This is the fifth in a series of articles resulting from a yearlong investigation into Paper Excellence, by far Canada’s largest pulp and paper producer following its 2021 acquisition of Domtar, and now also the North American logging giant, Resolute Forest Products. These articles are part of “Deforestation Inc.,” a collaboration of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and 39 media outlets, involving 140 journalists in 27 countries. The Examiner partnered with journalists in France (Le Monde, Radio France), Canada (CBC, Glacier Media), and the United States (Inside Climate News) to produce this series. Previous articles in the series are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

This article looks at the tricky business of forest certification schemes, why Northern Pulp is still harvesting on Nova Scotia Crown land when its Pictou County mill is closed, and at Nova Scotia’s decision to opt for an ‘industry-led’ forest certification scheme but doesn’t even require that of Paper Excellence’s harvesting on Crown land.

The Northern Pulp mill has been closed since January 2020.

The mill’s owner, Paper Excellence, and its Northern Pulp family of companies are currently not repaying $86 million of outstanding debts to the province because they are under creditor protection.

And Paper Excellence is suing the province for $450 million.

But that doesn’t mean Paper Excellence’s Northern Pulp has stopped harvesting on public land in Nova Scotia.

Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) spokesperson Adele Poirier says Northern Pulp can access up to 308,000 hectares (761,000 acres) of Crown land to meet its 100,000 green metric tonne annual allowable cut under its current timber licence in central Nova Scotia.

In 2021, Poirier says Northern Pulp harvested 48,093 green metric tonnes on that Crown land and paid the province $965,000 in stumpage fees.

Poirier tells the Halifax Examiner that the current Northern Pulp Crown land licence was signed in 2018, and is up for renewal on July 31, 2023. She says the licence in central Nova Scotia harkens back to the 1965 Scott Maritime Act, which, remarkably, “continues to be in force.”

The Scott Maritimes Act was passed 58 years ago by the government of Progressive Conservative Premier Robert Stanfield. Apparently desperate to lure the company to Nova Scotia to build a big new pulp mill in Pictou County, through the act the Stanfield government offered Pennsylvania-based Scott Paper incalculably valuable Nova Scotia resources — massive amounts of cheap fresh water and vast areas of choice timberland with rock bottom stumpage rates. This, despite warnings from forestry experts that the province’s Acadian forests could not withstand the wood demands of such a mill.[1]

The Halifax Examiner filed a freedom of information request to DNRR for details of the latest Northern Pulp timber allocations, harvest, and exports of anything harvested on Crown land from 2020 until 2023.

The response we received was heavily redacted. But it did include part of a note to the lands and forestry minister in 2020 (Iain Rankin at the time), which says the 1965 Scott Maritimes Act gave the Pictou mill 100,000 tonnes annually on the central Crown land licence, and that licence expired in 2016. But there was a renewal option for another 40 years.

Northern Pulp is also a member of the WestFor consortium of 12 mills that manages and can harvest on approximately 490,000 hectares (1.2 million acres) of public hand in western Nova Scotia, considerably more than half of all the Crown land (850,000 hectares / 2.1 million acres) in the region. However, Poirier says in 2021 Northern Pulp did not harvest on WestFor-managed Crown lands in western Nova Scotia.

It did, however, harvest on its renewed Crown land licence in central Nova Scotia.

Poirier says the Northern Pulp annual timber allocation has not changed since the shutdown of the mill.

“Owning / operating a mill is not a requirement for holding a Crown timber license,” Poirier says. “Northern Pulp continues to provide timber to sawmills in the central region.”

Nova Scotia pulpwood for a mill in Maine

A Freedom of Information (FOIPOP) release from 2021 on Northern Pulp’s contractual arrangements for selling its products shows that Northern Pulp hasn’t just been supplying mills in Nova Scotia since its Pictou pulp mill closed.

In July 2020, Northern Pulp wrote to then-Minister Rankin, asking for a permit to export 10,000 – 15,000 green metric tonnes of hardwood pulpwood from its central Nova Scotia Crown licence, saying this was “required due to a lack of hardwood pulpwood markets within Nova Scotia.”

In August 2020, Rankin gave Northern Pulp permission to export up to 15,000 metric tonnes of low grade hardwood pulpwood from Crown lands to Arbec Forest Products and Irving Pulp and Paper in New Brunswick, and Woodland Pulp LLC in Baileyville, Maine, across the border from St. Stephen.

