (many of them the leading authorities on the subject).

    It also consists of

    of 141 maps with accompanying texts on diverse features (such as vowel inventory size, noun-genitive order, passive constructions, and “hand”/”arm” polysemy), each of which is the responsibility of a single author (or team of authors). Each map shows between 120 and 1370 languages, each language being represented by a symbol, and different symbols showing different values of the feature. Altogether 2,650 languages are shown on the maps, and more than 58,000 datapoints give information on features in particular languages.

    And it is available online for free! Kudos to the linguists!

    Via: Open Access News

    [via Boing Boing]

    Canadian MP Vote being tracked

    How’dTheyVote.ca followed by OurParliament.ca are two Canadian citizen led projects that developed information services to citizens regarding the voting patterns of their Federal MPs.

    VoteForTheEnvironment.ca was a vote swapping site created for the last elections which included a postal code lookup that led users to a map of their electoral district and to the electoral candidates for those ridings.

    Libby Davies, MP Vancouver East, was the inspiration for the new Parliament of Canada service that tracks how MPs vote. If you look at Libby’s profile, you will see a vote tab that will lead to a list of bills she has and has not voted on and how she voted.

    I wonder if those will stay up during the next elections and how long these records will remain public once the MP has moved on. It would be fantastic to see City Councilor and Provincial & Territorial MPP votes.

    These services help citizens track what is being done, and provides a decision making service to citizens who will want to assess the stances taken by up-and coming representatives at election time.

    Via: Michael Geist, and BoingBoing.
    The Star Article: MP voting records go online.

    /The World of 100

    /The World of 100

    Tony Ng

    Tony Ng

    via: FlowingData