May 212010

Water is life.  Poisoned water is diseased and deformed life.

People cannot protect their water supply if they don’t know what’s planned for it.

Please pass this email along to people who live in the North Saskatchewan River Valley.  Thanks!

The write-up in item #2 from Logan and Asia is excellent.

Citizens for Responsible Development (Logan, Asia and others) are trying to stop nine new upgraders from being built.  This is about water, and it’s about tar sands expansion which is climate change.

The battle belongs to us all:

–   Especially to people in the North Sask River Valley.  I’ve included information below on the severe health consequences they can anticipate, based on Sarnia (Aamjiwnaang), etc.  The evidence is solid and numerous.

–   By stopping the refineries we help put the brakes on climate change associated with the tar sands.

The May 19th email (NASA Chief urges Norway to pull out of Alberta’s destructive’ oilsands) spoke of many different efforts by millions of people around the world to battle climate change.  Logan and Asia add to the partial list of “Fronts” upon which the tar sands portion of the battle is being fought:

–        ATTACK PRODUCTION  (the StatOil example)

–        ATTACK TRANSPORT (PIPELINES) (the Northern Gateway Pipeline to the West Coast example.  The incidents on the Enbridge pipeline near Dawson Creek another.)

–        ATTACK ELECTRICITY SOURCE FOR HEATING THE TAR SANDS (the anti-nuke fights in Alberta and Saskatchewan)

–        CREATE ALTERNATIVES TO FOSSIL FUELS (too many groups to mention are working on the “new world”)


–        THE TOOLS are everything from educational meetings, to protests, to “theatre”, to lobbying, to people becoming politically engaged, to people changing the way they live, to challenges through the courts, to more and more coalitions, to creative forms of non-violent resistance.

I become deeply troubled (and therefore motivated!) as I piece the information together.

National Geographic has a short video (March 2008) which explains the oil shortage in very real terms (item #8 below).  It includes mention of the drilling in the Gulf, two years before this fiasco with the Deepwater Horizon oil rig happened.

The corporatocracy is hell-bent on getting the last of the oil.  They have tunnel vision.  They are willing to destroy the environment in the pursuit of the money.  In the longer term, how much sense does that make?

It is totally irrational.  We are fast ending up with an uninhabitable environment.  And no fall-back because the corporatocracy in Canada refuses to get-on-board with making the transition off fossil fuels.  The National Geographic video is just another statement of the compelling evidence to say we are nuts if we don’t get off non-renewable oil sources.  The supply is running out.

Item #9 is a video on the oil woes of the Ogoni in Nigeria.  It illustrates where the path leads, if we are content to sit and do nothing.  People are robbed of the ability to make a living.  The profits go to corporations and members of the puppet government.  It’s like the situation in Alberta where the oil corporations pay a 1% royalty and the environment is trashed.  In the end people are impoverished.  There is growing disparity, anger and – – guess what? . .  violence! The nation’s police are then used against civilians, in defence of those who are the profiteers.  The news reports typically make those unruly people into the villains.

In case some people are unaware of the beating that Canada is taking internationally because of our refusal to pitch in to effectively address climate change, item #10 is one of the more potent condemnations published in the Guardian newspaper (UK).

If the thinking below is sound, I hope the information will find its way from you to (in particular) People, Mayors and Councillors from communities that get their drinking water from the North Saskatchewan River.  They will see the urgency more directly, on the basis of their water supply.

People should not ask to make presentations to the Hearing process on the new refineries.  This is a democracy.  Downstream people will be hugely affected.  They have a right to participate in the decision.

(I am reminded of our first battle over the proposed Meridian Dam on the South Sask River.  The Governments of Alberta and Saskatchewan tried then to do exactly what the Alberta Government is trying to do again: exclude the public from participation in decisions related to water supply.  We didn’t agree to be excluded. In the words of Nellie McClung, “Just do it.”  We didn’t need permission.  We told them we would be participating and gave everyone the contact information and details on HOW to participate.)












When you look at Lloydminster’s situation downstream from the “Industrial Heartland” in Edmonton, where they get the combined effect of ALL the carcinogens and teratogens being flushed upstream into the River, when you look at what is KNOWN, it seems to me that people are nuts if they don’t get angry, stand up and say “over my dead body”.

(North Battleford, Prince Albert, Nipawin, Cumberland House, etc. are also downstream, of course.)

Water is life.  Poisoned water is diseased and deformed life.  The more poison going in, the more disease and deformation coming out.  Pretty simple.

Band together.  We can win if we choose life over money – and are willing to fight for it.

