Justice now for Grassy Narrows

By Craig Benjamin, Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples

Think about this.

  • A community devastated by the massive release of mercury into the rivers on which they depend.

  • Credible scientific studies showing that a half century later the people are still suffering from the debilitating effects of mercury poisoning and that even their children are being harmed.

  • Further studies that show that the mercury is not going away and that fish from the river will continue to be unsafe for years to come unless something is done.

  • New allegations that an illegal toxic dump near the river could increase the mercury contamination ten-fold and leave the river unsafe for almost a century to come.

This is the story of the Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwest Ontario. It’s a situation that cries out for justice.

Now consider how the federal and provincial governments have responded.

  • Despite knowing since early 1970s that the people of Grassy Narrows have been exposed to dangerous levels of mercury, the federal and provincial governments have both failed to carry out any long term monitoring of their health and have never provided specialized medical attention to meet their needs.

  • The governments have ignored their own studies saying that the river can be cleaned up. The government of Ontario has even publicly claimed that such a clean-up is not feasible.

  • When the Chief of Grassy Narrows brought the allegations of allegations of illegal dumping to the province’s attention, the Chief was assured that there was no threat. In fact, according to a report this week in the Toronto Star, the province hasn’t even tried to locate the alleged dump site and has never taken the obvious step of checking the water near the alleged site for mercury contamination.

When a government acknowledges the wrongs of the past, does everything in its power to set things rights, and takes effective action to prevent further harm, that’s called justice.

When government’s ignore their obligations toward specific communities because of who they are or where they live, it’s called environmental racism.

The people of Grassy Narrows want a safe river for their children. The people of Ontario want justice for our neighbours and Treaty partners. The federal and provincial governments need to listen.

TAKE ACTION: Send a message to the government of Ontario >>


Public Statement: Justice for Grassy Narrows: Ontario must act now

Report: Mercury Remediation Options for the Wabigoon-English River System (pdf)

Learn more: Grassy Narrows: the right to a healthy environment

Craig Benjamin is the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples Campaigner at Amnesty International Canada. Follow him on Twitter @Craig_Benjamin