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(An earlier version of this opinion piece appeared in the Halifax Examiner “Morning File” of January 15, 2021.)

The “sample copy” of the newspaper landed innocently enough in our house.

On Tuesday, January 12, 2021, Canada Post delivered a “complimentary” issue of  The Epoch Times right to our door in rural northern Nova Scotia.

It came with a “limited-time offer” for a special subscription deal to what looked – if one knew no better – like a normal newspaper.

I was one of those, unaware that in the past year, investigative journalists had revealed The Epoch Times  to be a “shamelessly pro-Trump paper,” and a “global propaganda machine” that offers a “mix of alternative facts and conspiracy theories that has won it far-right acolytes around the world.”

A 2017 study in Germany found that The Epoch Times “disseminates antidemocratic false news and conspiracy theories, incites hatred against migrants and indirectly advertises for the AfD,” the country’s far-right political party.

Yet the masthead of the newspaper makes The Epoch Times sound benign as a newborn babe, a paper that stays “outside of political interests,” and is “dedicated to seeking the truth through insightful and independent journalism.”

Recipients of the free copy are invited to take advantage of a “$1 first month trial offer.” The “best deal” subscription is six months at $3.43 a week, or $89 plus tax. Subscribers get a weekly paper with 40 pages in four sections.

The Epoch Times, says the masthead, has readers in 36 countries and 22 languages, with a  Canadian English version that has been operating for 16 years, with a “loyal readership” in Toronto, Vancouver, Ottawa, Calgary, and Edmonton.

As for its origins, it says only that it was founded in 2000 by “Chinese expats in North America.”

As I said, benign.

Or so the mysterious people behind The Epoch Times would have us believe.

Dig a little, however, and the paper looks anything but benign.

Continue reading Beware, “The Epoch Times” are here … and there, and everywhere

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Atlantic Gold springs an effluent leak, plugs a new mine, and sells itself to investors

Part of the tailings facility at the Touquoy gold mine. Photo courtesy: SMRA

This article first appeared in The Halifax Examiner on March 15, 2019.

By Joan Baxter

Atlantic Gold’s manager of environment and permitting, James Millard, calls it a “spill” or a “loss of control” caused by a “gasket failure.”

By whatever name, the event happened on the night of January 3, 2019, at the company’s open pit gold mine at Moose River. It involved 380,000 litres of contaminant-laced slurry, which flowed from the processing plant where ore is crushed and gold extracted, and down a trench underneath the double-lined 500-metre pipe that should have been carrying the effluent to the tailings pond.

The leaked slurry flowed into a lined pond that Millard says was developed and designed for leaks.

During an open house that Atlantic Gold held in Sheet Harbour on Thursday to showcase one of three new gold mines that it wants to open on the Eastern Shore, Millard told me the incident was reported immediately to Nova Scotia Environment, as the amount exceeded spill limits. He said the department has inspected the site and been working with Atlantic Gold.

Continue reading Leak at Moose River gold mine raises environmental concerns

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Canada and the world have lost a great medical researcher, and a remarkable man. In my life – and I’ve had a long one – I’ve met only a handful of people I admired as much as I did Frank Plummer. This is my tribute to him.

By Joan Baxter

February 6, 2020. When I heard this week that Dr. Frank Plummer had died, the loss hit hard, although I hadn’t seen him in two decades and knew him for only a couple of years when my family and I were living in Kenya.

That Frank had died suddenly while in Nairobi to deliver a keynote speech at the annual meeting at the collaborative centre for research and training in HIV/AIDS/STIs at the University of Nairobi – his old stomping grounds – made his passing somehow even more poignant.

Screenshot of the University of Manitoba web page in tribute to Dr. Frank Plummer, an alumnus and a U of M Distinguished Professor of medical microbiology, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and former Canada Research Chair in Resistance and Susceptibility to Infections.

It was in Nairobi in the mid-1990s that I met Frank, a fellow Canadian. Through our kids and mutual friends, we met the Plummer family, and would get together at parties or for weekend outings in the Kenyan countryside.

At first, I had no idea  how renowned he and his work were, although he had been in Nairobi for more than a decade doing research on HIV/AIDS. It was through our mutual friends – not Frank himself – that I learned just who he was, a globally and highly respected microbiologist whose work had made world headlines in 1993.

At the time, I was working as a science writer for an international research organization headquartered in the Kenyan capital, and was eager for some writing projects that involved more creativity than did the mostly technical reports and academic articles that took up my working days.

Then one day in 1995, Frank asked me if I would consider writing a book about him and his work on HIV/AIDS. He said a European publisher had approached him and asked if he would be willing to pen an autobiography. He told me he wasn’t interested in doing that. Not then. He was too busy. Continue reading Remembering Dr. Frank Plummer

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on March 7, 2019. As decision-day approaches on Northern Pulp’s proposal for a new effluent treatment facility that would be constructed very close to the Canso Chemicals site, which is heavily contaminated with mercury, I decided to republish the article here.