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Many thanks to Sheila for drawing the situation to attention:

“ We have been working with some families in the Alberta Industrial Heartland (just north east of Edmonton) where they presently have two active Upgraders along with numerous other toxic industrial developments. Presently there are applications for 9 more Upgraders in the region, a move that will destroy the ability of the land, air & water to support the farmers and families in the area, but also have major impacts downstream in Saskatchewan.

This is the issue that a few of the families are trying to raise in the hearing for the 6th Upgrader. They were hoping to put out a media release that raised the issue of transboundary impacts to try to pressure the Federal government to respond to their request for a federal inquiry. (They have left numerous messages with Minister Jim Prentice with no response) . . . . “

(INSERT:  I talked with Sheila.  Strategically we need to inform and thereby mobilize more people.  The Government is not going to listen.)

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(Note:  I was fortunate to go on a similar but shorter tour of the Industrial Heartland.  I highly recommend it to people from Lloydminster and other communities in the North Sask River Valley, if you can make it. It’s an eye-opener.  I think you will see the implications for the River and therefore for your selves.  Especially when you add the information in the following items from the communities that are downstream from the petro-chemical refineries in Sarnia and elsewhere in the world.  Same story everywhere:  the money from the oil resource corrupts and poisons.)

On behalf of Citizens for Responsible Development – a group of concerned farmers and residents in the Fort Saskatchewan area – we would like to invite you, or a representative from your group, to accompany other Edmonton area community leaders on a special 1 day tour of the Industrial Heartland on Saturday, May 29th. Please RSVP today by sending an email to savetheheartland  AT

What: Industrial Heartland Tour
When: Saturday May 29th
Where: Meet at the Sierra Club: 10008 82nd Ave, Edmonton


Most Albertans associate tar sands impacts, such as land destruction, contaminated rivers and rising cancer and respiratory disease rates, with Fort McMurray and Fort Chipewyan. The chain of destruction, however, extends right into Edmonton’s backyard. The Heartland, just north east of Edmonton, is over 300 square kilometers in size and includes five regions: Strathcona County, Sturgeon County, Lamont County, the City of Fort Saskatchewan, and the City of Edmonton. To many of its residents, the region is quickly becoming known as Cancer Alley, and many fear the situation will only worsen with 9 new tar sands upgrader projects and 3 expansions proposed or approved for this region.

Come on the Heartland Reality Tour

Join residents from the Alberta Heartland on a tour of their communities and learn about the looming and current impacts facing the area.

You will hear first hand just how the provincial government’s “development at all cost” attitude has forced many community members to leave, while others continue to fight an ever-growing battle to protect their farms and the health of their families.

This tour has a limited number of spots available, so please respond immediately as it will be first-come, first-served. The tour begins at the Sierra Club (10008 82nd Avenue) office at 10am on Saturday, May 29th, with an introduction to environmental justice and some of the issues facing the area. We will then board a bus with local Heartland residents and scientific experts and depart to various points in the Heartland. The tour will also stop for tea and conversation at local residents’ homes before going back to the Sierra Club (10008 82nd Avenue) office.

The Heartland is one of the most polluted areas of the province – air quality ratings are worse than those of Mexico City on some days, due to the high concentration of industry in the area. It is also home to many families and contains some of the most fertile farm land in the entire country.

We are inviting you on this tour because we believe that your organization, club, or constituency may have an interest in this issue, whether it is your love of the North Saskatchewan river, your concern for local air quality, your passion for local food and food security, the faith that you hold, your organization’s ethic of service, human rights, environmental stewardship, jobs, health issues, and so much more.

There is no cost for the tour, but as a nonprofit organization we will gladly accept any donations. If you or another representative from your organization are interested in attending, or if you’d like more information, please RSVP by Monday, May 17th to Logan or Asia at

We sincerely hope that you can join us for this special tour of the Heartland, and are looking forward to hearing from you!

Logan & Asia

To see more details and RSVP if you are on facebook:

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Think of who you know along the length of the North Saskatchewan River, from Edmonton down to Cumberland House at the delta.  Send this information to them.  They should be fully aware of the cancers, reproductive problems, etc that come with being “downstream” from a concentration of petro-chemical refineries.  As I understand there will be 14 upgraders (?)(nine of them new) in Edmonton plus the ones in Lloydminster.

They should know the information from Sarnia (Aamjiwnaang) and Fort Chipewyan (below).  It is not prudent for any of us to be silent.

