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Grassy Narrows sues Ontario over mercury health threat from clearcut logging

TORONTO – Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation (Grassy Narrows) is filing legal proceedings against Ontario, alleging logging plans will cause further mercury poisoning to the nearby ecosystem.

TORONTO – Asubpeeschoseewagong First Nation (Grassy Narrows) is filing legal proceedings against Ontario, alleging logging plans will cause further mercury poisoning to the nearby ecosystem.

Grassy Narrows alleges that the logging plan will prolong and deepen the ongoing tragedy of mercury poisoning in their community and therefore violates their Charter rights to security and freedom from discrimination.

The suit filed requests the Divisional Court overturn provincial plans for a decade of clearcut logging in Grassy Narrows' traditional territory.  

“It saddens me that we are forced to fight in court to protect our children from the dangerous mercury impacts of clearcut logging,” said Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister Sr. 

“I hope that the court will finally end Ontario’s long legacy of forcing harmful decisions on our families and our homeland.”

Despite the word "mercury" not appearing in the provincial 1,200-page logging plan, Ontario refused Grassy Narrows' request for an enhanced environmental assessment last winter. 

The MNRF’s own response to Grassy Narrows’ request for environmental assessment stated that “[t]he potential for forest management activities to result in mobilization of terrestrial mercury into aquatic systems is well documented and a serious concern.” 

The ministry goes on to say, “[t]here are no claims that [provincial logging rules] direction and application of the [provincial logging rules] will mitigate or eliminate Hg [mercury] mobilization.”  

Ontario gave a green light to the Whiskeyjack Forest Management Plan in December of 2014. 

Fobister hopes this case could become the first to successfully use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to protect people against harm and discrimination arising from environmental degradation.

Mercury is a sensitive issue for the community 80 kilometres north of Kenora, where the province condones eating fish  but commercial fishing is illegal due to lingering effects of mercury poisoning from the upriver Dryden Mill in the 1960s and 1970s. Many people are still suffering from the toxic effects arising from the discharge of 9,000 kg of mercury. 

Forty five years after the dumping was curtailed, mercury levels in the river remain in the highest risk category and in some areas close to Grassy Narrows the mercury levels in the river sediment are still rising.  Nothing has ever been done to clean up the river even though a joint Ontario-Canada scientific panel recommended specific remediation measures in 1983.

"When I was pregnant I couldn’t afford to buy food at the store, so I ate what my grandfather brought home – mostly fish.  Now I cry because I fear that my daughter may suffer for her whole life.  She deserves to live a good life and be happy,” said Grassy Narrows mother Sherry Fobister, an applicant in the lawsuit.

“This pain is never going to end if Ontario allows clearcut logging to add even more mercury into our river.”