First Nations women unite with farmers, cottagers to fight dump; defend water

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ELMVALE, ONTARIO – On May 8, a group of women from Beausoleil First Nation set up a protest camp opposite Site 41, a dump being constructed near Midland, in Simcoe County. Their purpose: to protect the water in the aquifers below the site that has been found to be exceptionally pure.

Since then, a fight that had been a local, rearguard action by a small group of farmers has caught the imagination of people across Ontario. Area cottagers – a powerful group in this backwater where Toronto comes to play on the shores of Georgian Bay – joined the coalition.

A movement started to form.

On July 25, more than 2,000 people converged on Perkinsfield, just north of Site 41 in Tiny Township, for a rally in support of a one-year moratorium to allow for review of the project. Speakers included former Toronto mayor David Crombie, Timmins-James Bay MP Charlie Angus and Georgian Baykeeper Mary Muter.

The enthusiastic crowd gave standing ovations to the First Nations people who by that time had maintained the protest camp for 77 days, and blockaded the site for three weeks.

“This is what democracy looks like,” Maude Barlow, head of the Council of Canadians and United Nations advisor on water, told the crowd. She paid tribute to two women who have come to symbolize two communities united in defense of the water – Vicki Monague of Beausoleil First Nation and Elmvale dairy farmer Anne Ritchie-Nahuis. The two are named in a civil action by Simcoe County which is seeking at least $160,000 in damages.

The water became the issue in 2006, when scientist William Shotyk of the University of Heidelberg, an expert in the effects of human activities on water, revealed that samples from his family farm near Site 41 had tested remarkably free of contaminants. Sampling has continued to indicate the presence of unusually good natural filtration, resulting in the purest water on Earth – at least the purest water to be tested and scientifically verified.

“These waters are of exceptional quality,” wrote Dr. Jean-Daniel Berset of the Laboratory of Water and Soil Protection in Switzerland, in a report submitted to Simcoe County Council June 30.

But as opposition grew, Simcoe County politicians clung to their selection of Dump Site 41, due to open this fall. Construction was stepped up until on July 6, the Anishinabe Kweag (women) blockaded the gates. On July 22, Justice Peter Lauwers granted an interim injunction to halt the protest. Argument on a permanent injunction was heard in Barrie court Aug. 13 and 14. Simcoe County meets Aug. 25 and is expected to address the moratorium request.

Meanwhile, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has written to Simcoe County Warden Tony Guergis, expressing concern about the county’s failure to comply with a May 13 IPC order regarding release of input data and calibration of a computer model. This information was used to produce a 2007 report that concluded the containment features of Site 41 would ensure the future safety of the underlying aquifers, including the Alliston aquifer that stretches south to the Oak Ridges Moraine. In a July 28 letter, the IPC warns Guergis that willful failure to comply with an order and willful obstruction are offenses under the law.

The Site 41 Community Monitoring Committee, established by an environmental review board to ensure community accountability, first asked for the Modflow imformation in June 2007. The county refused, citing the complex nature of the model and risk of error. CMC member Stephen Ogden filed a Freedom of Information request for the Modflow in September 2007.

The county refused again.

This time, it revealed that it did not have the Modflow information, which it told the IPC was under “the care and control” of consultant Jagger Hims. The consultant would not release the information. “Neither the county nor the Ministry of the Environment have had access to these calculations,” Ogden points out. “This means the ‘science’ to which politicians refer when they insist the site is safe has never been independently reviewed. The CMC wants to ensure that is done.”

On May 13, the IPC ordered the county to obtain the Modflow and make a decision about releasing it to Ogden. But Hims – taken over in May by landfill industry giant Genivar – claimed the information is proprietary and not covered by Freedom of Information legislation. The IPC has ruled to the contrary, that the Modflow was paid for by public funds to satisfy a regulatory duty.