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From our earlier work:

–   We as a society are putting invisible and odourless poisons into our water supplies for which there are no known tests to determine whether they are then also in the water that comes out of our taps (if the naïve view is that we can poison the fish but somehow won’t simultaneously poison ourselves and our kids).

–   Our regulatory system looks at things in isolation.  It looks at ONE emitter of poisons without regard to the TOTAL NUMBER of emitters and the total volume of the emissions, OR the interactions of the various carcinogens and teratogens, OR the cumulative impacts.

–   As irrational as it is, the regulatory system completely disregards the OUTCOMES of our actions.  If our actions mean that more and more places are past critical load limits for the pollutants, never mind, just keep adding more. And be sure to tell everyone that this is “the most heavily regulated industry in the country”.  Completely ineffective regulation, but never mind that.

–   Conveniently, the people in the corporatocracy will never live “downstream”.  They call themselves Christian –  “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  Ha!

Trans-boundary water is the jurisdiction of the Federal Government.  Normally one would petition them to carry out their responsibility to safe-guard this river water.  However, the Federal Government is gutting the regulatory system.  And Tony Clement, Federal Minister of Industry is clear that the tar sands are going ahead.  (The upgraders are for tar sands oil production.)

By helping the people in the “Industrial Heartland” on the outskirts of Edmonton spread the word so that communities in the North Sask River valley can pitch in to “Save Our Saskatchewan”, we are also making a contribution to lessening the impact of climate change.

The following information package is for people living in the North Sask River watershed.  They and/or their local governments might want to intervene in the hearings in Alberta on the 6th upgrader.  There really isn’t anyone else who is going to look after their water supply for them.

The record is clear:  the petro-chemical corporations will poison the water supply and walk away with the profits.  The Government will collaborate with the industry.  They will not do studies to determine what’s going on when health problems in the local population escalate.  Quite the opposite: they will deny and sabotage all efforts to obtain reliable information and remedies.  Think of what they did to Dr. John O’Connor, the doctor who was at Fort Chipewyan. They want the money, only the money.  They want the easy path.  They do not want the sensible path which is to change to renewable energy sources.


do we think that the cells and processes in our bodies act differently from the cells and processes in other creatures?



The following news report focuses on the vulnerability of Lloydminster’s water supply to agricultural chemicals.  The Mayor and Council and residents should be aware that the existing load of poisons will be magnified many times over by 9 new upgraders upstream.  They really should have strong representation at the hearings into the 6th refinery.

Fri 17 Mar 2006

Lloydminster Meridian Booster



A Lloydminster alderman says more could be done to improve the safety and quality of the city’s water supply.

This past January the City of Lloydminster released its annual drinking water quality notice to consumers, which revealed trace elements of chemicals like arsenic, Malathion, pesticide 2,4-D and Picloram herbicide. Although the amounts appear to be well below government limits, Lloydminster alderman Duff Stewart holds concerns about the long-term impacts those potentially harmful chemicals could have.

“When we’re pulling in things like 2,4-D we should be wondering where it’s coming from. Maybe it’s Edmonton, maybe it’s Vermilion,” Stewart said. “Maybe we have to start looking at a lot of the things we’re ingesting, whether it’s water our meat or whatever.

“There has to be an awareness, but we can’t be alarmists and say ‘don’t use our water anymore,’ because that’s not going to work.”

It has been confirmed in recent years that trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and cosmetic products are making their way into the North Saskatchewan River – the source of Lloydminster’s water since 1983 – but little is known about the potential long-term impacts on human health. Municipalities across the country work constantly to improve filtering and treatment methods, but a 100 per cent flawless system has yet to be developed.

In 2003, experts at Edmonton’s Enviro-Test Labs tested tap water in 10 Canadian cities to see whether the samples contained pharmaceutical drugs, such as antibiotics, prescription painkillers, and other drugs. The results were confirmed by a second lab at Trent University in Ontario. Drugs were found in the drinking water of four cities. Scientists called the test results a wake-up call about what’s happening to the Canadian water supply.


– Bromoxynil: a nitrile herbicide used for post-emergent control of broadleaf weeds.

In one documented case of chronic exposure to humans, workers showed symptoms of weight loss, fever, vomiting, headache and urinary problems.

– Dicamba (Banvel): a benzoic acid herbicide. It can be applied to the leaves or to the soil. Dicamba is suspected of being a human teratogen.

– 2,4-D: a common systemic herbicide used in the control of broadleaf weeds. 2,4-D has a limited ability to cause birth defects.

– Diclofop-methyl: a selective post-emergence herbicide for control of wild oats and annual grassy weeds.