The FOIPOP release shows that in 2020 WestFor also asked for and received permission to export 18,000 tonnes of hardwood pulp from Nova Scotia public land to Woodland Pulp in Maine. 

Redactions in the 2021 and 2023 FOIPOPs were extensive, so it is impossible to know how much pulpwood from Nova Scotia public land was actually exported to the U.S. mill.

The only figure I was able to find in the 352 pages of heavily redacted documents was from 2020, when WestFor sent 2,893 tonnes of pulpwood to the Woodland Pulp mill.

Forest certification documents for the Woodland Pulp mill show its supply areas include Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Prince Edward Island, that it sources from “large industrial freehold and private woodlots” in Western Nova Scotia, and that Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is mandatory.

The Examiner contacted the Maine mill’s wood procurement manager to ask the location of those FSC-certified woodlots in Nova Scotia and whether there was any Crown land involved, but has not had a reply.

What makes this of particular interest is the ownership of the Maine mill.

More Wijaya-linked mills — in the U.S.

Since 2010, Woodland Pulp has been owned by the International Grand Investment Corporation, a “Hong Kong-based, Delaware-incorporated International Grand Investment Corp, or IGIC,” according to a 2018 China Daily article.

Google satellite view of green woodland on the right side of a dark body of water (the St. Croix River) and an industrial site with large piles of sawdust and cranes and a round treatment pond on the left side of the water body. The Canada - United States border is shown as a white line in the middle of the river.
Woodland Pulp mill in Baileyville, Maine Credit: Google Maps

ICIJ partner CBC tracked down the former manager of Woodland Pulp, Berthier Martin, who has retired and is now back home in Canada. Martin said he was recruited in 2010 on behalf of Teguh Wijaya (sometimes also spelled Widjaja), who was looking to buy a mill. Martin said he helped negotiate the purchase of the Woodland Pulp mill in Maine, and Wijaya came for the closing and signed the paper.

As reported in previous articles in this series, Teguh Wijaya is the head of the giant Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) conglomerate, and father to Jackson Wijaya, who is the “ultimate owner” of Paper Excellence.

Martin said “Mr. Jackson Senior,” as he calls Teguh Wijaya, came to visit the mill a second time during Martin’s tenure there.

Jackson Wijaya also visited once, Martin said, and there was some talk that Paper Excellence would buy the mill, but that never happened.

Before he left his position at Woodland Pulp in 2014 or 2015, Martin said he travelled twice to Shanghai to meet with someone who oversaw tissue operations for Teguh Wijaya, although he said the companies were not called Asia Pulp & Paper. However, Martin learned from his boss that Wijaya headed a business called Asia Pulp & Paper.

Martin said the Maine mill mostly sold its pulp — it specializes in hardwood pulp — to Wijaya companies in China. It sourced a lot of fibre for its pulp in New Brunswick, and a little came from Nova Scotia.

The same year International Grand Investment bought the Maine mill, it also bought the Cascade Pacific Pulp mill in Halsey, Oregon.

The president of the Cascade mill, Wayne Henneck, told The Oregonian at the time that the Hong Kong company was “integrating vertically.”

“The Asian markets have been very hot. This is the first mill they’ll own in North America. It may not be the last,” said Henneck.

ICIJ partner CBC also spoke with a former CEO of the Cascade Pacific Pulp mill. The former CEO, who asked not to be identified because he still works in the industry, stayed with the mill only two years after IGIC bought it. He described the deal as a “murky thing” and said the “owners wanted to keep it very secret and so they had a series of shell companies that they bought it through.”

“Anyway, it’s hard to trace back who owns it, but if you’re able to get through all of that bullshit, you finally end up with Asia Pulp and Paper,” he said.

He alleges that the new owners asked the mill’s legal firm to get a statement of ownership, and the firm came back saying they couldn’t determine who actually owned it, and never did get a statement of ownership. Because of all the shell companies, “there was no way to actually document it,” he said.

He said that his management team knew about the links to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) and Paper Excellence, and it became “kind of a joke” among them. He said the ownership arrangement was supposed to be a secret but everybody knew what was going on.

