Grassy Narrows: The first step in addressing Ontario’s chemical nightmare

 “I thank the grassroots people of Grassy Narrows, and our supporters who have been tireless in their work to gain justice for mercury survivors at long last.” — Grassy Narrows Chief Simon Fobister

The province of Ontario has just made a public commitment to clean up the river system on which the people of Grassy Narrows depend.

The announcement follows a meeting between Premier Kathleen Wynne and the people of Grassy Narrows last Friday.

The province’s commitment reportedly includes a promise that the river clean up will be led by the people of Grassy Narrows themselves.

Grassy Narrows is the site of one of the worst incidents of industrial pollution in Canada. A half century ago, an upstream pulp and paper mill was allowed to dump tonnes of mercury into the river system. The people of Grassy Narrows are still dealing with the disastrous impacts on their health and way of life.

To date there has been no effort to clean up the river or the former mill site; no comprehensive study of the community’s health needs; no provision of specialized medical care for the large numbers of people suffering from mercury poisoning; and no guarantee that their rights and well-being won’t be further undermined and compromised by provincial decisions about logging and other resource development on their lands.

The Ontario government first promised to re-examine the mercury issue at Grassy Narrows in 2012. Since then there has been a series of revelations about demonstrating that the province has long known about ongoing health and environmental concerns but failed to act

The solidarity group responded to the announcement stating,

“This is a moment for cautious celebration, but the work is not done. No schedule has been announced, and the remediation has not begun. Promises made before have been broken.”

The people of Grassy Narrows have been fighting for justice for decades and the fight is far from over. While welcoming the Province’s decision, Amnesty International stands with the people of Grassy Narrows and their supporters in vowing to keep up the pressure until Ontario not only keeps its promise to clean up the river, but ensures that justice is finally done.