– Pentachlorophenol (PCP): a chlorinated hydrocarbon insecticide and fungicide.

Accumulation is not common, but if it does occur, the major sites are the liver, kidneys, plasma protein, brain, spleen, and fat.

– Picloram: a systemic herbicide used for control of woody plants and a wide range of broadleaf weeds.

The City of Lloydminster says pesticides in drinking water may occur as a result of these substances used by humans.

These substances may represent a long-term health risk if the Maximum Acceptable Concentration (MAC) or Interim Maximum Acceptable Concentration (IMAC) is exceeded.

To date, none of these substances have been found to be over the MAC or IMAC limits in Lloydminster water.

During a tour of the waste water treatment plant in London, Ont. in 2001, Stewart and other municipal officials observed that city’s use of an ultraviolet light system used to kill bacteria in the water supply. The City of Lloydminster then opted to utilize similar technology, but the $50,000-to-$100,000 investment was continually pushed back. To date, no such technology is used in Lloydminster’s water treatment process.

“One reason you’d want to invest in something like that is because it reduces the amount of chlorine you’d use in the system,” Stewart said. “Chlorine breaks down into a cancer-causing agent … so the more chlorine you put in, the more chances you have of including an agent that’s not good for you.

“(Ultraviolet equipment) was supposed to be on the budget this year, but when I asked they said it had been moved from the capital budget … but from the amount of money we’re making on water, we should be able to tune it up pretty quick.”

Utilities engineer Scott Kusalik said ultra-violet technology is still in consideration for Lloydminster, but because Sask. Environment requires municipalities to use a specific amount of chlorine in water treatment, – reducing the need for UV bacteria control – it is arguable whether the technology is necessary.

“It does a great job of neutralizing the bacteria in the system,” he said. “But part of our permit to operate our waterworks says we have to retain a certain chlorine residual, so if we went full UV and didn’t chlorinate, we actually wouldn’t be complying.”

Kusalik said the city conducts frequent analysis in compliance with Sask. Environment standards, and although he notes an increased awareness in regards to pharmaceuticals and other chemicals now found in water supplies, he says governments have yet to develop clear standards and regulations for those substances.

“Being downstream from Edmonton, sometimes you never know what you can get in the water,” Kusalik said. “There’s absolutely no real clarity for standards on this stuff at all.

“A lot of the drugs and that kind of stuff, we don’t even have to test for yet.”

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Duff Stewart, the alderman behind Leo Pare’s newspaper article, said that his friend fishes in the North Saskatchewan River.  But won’t eat the fish he catches.  He throws them back to the River.  Because they have the accumulated pesticides/toxins in their bodies.  Leo mentioned the deformities.  …  (INSERT:  same thing as is happening at Fort Chip, Lake Athabasca).

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At least two documentaries have been made about the situation at Aamjiwnaang (Sarnia, Ontario).  Pollution from the petro-chemical refineries, endocrine disruptors, has created a feminization phenomenon: male births are down by 40%.

I met and talked with people from Aamjiwnaang.  Their story is the same as at Fort Chipewyan:  they noticed that something was wrong.  The Government wouldn’t touch it.  They had to find ways to research their own community in order to determine whether it was their imagination or reality.  Even when the data is collected and analyzed, the Government and the corporations continue to stonewall.

You can google “Aamjiwnaang” for that tragic story.  The following sets Aamjiwnaang (Sarnia) into the wider picture of the surrounding area, to make the point that although the refineries are going into the Industrial Heartland northeast of Edmonton, the effects will not be confined to local residents.  It is something that people in the entire watershed will be affected by.  Everyone needs to mobilize.


When you read the newspaper article below, read “northern Alberta and Saskatchewan” in place of populations around the Great Lakes.  What is happening to health in Fort Chipewyan is the same as what is happening in the so-called “areas of concern” around the Great Lakes.  The industries are the same.  Suncor is in both locations.

Concerning Windsor:  from the newspaper report below “One study was leaked to a reporter in Windsor, Ont., in 2000, forcing Health Canada to release the rest.”.

There were people from Windsor at the Prevent Cancer NOW conference.

One was Kelly St Pierre, a young Mother whose daughter was diagnosed with cancer – leukemia.  Children from Windsor with cancer go to London ON for medical help.  While waiting and talking with the parents of other children at the cancer ward in London, Kelly started to notice that most of the parents were from Windsor.  (This is consistent with this new report in which Detroit is named a centre “with particular intensity” of illness.  It is only the River that separates Windsor and Detroit.)  Kelly became involved in a Windsor group, similar to the Aamjiwnaang group upstream at Sarnia.