Canso Chemicals hasn’t produced any chemicals for 29 years, but — contrary to what I wrote in the Halifax Examiner in “Northern Pulp’s environmental documents: missing mercury, a pulp mill that never was, and oodles of contradictions” — the company lives on.

Sort of.

For two decades Canso Chemicals produced chlorine for the pulping process at a site adjacent to the pulp mill on Abercrombie Point in Pictou County, but when new pulp and paper effluent regulations came into effect in 1992, the mill switched to chlorine dioxide. No longer needed, the chemical plant was closed.

A Google search for “Canso Chemicals” turns up an address (Granton Abercrombie Road, New Glasgow, NS) and a phone number, which I called. Although the Google result states that it is “permanently closed,” someone did answer the phone with the words, “Canso Chemicals.” When I introduced myself, he said he could not make any comment, but would try to find someone who could answer my questions about the company. He took my number. I haven’t had a return call.

Continue reading The curious case of Northern Pulp’s neighbour Canso Chemicals, and why its owners keep it alive

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November 18, 2019

Morila gold mine in Mali, West Africa, 2002. Photo: Joan Baxter

This book chapter is the result of a visit to the Morila gold mine in Mali nearly 18 years ago, and is excerpted from my 2010 book, “Dust from our eyes – an unblinkered look at Africa,” published by Wolsak & Wynn in Canada and worldwide by Fahamu Books, which was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2009. I decided to republish it here because I regret to say that based on the extensive research I’ve been doing on the gold mining industry in the past few years, it looks as if not much (if anything) has improved since then. I first wrote this story for the BBC, following a visit to the Morila gold mine when it was operated by South Africa’s AngloGold and Randgold. Today, the Morila gold mine is operated by Canada’s Barrick Gold, and is a “joint venture company held by Barrick (40%), AngloGold Ashanti (40%), and the State of Mali (20%).” The economic disparities, and the environmental, social and political havoc that such gold mines cause, are all contributing factors to the horrendous insecurity that now prevails in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger (where Canadian gold mining companies are so prevalent), causing widespread suffering – and death. If I were writing it today, I would probably entitle it, “Gold: all that glitters causes death and devastation.”

All that glitters … is taken away

… the very term investment badly distorts what’s really going on. Plundering, looting and exploiting the non-renewable resources of Africa is a far more accurate description. Gerald Caplan

In my fifth year in Mali, in late 2002, I finally obtained an invitation to accompany the country’s new minister of mines and a team of Malian journalists on a day trip from Mali’s capital Bamako to Morila, the country’s newest big gold mine.

On the short flight to the mine, I found myself seated beside a South African employee of the South African mining giant Randgold, who told me he and his wife had recently applied for Canadian citizenship and that he now lived in Toronto – when he wasn’t in Mali. He said things were deteriorating in South Africa, “if you know what I mean,” and that he and his wife, as white South Africans, felt their futures were in Canada.

He went on to tell me about the wonders I was about to experience at Morila, especially the man-made lake that was filled with water pumped 40 kilometres from a small river, a tributary to the River Niger. And as for the clubhouse, that was something to behold; he was very proud of it because he helped to design it. He called it the “Sahelian Club Med.” There were pleasure craft and a wharf on the man-made lake, he said, and lovely watered gardens, a fine bar and restaurant, with food, wine and other drinks flown in from South Africa. He said he often drove down from Bamako in his Land Cruiser to spend weekends there.

Continue reading Mali’s Morila gold mine: “not everything glitters”

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on March 5, 2019.

Northern Pulp effluent flows into the Northumberland Strait at a dam called Point D. Photo: Joan Baxter

There is much to wade through in the documents that Northern Pulp submitted to Nova Scotia Environment on February 7, 2019, when it registered its “Replacement Effluent Treatment Facility” for a 50-day, Class 1 environmental assessment (EA).

Citizens who wanted to comment to the government on the proposal, as was their right, needed to slog through 1,586 pages in 17 registration documents, and they needed to do it quickly. The public was given only one month to comment. Environment Minister Margaret Miller had until March 29 to decide on the project. [Minister Miller’s decision is detailed here.]

Not surprisingly, the EA submission starts on a very encouraging note. In the Executive Summary, Dillon Consulting, which developed the project documents on behalf of Northern Pulp, provides a table indicating the “significance of project-related residual environmental effects” on 18 items, everything from the atmosphere to marine fish and fish habitat at every stage of the project, during construction, operation and maintenance, or because of accidents or malfunctions.

Every single one of them is assessed as NS, or “No Significant Residual Environmental Effect Predicted.”

Every. Single. One.

This could mean either of two things.

Continue reading Northern Pulp’s environmental documents – missing mercury, a pulp mill that never was, and oodles of contradictions

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This article was originally published in the Halifax Examiner on February 21, 2019.

“We care,” says Northern Pulp on the website it has created to spread the word that it “cares about forestry families of Nova Scotia.”

