Letter on Grassy Narrows, 25 June 2017

The Hon. Glen Murray,
Minister of the Environment,
Province of Ontario

Ms. Lisa Brigidyr,
Ministry of the Environment.

[RE: Draft Domtar order EBR Registry Number: 013-0642, Ministry Reference Number: 017-0526FM]


Dear Hon. Minister Murray and Ms. Brygidyr,

I have been aware for decades of the ongoing crisis of mercury poisoning affecting the Grassy Narrows people. Government mendacity and delay on this issue have been consistently shameful. I have myself felt shame and anger over the long history of ignorance, stalling, and obfuscation by successive Ontario and federal governments. The description of their behaviour as "environmental racism" is, I regret to say, entirely accurate.

Last November Minister Murray told the legislature that “there is no source” of mercury still leaking into the Wabigoon River. It has been known since a couple of months later that that statement was incorrect: there is strong evidence that the Dryden mill area continues to be a source of mercury to the Wabigoon River upstream from Grassy Narrows, more than four decades after the Dryden Chemical plant stopped using mercury and the public was assured that emissions had stopped.

Four months after this information came to light, no one has investigated to find and stop any ongoing sources. Mercury may still be leaking every day into the river that Grassy Narrows relies on for sustenance.

The entire Dryden mill area should have been assessed decades ago--and properly cleaned up--to ensure that no more mercury would poison the people of Grassy Narrows and the fish that they rely on. It is indefensible that today’s government would let clear indications of an ongoing problem go uninvestigated for four months.

The government of Ontario has indicated that it plans to order Domtar Inc. to search for the ongoing source of mercury--but the order contains no deadline for finding or stopping any ongoing mercury leaks.

Domtar has responded by saying that they will fight the order in court.**

Let them fight it. The government should take the necessary action, post-haste, to clean up the river and the source of continuing pollution; it should then take legal action to ensure that whatever sociopathic corporations may be responsible for the pollution pay the full costs.

For two full generations, the people of Grassy Narrows have been subjected to neurotoxin poisoning, despoliation of their land, deprivation of their natural food sources, and a consequent wanton destruction of their traditional way of life.

Is genocide too strong a word for what they have endured?

I call on you, your ministry, and your government to correct these grievous wrongs and to show, at last, some human decency.

** Please consider this an official comment on EBR Registry Number: 013-0642, Ministry Reference Number: 017-0526FM.

Yours sincerely and respectfully,

Michael Keefer, D.Phil., RMC
Professor Emeritus, University of Guelph


Grassy Narrows water protest taken to Premier Wynne's house