I spoke privately with a gentleman who had moved from Windsor.  He and his wife were raising a grand-daughter of theirs.  This man had been on the International Joint Commission.  (It oversees water that straddles the Canada-U.S. border, the Great Lakes in his case).  From what he knew as a biologist about the poisons going into the water, about the situation in Sarnia and around the Great Lakes he felt that his granddaughter’s health was at grave risk, were they to remain in Windsor.  It was otherwise a tough decision to leave.  Windsor was their home, where their friends are.

– the CEO’s and the Boards of Directors who are making the decisions

– the Ministers and Deputy Ministers who are responsible for regulation to protect public health

should have to re-locate their families, to Aamjiwnaang or Fort Chipewyan or Lloydminster.  If everything is hunky-dorey, A-1 okay, then THEY should be forced to raise THEIR children in Fort Chipewyan and in Aamjiwnaang, in Detroit and in Windsor.


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Leaked report on the Great Lakes is a wake-up call

High levels of pollution pose a health threat. U.S., Canadian decision-makers keep public in the dark for fear of lawsuits, expensive cleanups, scientist says


Thursday, February 14, 2008

At least 9 million people living on the United States side of the Great Lakes basin may be in danger from high levels of chemical pollution, according to a secret study that has been withheld from the public.

The study was kept secret from the public for seven months until this week when it was leaked to the Centre for Public Integrity in Washington, D.C.

The 400-page study was done by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention on behalf of the International Joint Commission, which oversees issues relating to the joint management of the Great Lakes.

The study shows there are 26 “areas of concern (AOC),” where there are elevated levels of illnesses that can be traced to pollution.

These areas of concern are spread out through all five of the Great Lakes with particular intensity in Chicago, Detroit and Buffalo. More than 9 million people live inside the boundaries of these AOCs.

The report states that illness in the populations “compares unfavourably … with the U.S. population.”

For instance, the report identifies elevated levels of infant mortality in 26 AOCs, and of premature births in four AOCs.

The study also identified 108 hazardous waste sites, of which 71 are or could be public health hazards.

Powerful lake currents can distribute the chemical and hydrocarbon pollutants including dioxins throughout the Great Lakes system and down the St. Lawrence River. Migratory marine life such as eels, which swim from Lake Ontario to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, also distribute the pollutants.

The study mirrors a series of reports previously done by Health Canada in the 1990s that revealed 17 Canadian AOCs, where there were elevated levels of illnesses that could be traced to pollution.

When the Canadian reports were printed in 1998 they also were kept from the public. In this case, Health Canada circulated them only to public health officials in the 17 AOCs.

One study was leaked to a reporter in Windsor, Ont., in 2000, forcing Health Canada to release the rest.

The Americans have claimed that their study was suppressed because the science was substandard.

Michael Gilbertson, a former International Joint Commission scientist who was one of three scientists to peer review the U.S. study, said the reasons behind the suppression were political.

“Their real reason is that in the States and also in Canada at the moment there is really a reluctance within the governments to acknowledge that there are any effects of these chemicals on fish or wildlife or on human health,” he said.

Gilbertson said the governments are afraid of lawsuits and expensive cleanups.

“I mean you can find sources of chemicals in the environment,” he said. “But if you actually find effects, this has a connotation of liability.

Governments are extremely reluctant to allow their scientists to start making statements about the effects of chemicals on fish, wildlife or on humans. Particularly on humans.”

The Canadian study, for example, found a series of outbreaks of Minamata disease in Thunder Bay, Collingwood, Sarnia and Cornwall. Minamata disease, which includes cerebral palsy among its symptoms, is caused by mercury poisoning.

Each of the affected areas had large chlor-alkali plants that used mercury for making chlorine. At various times between 1948 and 1995, these plants released 742 tonnes of mercury into the Great Lakes. Mercury dumped in Sarnia went down the St. Claire River to Lake St. Claire and then down the Detroit River to Lake Erie.

Canadian research has also found an inexplicable drop in the male-female ratio on the Aamjiwnaang Reserve near Sarnia. The number of male babies had dropped 40 per cent in the mid-1990s. The reserve is surrounded by 46 large chemical plants and refineries.

Furthermore, Health Canada studies showed, the Windsor area suffered from much higher mortality and morbidity rates than in the rest of Ontario.

The federal government and the province of Ontario launched a program in 2000 to reduce pollution in the Great Lakes.

So far, two areas – