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The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada > News & Events > Communications Magazine > Vol. 36, No. 2, Spring 2010 > Peter Krahn: Canada’s Environmental Defender
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Peter Krahn: Canada’s Environmental Defender

Reprinted with permission from Ottawa Life Magazine - May 2010

Peter Krahn

A twenty-seven-year veteran of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Peter Krahn works toward a greener country.

In a world of diminishing natural resources, melting ice caps, and industrial pollution, Peter Krahn serves as the “Horatio Caine” of Environment Canada—a sort of CSI who leads investigations with a team of scientists, engineers and prosecutors at his disposal. For the last four years, his official title has been Operational Advisor for Environment Canada’s Enforcement division. But in speaking with Krahn, it becomes increasingly clear that his job description transcends any notion of normality and his duties are perpetually changing to accommodate the needs of any given situation.

Krahn is called upon to investigate and provide clarity on Canada’s largest environmental violations and disasters. Essentially, he advises various federal departments on environmental law, enforcement techniques, technologies and investigative strategies. Krahn primarily deals with violations of the Fisheries Act and the Canadian Environmental Protection Act. He does everything from providing expert testimony, negotiating legal penalties, site assessment to remediation strategies. Although much of his work is in a lab or behind a pile of thick binders bursting with pages of data, an extensive amount of fieldwork is still required—and that seems to be where Krahn is most comfortable.

It was clear from an early age that Krahn was destined to pursue a career in environmental science. “I’ve always had an interest in the environment,” he claims. “I was that kid always playing outside in the mud, and one day I was mucking around in a nearby river and found a $20 bill.” He has been in mud and rivers ever since. Krahn moved on to graduate with a Bachelor of Science and Religious Studies from Trinity Western University in British Columbia, and four years later he left Lakehead University as a Chemical/Environmental Engineer. Wasting no time, he was recruited by Environment Canada as a Sr. Engineer for the Toxic Chemicals Group and has been climbing the ranks ever since.

One of the most memorable cases Krahn investigated was the Pine River Oil Spill located 110km upstream of Chetwynd, B.C. in August 2000. To date, it remains Canada’s largest and most expensive inland oil spill. “It was quite the sight—helicopters, cranes, media and lawyers everywhere.” At one point, Krahn found himself sleeping on the bed of a pickup truck after working 72 hours straight. “It’s definitely not a 9-5 job.”

Over the years, Krahn’s talents have been called for across the globe. He has travelled the world conducting training courses in toxic chemicals research, environmental audit/inspections and federal environmental regulations. “Canada participates in something called ‘Technology Transfers,’ where essentially, we travel to various countries that don’t have our level of infrastructure, training, or experience and help them out.” Krahn has participated in expeditions to Mexico, Thailand, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Europe. “It’s shocking to see how rudimentary their environmental protection is. On one trip, we were inspecting a site and on the surface everything seemed to be standard, but it turned out to be smoke and mirrors. The tour guides were dressed like stewardesses and they were driving us around in decked out golf carts to distract us from the channel of toxic chemicals draining into a stream.”

Each project Krahn tackles provides a new set of obstacles which demand creative problem solving. “Often we have to utilize innovative tactics to substantiate a case,” and on some occasions even invent new technology. “At one job site, we needed to collect a groundwater sample by drilling through the cobblestone bottom of a very fast-moving river. There was no technology that could effectively operate in those conditions, and what was available was extremely expensive and impractical.” Frustrated with these limitations, Krahn became determined to find a better way to do it, so he fabricated his own device. “It worked perfectly and cost 90% less.” Krahn now has a patent for the “K Interstitial Groundwater Sampling Probe” and since he drew up the plans during government time, he playfully states “it belongs to the Canadian people!” All in a day’s work.

Over the past 27 years, Krahn has been on the forefront of environmental defence in Canada. He has been leading a behind the scenes battle against pollution—before it became pop culture and the country painted itself green—before Al Gore stepped upon his soapbox and the words ‘greenhouse gas’ and ‘carbon footprint’ were embedded in political rhetoric. The world needs more people like Peter Krahn. Men of action. The word rhetoric isn’t in Krahn’s vocabulary and his deeply-rooted passion toward the environment can be seen in his reaction to each of his many victories. It’s the same youthful excitement displayed as he found that $20 bill while playing in that river so many years ago.