He said he once spent a few weeks helping out at the Woodland Pulp mill in Maine.

ICIJ partner CBC asked APP and Paper Excellence about alleged links with the two U.S. mills, but as of publication time, there was no reply. If one is received, we will append it to the article.

Corporate documents show that Tei Ah Lek is president of the International Grand Investment Corporation.[2]  According to the 2022 report “Papering over corporate control,” Tei Ah Lek served at the same time on boards of Paper Excellence and Sinar Mas companies.

a screenshot of a web page showing Chinese characters at the upper left, with a red yellow blue and green logo beside it. The unsmiling face of a man with glasses and short brown hair and his name Tei Ah Lek written in black letters beside the image.
Tei Ah Lek is an insider in the Sinar Mas / APP conglomerate, as shown on the webpage of Jackson Wijaya’s spouse’s Huang Yicong Foundation, where he is a director. He is also a director of the company that bought two pulp mills in the US in 2010, one in Maine, one in Oregon. Credit: Huang Yicong Foundation website

The website of the Huang Yi Cong Foundation founded and chaired by Jackson Wijaya’s spouse, shows Tei Ah Lek is a “supervisor” of the charity, and he is described as general manager in the office of the chairman of Sinar Mas Paper (China) Investment (SMPI). Corporate bond filings show SMPI is part of the APP China Group, and Jackson Wijaya’s father is chairman, president and director of SMPI.[3] (That description of Tei Ah Lek’s position with Sinar Mas recently disappeared from the Huang Yi Cong charity web page.)

What this means is that both Northern Pulp, which is owned ultimately by Jackson Wijaya, and WestFor, of which Northern Pulp is a member, have been seeking and receiving permission to export pulpwood they harvest on Nova Scotia Crown lands to a U.S. pulp mill that has at least an indirect link to APP, owned by Wijaya’s father.

As with so much relating to Paper Excellence and APP, once again it seems it’s all in the (Wijaya) family.

As reported in previous articles in this series, APP told ICIJ partners that any suggestion that Paper Excellence is part of the same corporate group as Asia Pulp & Paper is “not correct.” Paper Excellence said it is “owned solely by Jackson Wijaya and is completely independent from Asia Pulp & Paper.”

Forestry certification matters

Still, some may be asking, who cares? What does it matter if Asia Pulp & Paper and Paper Excellence are separate or part of the same corporate conglomerate, so long as they are buying up pulp and paper companies and keeping forestry operators in business in Canada?

Jim, the whistleblower mentioned in earlier articles, says it is extremely important because it gives Paper Excellence — whose staff he witnessed working directly with APP employees in Shanghai — control over so much of Canada’s pulp and paper industry and forest resources that feed it.

He believes one of the reasons Paper Excellence insists it is completely independent of APP has to do with APP’s environmental record and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for its products.

Paper Excellence has FSC certification, but APP has not been able to get FSC certification for 16 years. Jim says APP’s inability to get FSC certification has been its “Achilles heel.”

The Forest Stewardship Council, started in 1993 by a “group of environmentalists, indigenous groups, human rights organizations, and timber users and traders,” is generally considered the most stringent and effective of all the forest certification schemes, although this ICIJ collaboration reveals many problems with FSC and indeed much forest certification and how it is audited around the world.

Related ICIJ articles: Environmental auditors approve green labels for products linked to deforestation and authoritarian regimes. A new ICIJ-led cross-border investigation exposes how a lightly regulated sustainability industry overlooks forest destruction and human rights violations when granting environmental certifications.

In 2007, FSC “disassociated” from APP because of a list of “concerns” including deforestation, destruction of areas with high conservation value, violations of human and traditional rights, and illegal logging and timber trade.

Not only did APP lose its FSC certification the same year the Wijaya family’s Sinar Mas Group moved into Canada, buying the Meadow Lake mill in Saskatchewan, but the Meadow Lake mill was approved for FSC exactly one day before APP was de-certified.

