Originally published as a column on CFJC Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on April 29, 2019.

Here we are again: like some relentless zombie, the story of the forgotten trash that belongs to Canada but is currently ‘vacationing’ in the Philippines has returned do haunt us, much to our shame. This time it comes with a threat, in the shape of a clear-as-daylight message from the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte: ‘We will declare war against them.’ (Canada, that is.)

The said trash is not a negligible amount, but more than 100 full containers, unethically labeled ‘recyclable plastic.’ The company that sent it over to a port near Manila back in 2013 and 2014 is apparently defunct, but the consequences of their ill-thought plan are affecting two countries. How is that possible to have a company go defunct and thus become unaccountable when so much is at stake? 

That companies get created and then dissolved for whatever reason is true. Insolvency is one reason. Still, when the bill is a hefty one not just financially, but politically too, at country level no less, you’d expect the people who did the deed to be held responsible. One could argue, and correctly, I’d say, it was a long enough string of eyes that saw that transport sent away.

How is it possible to have such a large shipment go unchecked before being shipped away half way across the globe? Someone must’ve looked inside a container or two before approving them for shipping. Or if no one did, which is hard to believe, how many levels of by-passed responsibility are we talking about and how widespread is this problem? 

Like I said, this is not a bag of trash left lying around in someone’s backyard. It will be interesting to see how the issue will be resolved. The fine for the gross misrepresentation (let’s call it blatant lie) was approximately $6 million back in 2014. Since than, the Philippines have been storing our garbage – against their will – and that puts Canada in a position of violating an international convention (the Basel Convention concerns the control of transboundary movements of hazardous waste and their disposal.)

Since the has resurfaced, Environment Minister Catherine McKenna gave hope that a solution will be found. That’s a good thing, about time, and it will cost us; whatever the fine, it’ll be out of the pockets of taxpayers.

And speaking of taxpayers and their recently filed taxes, did you hear the one about the massive write-off? It happened, and the sum was nothing to sneeze at: $133 million. Yes, you read that correctly. For anyone who has ever had the CRA at their heels for any amount of money they owed, no matter how small, this sounds like a bad joke. Is unlikely that we will ever find out who the mysterious lucky person or corporation is. Such is the nature of these low-flying deals.

By the way, a write-off does not mean that the person or corporation was forever absolved, according to the CRA. It means no legal action until the debt is paid. Which, with the kind of secrecy we are witnessing, it’s likely we’ll never find out about whether it happened or not, so what’s the difference.

It is disheartening to read such stories, to say the least. It devalues honest people’s efforts to do things right and pay their contribution to society and it creates the ‘us versus them’ divide that should not exist in Canada.

We teach our kids that assuming responsibility and being accountable for one’s action matters. Then these things come to light and it makes all that we say sound empty. And yet.

The Kamloops community and the big world that surrounds us, from province to country-wide and beyond, abounds with amazing and inspiring stories of integrity. Some people we get to know by name either because they make the news or we happen to know them personally, others we learn about from others, and some we never get to meet. Each of them in their own way, and all of them together change the world for the better and help remind us all that integrity is the way to go.

As we learn about the ugly stories such as the ones above and others like them we can only hope they will not be buried until resolved and that transparency will eventually prevail, because anything less cannot do.