Ontario 'Chose to Allow' Poisoning of 2 Northern First Nations - Report

Ontario 'Chose to Allow' Poisoning of 2 Northern First Nations - Report

A new report by Ontario's environmental watchdog has some strong words for successive provincial governments over the better part of the last half-century related to ongoing mercury poisoning at two First Nations in the northwestern part of the province.

The 2017 environmental protection report by Dianne Saxe, Ontario's Environmental Commissioner was issued on Tuesday. Part of the document chronicles the history and current state of the historic pollution of the English-Wabigoon River system and its effects on Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations.

Speaking to reporters in Toronto during the release of the report, Saxe called the issue "shameful."

"Both governments and business have long turned a blind eye to pollution of Indigenous communities," she said.

The report itself was no less harsh.

"After accepting financial responsibility for the mercury contamination, the Ontario government declined to take action for decades, largely ignoring the suffering of the Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong peoples," it stated, referring to a settlement reached in the mid-1980s between Ontario, the pulp mill and the First Nations.

Research has shown more than 90 per cent of the populations at Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations are experiencing symptoms of mercury poisoning. (Jody Porter/CBC)

Research has shown more than 90 per cent of the populations at Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations are experiencing symptoms of mercury poisoning. (Jody Porter/CBC)

That settlement included an "exhaustive indemnity," which protected any then-future owners of the mill from liability, the report stated; in addition, the criteria for community members to access a compensation fund has been criticized as "overly restrictive," with only about a quarter of applicants for disability pensions being approved.

Mercury was dumped into the river by Reed Paper in Dryden, Ont., which is upstream of the First Nations, in the 1960s and early 1970s. It has never been cleaned up despite calls for action dating back more than 30 years. In June, 2017, the Ontario government pledged $85 million to clean up the contamination — work the government said will start in 2018.

 

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