The site is a vehicle for the company’s letter-writing campaign to get people in the forestry sector to contact Premier Stephen McNeil, their MLA, MP, or even Canadian Senators to ask for an extension to the legislated deadline of January 31, 2020 for the closure of Boat Harbour as a stabilizing lagoon for effluent from the Northern Pulp / Paper Excellence mill in Pictou County.

Effluent from the Northern Pulp mill flows out of a pipeline. Photo: Joan Baxter

The form letter on the site requests the extension “to allow Northern Pulp and Paper Excellence the time required to commission and construct a new, environmentally responsible onsite treatment system.” The letter is signed, “A concerned supporter of Nova Scotia’s forest industry.”

This isn’t the first time Northern Pulp has resorted to composing and sending out form letters to try to garner support for itself and its interests, be it to town councils trying to get them to lend their support to a campaign to get the Boat Harbour closure date changed, or to its employees and former employees to get a (my) book signing cancelled in New Glasgow.

The Northern Pulp “cares” website is just part of the company’s intensive PR and lobbying campaign, which also means rallying its supporters in Canada’s largest private sector union, UNIFOR, to get the pro-mill message out in advertisements on the airwaves and social media.

Continue reading Northern Pulp says it “cares” – but for whom and what?

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on February 7, 2019.

British Columbia taxpayers are on the hook for $40 million to clean up the disaster of Imperial Metals failed tailings pond at Mount Polley. Photo courtesy Cariboo Regional District.

Late last year, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Derek Mombourquette, penned an op-ed that his department sent out to the media. As I mentioned in the Halifax Examiner Morning File on January 16, 2019, the opinion piece was entitled “A little piece of Nova Scotia, everywhere,” and it claimed that the province’s mining industry was “something we can all take pride in, especially with the new Mineral Resources Act.” It would encourage “responsible mineral exploration and development” in the province.

“The new act also cuts red tape and saves industry money,” he said.

The minister went on to try to reassure readers that this did not mean the government would relinquish its duty as regulator or hesitate to stand up to industry to make sure things were done right for the citizens of the province and their descendants after the mines closed and the companies walked away from, say, toxic tailings facilities left behind at open pit gold mine sites.

“Companies that develop a mine in Nova Scotia are required to have a plan to restore the site once it closes,” wrote Mombourquette. “They must also set aside funds with the province, also called security, to do this work, even if the company goes out of business. A company’s plan will be reviewed every three years.”

Sounded promising.

Continue reading Like blood from a stone: trying to get information out of the Nova Scotia Department of Energy and Mines

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(This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on January 25, 2019.)

The salmon museum in Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, is now at the heart of the NOPE campaign to prevent a proposed open pit gold mine from going in near the St. Mary’s River and jeopardizing its salmon recovery. Photo: Joan Baxter

For many years, when the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA) held meetings in Sherbrooke on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, the group members’ purpose was primarily to report on the headway they were making in their efforts to achieve their vision of “Health for our river, the Atlantic salmon and our community.”

Members would gather in the St. Mary’s Education and Interpretive Centre, which serves as a “salmon museum” that volunteers from the community built in 2001 with financial help from supporters of their cause.

The interpretive centre is a testament to the storied history of the river. It is filled with exhibits of fly-fishing gear through the ages, photos of species at risk such as wood turtles, and of huge Atlantic salmon specimens that could once be caught in the river. There is also a display devoted to famous anglers who have fished in the river over the decades, including the legendary American baseball player, Babe Ruth.

Past issues of SMRA’s annual newsletters offer a glimpse of the astounding amounts of unpaid time, energy, and enthusiasm that people in rural communities devote to trying to make their small parts of the world better and healthier places. The tone of the newsletter is always upbeat, the reports brimming with optimism and positivity.

The SMRA meeting held this week was not.

This time the subject was not the St. Mary’s River and how to improve it, but Atlantic Gold’s proposed open-pit gold mine and how to stop it.

Continue reading Friends of St. Mary’s River say “NOPE” to Atlantic Gold

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(This article was first published by the Halifax Examiner on February 1, 2019.)

On January 31, 2019, Pictou Landing First Nation started counting down the days until Boat Harbour is closed to pulp mill effluent. Photo courtesy Matt Dort.

The children of Pictou Landing First Nation didn’t mince words when they addressed the standing-room-only audience that gathered in their school gymnasium on January 31, 2019 to mark the start of the one-year countdown to the legislated closure of Boat Harbour.

They “hate” Boat Harbour. It makes them “sad.” And “it stinks.”

Pictou Landing First Nationyouth council president Shyanna Denny (L) & PLFN Band Councillor Haley Bernard (R) distribute A’se’K (Mi’kmaq name for Boat Harbour) t-shirts at closure countdown celebration. Photo: Joan Baxter

Once the mill stops pumping its effluent — up to 90 million litres of the reeking stuff every day — into the lagoon that backs up against their Reserve, Alden Francis told the audience that “everything won’t stink really bad” any more. He said he can’t wait for the smell to be gone.

But it’s not just Boat Harbour that stinks. Continue reading “Everything won’t stink so bad”: The countdown to the Boat Harbour closure begins

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