OTTAWA—The chief of Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario is urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to support his community’s call for a treatment centre for residents affected by mercury poisoning, including those nearing death.
Simon Fobister says he has personally reached out to Trudeau three times and wonders why the prime minister has failed to respond to his concerns, despite a promise for a renewed relationship with Indigenous Peoples.
“It has been documented so many times. I’m frustrated that Canada doesn’t step up and deal with this national issue,” he says.
Fobister is also seeking answers and action from the Ontario government after a report commissioned by the Domtar company detailed provincial knowledge of contamination in the soil under an upstream paper mill dating back to 1990.
Provincial Indigenous Relations Minister David Zimmer says his ministry is reviewing the 2016 report to see what the consequences are and “what should be done.”
The situation in Grassy Narrows has also touched off concern from international observers, with groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch saying Canada must address the mercury crisis in its own backyard.
“Some of our band members have disabilities caused by mercury and they need a place to stay, to be watched out for, to ensure they are OK,” Fobister says. “One of my cousins, he can barely walk anymore.”
The Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to Fobister’s concerns, but the office of Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott says Ottawa is helping the First Nation access expertise and information from federal departments on the issue of mercury contamination.
From The Canadian Press