The FSC website shows that since then, APP has been consulting with FSC on a “roadmap” to try to get its FSC certification restored.   

foreground shows still brownish water body flanked by dark wooded area and in the distance in a smoggy-looking haze, a pulp milll with many stacks and buildings.
Asia Pulp & Paper’s Indah Kiat mill in Sumatra, Indonesia Credit: copyright Greenpeace / Gesche Juergens

Civil society organizations weigh in

The Environmental Paper Network is a coalition of over 150 civil society organizations around the world, and one of 68 that signed a letter in 2021 to Domtar shareholders and financiers in advance of Domtar’s acquisition by Paper Excellence. The letter stated:

The acquisition will connect Domtar to the notorious conglomerate Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) of Sinar Mas Group (SMG). There is clear evidence linking APP and SMG to 30 years of deforestation, forest and peat fires, and the destruction of wildlife habitat in the 2 million hectares of land under their control. Such fires, and the company’s peat development have contributed to extensive greenhouse gas emissions. Reports also point to conflicts with local communities related to land grabbing, forest clearance, and pulpwood plantation development in Sumatra and Kalimantan, Indonesia.

The Environmental Paper Network (EPN) is also one of the authors of the 2022 report detailing links between Paper Excellence and Asia Pulp and Paper, part of the Sinar Mas Group.

ICIJ partner Le Monde spoke with EPN’s Josh Martin about the rapid expansion in the western hemisphere of businesses owned by Wijaya family members.

“And now the conglomerate that is the parent company of Asia Pulp & Paper, and the family that controls these companies, is spreading out into other parts of the world and making active acquisitions of companies in Brazil, and in Canada and the U.S. and elsewhere,” Martin said. “And they are doing so allegedly claiming that it is totally, entirely separate companies.”

“It’s interesting that Paper Excellence started getting going and getting its Forest Stewardship Council certifications just around the same time that APP was losing and being excluded from the FSC system because of their behaviour,” Martin said.

Asked why he thinks this matters, why people should care, Martin replied:

This makes it much more difficult for stakeholders like government regulators of the Forest Stewardship Council or conservation groups or consumers, or financiers or banks to really know who they’re dealing with and what is the track record and associations and where does all the money come from?

And with all of these multibillion dollar acquisitions that they’ve been making really recently, as what started as just a very small company itself buying up bigger ones, I think that just raises questions about whether they [are] over-leveraged, where is this money coming from, what does the future hold? I think it’s a big question mark when it’s a company with all of these questions and mystery and connections to another [company] coming with broken promises. It’s just information that people need to know about and consider as they’re looking for Paper Excellence to be a saviour of the forest industry.

As noted earlier, APP denied that Paper Excellence is part of the same corporate group as APP. And Paper Excellence, as mentioned before, said it is “completely independent” of APP. Paper Excellence also said the group’s financing for its North American operations “is from well-established financial institutions in Canada and the United States, with only a small amount of outstanding loans from Indonesian banks and no outstanding financing agreements with any China-based institutions.”

Forest Stewardship Council opening to APP?

Attempts by environmental groups to convince FSC that the links between APP and Paper Excellence should disqualify the latter from FSC certification have so far been in vain.

Now it looks as if FSC may be softening its position, looking at reinstating APP’s FSC certification rather than disassociating Paper Excellence from its FSC certification, as environmental and human rights groups have been asking for years.

In 2021, APP Sinar Mas reported it was making “progress towards formalizing the revised process for re-association” with FSC.

Changes made at the FSC general assembly in Indonesia in 2022 work in APP’s favour.

Formerly, if a company was responsible for forest clearing and deforestation after 1994, they were ineligible for FSC certification. With the new policies adopted last year, the cut-off date is now 2020.

A diagonal line from the lower left corner of photo to the upper left divides it in half, with the top half showing brown land with no vegetation, and narrow strip of blue water separates that from the forested area on the lower right of the photo.
Rainforest beside cleared and drained peatland in the PT Bina Duta Laksana piulp mill concession. The Sinar Mas group-affiliated concession, a supplier of pulpwood to Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), is located within the Kerumutan Peat Swamp Forest in Indonesia. Credit: Kemal Jufri / Greenpeace

ICIJ asked FSC if this will open the door for APP to once again obtain FSC certification.

A spokesperson for FSC International offered this opaque reply:

FSC is in dialogue with APP on the requirements and expectations of the remedy process so that once the FSC Remedy Framework becomes effective in July, APP can begin work on establishing the foundational systems …

Speaking to the ICIJ, FSC director general Kim Carstensen acknowledged that Paper Excellence and its French subsidiary Fibre Excellence are owned by the same family that owns APP. But, he added, “We have been checking this and under our current rules, there is not a relation between APP on the one side and Paper Excellence and Fibre Excellence on the other side, that would justify us connecting them in a full disassociation.”

