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Green coalition challenges certification claims that Canada’s forestry products are sustainable

·4 min read

The fact clear-cutting at-risk ancient forests continues apace in British Columbia indicates Canadian forestry certification standards assuring consumers lumber products are sustainable are a mockery and need to be investigated, says a coalition of environmentalists.

Six individuals backed by a trio of environmental organizations have formally requested the federal Competition Bureau to investigate the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) for labelling Canada’s forestry goods sustainable as false and misleading.

Under the CSA’s current certification regime, the logging of B.C. forests such as hotly contested regions of old-growth on southwest Vancouver Island would be deemed sustainable — including unprotected areas of the Fairy Creek watershed, the epicentre of activist logging blockades for close to a year.

“What serious standards organization would certify the logging of the remaining three per cent of (B.C.'s) most valuable big tree forests as sustainable?” asked Vicky Husband, one of the complaint signatories and a renowned environmentalist.

“This certification is meaningless, designed to fool consumers into thinking they’re doing the right thing by buying these products.”

The investigation request to the Competition Bureau on behalf of the signatories was filed by Ecojustice, a non-profit environmental law firm, with the support of environmental groups Stand.earth and the Ancient Forest Alliance.

The complainants also want the CSA to pay a $10-million fine towards conservation projects should the bureau — responsible for the administration and enforcement of the federal Competition Act — deem the CSA’s forestry sustainable labelling is false.

The coalition also recommended the CSA be ordered to publicly retract certification claims of forestry sustainability if the case is verified.

Canada’s weak environmental laws give logging companies control over the forests, and allow the industry the discretion to shape a certification process that allows it to flog destructive logging products in domestic and international markets as sustainable, said Devon Page, executive director of Ecojustice.

“Of course, it makes no sense that industry sets the certification standard,” Page said.

And weaknesses in the CSA’s forest certification system make it incapable of guaranteeing that forest management is sustainable, he added.

Nobody — not the CSA, the federal or provincial governments, or the logging companies themselves — is required to verify that the parameters of the sustainable certification are met in practice on the ground, he added.

CSA’s certification scheme includes language on conserving biological diversity, the recognition of environmental, economic, social or cultural values, and input from the public, but it’s a matter of form over substance, Page said.

“You could call it a process standard, not a performance standard,” he said. “CSA uses sustainable forest management language throughout their certification scheme, but at the end of day, they don’t require it.

“They give industry the discretion to determine whether they will do anything.”

The complaint establishes how the CSA’s claims are false and materially misleading based on a review of the wording of the association's standards and in the context of old-growth logging in British Columbia’s forests, said Page.

While there have been few changes to the status quo logging practice, sustainable forestry certification systems have expanded rapidly in Canada, Page said.

Canada has 13 million hectares of forest certified to the CSA standard, two million of which are in B.C. And Canada has more certified forest area than any other country in the world, mostly to industry-led systems, according to the complaint.

Governments see forest certification as a means to reduce their role in forest industry oversight, pointing to independent third-party audits as evidence of compliance with regulations, the coalition stated.

It’s unacceptable that the continued logging of ancient forests is deemed sustainable, said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and another individual in the complaint.

The practice also infringes on Indigenous rights and title as First Nations seek to sustainably protect, manage, and steward the forests they hold jurisdiction over, Phillip said.

“In these times of renewed focus on the need to protect old-growth forests and their crucial importance for biodiversity and the climate, it’s clear that this logging is not remotely sustainable and is at odds with B.C.’s commitment to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”

A spokesperson from the CSA was unavailable for immediate comment before publication deadline.

Rochelle Baker / Local Journalism Initiative / Canada’s National Observer

Rochelle Baker, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, National Observer

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