FSC is bringing in new policies that would be stricter, looking not only at the ownership of corporations it certifies, but also at other ways corporate entities interact with or control each other, something that would definitely apply to APP and Paper Excellence.

Except they’ll not be affected by the new policies because of a convenient loophole.

According to Carstensen, the new rules come into force this year. “We can’t make them valid for issues that happened in the past, but for any issue with the policy for association going forward,” he told ICIJ.

In other words, APP may soon be able to have FSC certification and any relationship with Paper Excellence will be irrelevant, at least as far as certification is concerned. Former APP creditors and anti-trust regulators might still be interested.

Responding to questions about its forest certification in Canada, Paper Excellence provided this information, which is only about its recent acquisition, Resolute Forest Products:

A total of 100% of Resolute-managed woodlands are third-party certified to at least one internationally recognized forest management standard: Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) or Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), A significant portion of our externally sourced fibre is also certified to one of these standards, or to the American Tree Farm System®(ATFS).

Paper Excellence said that about 80% of the virgin fibre its subsidiary Domtar sources from public lands in Ontario is “sourced from forests that are certified to internationally recognized standards.”

However, as the “Deforestation Inc.” investigation led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists has shown, FSC and other voluntary certification schemes involving third-party auditors have failed to prevent environmental violations and to protect forests and local populations from unscrupulous operators.

ICIJ found that “in the last two decades, dozens of environmental auditors certified as “sustainable” the products and operations of more than 340 forest-product companies that were later accused of environmental crimes or other wrongdoing by local communities, advocates and government agencies.”

Related ICIJ articles: Green forestry claims tested: three case studies, including Paper Excellence

This included 140 companies with FSC certification.

FSC defended its record, saying that in the past five years it had blocked more than 88 companies for fraudulent activities.

But the question of whether FSC, considered the most stringent of forest certification schemes, is truly effective or not is not all that pertinent in Nova Scotia, because the provincial government has decided not to use it to certify forested Crown land. 

Nova Scotia opts for ‘industry-led’ certification scheme

Even if FSC is far from perfect, Nature Nova Scotia president Bob Bancroft says it is still better than schemes such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI), which he calls “greenwashing” and a “farce.”

Yet SFI is the only forest certification the Nova Scotia government has on public lands.

Ecojustice director Devon Page calls SFI an “industry-led” and “greenwashed certification that fails to protect forests and the environment.”

“SFI gives the impression that logging operations certified to its standard are sustainable while having no rules requiring that logging meet prescribed sustainability criteria nor any on-the-ground assessment to confirm sustainability,” states Ecojustice.

In December 2022, Ecojustice, on behalf of the Ecology Action Centre and Nature Nova Scotia  and six other Canadian environmental groups, lodged a complaint with Canada’s Competition Bureau of Canada about “sustainability” claims SFI makes about its forest certification, saying they were “false and misleading.”

Related: Enviro groups call Sustainable Forestry Initiative ‘greenwashing’

In January 2023, based on the complaint, the Competition Bureau launched an official investigation into SFIAccording to Ecojustice, if the Competition Bureau finds SFI has misled the public, it could be required to remove all “sustainability” claims from its communications and from its name, publicly retract them, and be subject to a fine of up to $10 million.

ICIJ asked SFI for its response to the complaint, and received this reply:

SFI firmly believes it has not engaged in any misleading representations and it is fully compliant with the Competition Act. The complaint is based on false and incorrect information about our governance, our standards, the certification and accreditation processes and the rules surrounding representations, labels and claims relating to SFI standards.

ICIJ also asked SFI to respond to criticisms that SFI certification allows clearcutting that can have very serious repercussions on soils and watercourses, and herbicide spraying with glyphosate that the World Health Organization deems a “probable carcinogen,” allowing serious biodiversity loss.

This is part of SFI’s reply:

The SFI 2022 Forest Management Standard promotes sustainable forestry based on 13 Principles, 17 Objectives, 41 Performance Measures, and 114 Indicators. In order to achieve certification, all Principles, Objectives, Performance Measures and Indicators must be met. This is fundamental, as SFI’s requirements cannot be viewed in isolation.

Large harvest areas can occur in some instances, but not without meeting all the other requirements in the SFI standard, which confine harvest sizes.

a chewed up landscape with only a few trees standing
Clearcutting in Wentworth Valley on SFI-certified Northern Pulp land purchased in 2010 with a NS government loan Credit: Joan Baxter

SFI the certification of choice in Nova Scotia

Figures from the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) show that in 2021 only about 600,000 hectares (about 1.5 million acres) in Nova Scotia had FSC certification.

Of those, Port Hawkesbury Paper managed just over half a million hectares (1.3 million acres), 96% of it Crown land. The Nova Scotia Association for Woodland Certification had the only other FSC–certified land, managing 64,167 hectares (158,560 acres), half of it private and half public.

In contrast, more than twice that area of woodlands in Nova Scotia — about 1.2 million hectares (nearly 3 million acres) — was under SFI certification.

The Department of Natural Resources and Renewables (DNRR) holds SFI certification on 224,643 hectares (more than a half million acres) of public land in the province.

Asked if the Nova Scotia government had FSC certification on any Crown land, DNRR replied that, “SFI is the only certification held by the provincial government.”

This wasn’t always the case.

Aerial view of large bare deforested brown land with large ruts from machines, and remnant forest in the distance on the right, a well as blue waters of St. Margaret's Bay in the distance under a grey sky.
WestFor clearcut on the former Bowater lands, 2016, St. Margaret’s Bay. Credit: Raymond Plourde

When the NDP government of Darrell Dexter bought the Bowater – Mersey land in southwest Nova Scotia in 2012, the Medway parcel was FSC-certified. Four years later, Liberal Natural Resources minister Lloyd Hines decided to drop FSC in favour of SFI certification.

Related: Nova Scotia government abandons strict forest certification for former Bowater Mersey lands

Related: Forest tragedy: how the forest industry and compliant bureaucrats hijacked the public will

Cutting on Crown land with no certification at all

Remarkable as it is, given how long APP has been trying to recover the coveted FSC certification that it lost in 2007, and that Paper Excellence boasts to the ICIJ team that it is “proud” to have been able to “elevate over half” of the fibre supply to its Skookumchuck mill in British Columbia to the FSC standard, Paper Excellence doesn’t even bother with FSC certification in Nova Scotia.

Northern Pulp has only SFI on land it owns in Nova Scotia, and on Crown lands where it has a licence to harvest trees.

But its SFI certification doesn’t even cover its whole Crown licence. It’s a bit complicated, but here are the numbers.

Paper Excellence told ICIJ partners that it has 245,000 hectares of private and public land under SFI certification.

The 2022 KPMG audit of Northern Pulp’s certification shows it has a single SFI forest management certificate for all the woodlands it manages in Nova Scotia. And that is a hefty chunk of Nova Scotia’s forested land.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, DNRR says Northern Pulp’s Crown licence in central Nova Scotia covers 308,000 hectares, on which it can cut up to 100,000 green metric tonnes a year.

According to Forestry Products Association of Canada, Northern Pulp has SFI certification on 173,760 hectares (429,370 acres) of private land. Recall that Northern Pulp purchased 475,000 acres from former mill owner Neenah in 2010, with a $75 million provincial government loan, and as part of the same deal resold 55,000 acres of the land to the province for 1.7 times the price per acre it had paid for the entire Neenah purchase, an effective gift of $7 million in public money.

The purpose of that loan and purchase, according to Percy Paris, then-Minister of Economic and Rural Development under the NDP government of Darrell Dexter, was to “ensure a wood supply” to the Pictou County pulp mill, “and protect the land as a forestry asset.”

According to SFI, Northern Pulp’s “freehold lands” — the ones Nova Scotians loaned the company the money to buy, money that is currently not being paid back because the company is under creditor protection the British Columbia Supreme Court — constitute “approximately 5% of the total forested land in Nova Scotia and 7% of the privately owned forest land.”

The 2022 SFI KPMG audit report says Northern Pulp also has SFI certification on 74,000 hectares (183,000 acres) of its licence on Crown land, where it can cut 100,000 green metric tonnes of hardwood and softwood every year.

However, here things get a little confusing.

If Northern Pulp can harvest 100,000 tonnes on 308,000 hectares, as DNRR says its timber licence allows it to do in central Nova Scotia, but it has SFI certification on only 74,000 hectares, what does that mean? Is there no certification on the other 234,000 hectares?

The Examiner asked Jason Metnick, SFI senior vice president, customer affairs about that, and he replied that these would be lands “not within the scope of the SFI certificate — these would not be considered SFI-certified.”

“Northern Pulp is not required to hold an SFI certification in its current licence agreement,” confirmed DNRR spokesperson Adele Poirier. “However, they must meet all of government’s requirements for harvesting timber on Crown land.”

The ICIJ launched its nine-month “Deforestation Inc.” investigation to seek and then expose flaws in environmental auditing and certification programs intended to promote responsible forestry and combat illegal logging and deforestation around the world, including in many developing nations in the tropics.

But such an investigation is moot in Nova Scotia, given that a corporation as huge and powerful as Paper Excellence is not even required to have a single one of those certification programs on public land it harvests, so there isn’t even any auditing or certification program to investigate.

Which speaks loudly about any commitment to “sustainable” forestry in the province.

Next in series: Canada claims to be a “world leader” in sustainable forestry but its own behaviour suggests otherwise, and critics call it a “world laggard.” With Paper Excellence, owned by Sinar Mas and controlled out of Indonesia according to Statistics Canada, now controlling 21% of Canada’s pulp and paper industry and 22 million hectares of Canada’s forest lands, should Canadians be concerned about its growing control of the industry and its supply chain?


[1] The opposition from forestry officials and experts to the new pulp mill before it was built in in Pictou in the 1960s is documented in detail in the 2000 book by L. Anders Sandberg and Peter Clancy, “Against the grain: foresters and politics in Nova Scotia.”

[2] Amended Annual Report, August 13, 2021, filed with Oregon Secretary of State, Corporation Division, registration for “International Grand Investment Corporation, holding company of other companies in pulp and paper business.”

[3] Corporate bonds filings in Hong Kong on September 24, 2019: Green Fortune Capital Limited bonds guaranteed by APP Ever Dragon Investments Group Limited

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website:; Twitter @joan_baxter

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  1. This Halifax Examiner article by Joan Baxter states that the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) is an “industry-led” organization. This is not accurate and it’s important to set the record straight. SFI is governed by an 18-member Board of Directors that reflects the diversity of interests in the forest and conservation community. SFI is purposefully structured to ensure equal voting power to environmental, economic, and social sectors. Board members include executive-level individuals of conservation organizations, academic institutions, Indigenous/tribal entities, family forest owners, public officials, labor, and the forest products industry. You can see the complete list here:

    We also encourage readers to visit SFI’s website to learn more about other elements of our work, including our standards, conservation impact, education initiatives, and Indigenous relations. See

    Jason Metnick
    Senior Vice President, Customer Affairs

    1. It’s important – in the name of accuracy and “to set the record straight” – to note that the article does not state that SFI is an “industry-led” organization. Rather, it quotes Devon Page of Ecojustice who calls SFI an “industry-led” and “greenwashed certification that fails to protect forests and the environment.” And once again, to set the record straight, it’s important to note that SFI was also quoted at some length in the article.

    2. SFI is entirely industry led. Each state/provinces SFI State Implemention Committee or SIC is housed within the state’s largest industry trade association. The SIC is just a standing committee of the association and not a real organization. Many people believe it stands alone. It does not.

  2. Thank you for this Joan. I am awed by your ability to marshal this much complex information and make it as comprehensible as possible. Especially so since the purpose of so much of said complexity is to make the industry’s activities incomprehensible. Lawyers tangle and lawyers untangle. I’m so grateful to Jamie Simpson and Ecojustice and all the groups involved in making the complaint about SFI to the Competition Bureau. Let’s hope they get some traction.

  3. Thanks for this, Joan. What a tangled web that all leads back to the same place. Very confusing – but I’m sure that’s exactly as it is meant to be.

    1. The primary aim of “Deforestation Inc” was to look at certification schemes and the poorly / lightly regulated multi-billion dollar industry of auditing them, to reveal the problems with environmental certification schemes, and expose the greenwashing. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) has published many of these on its website: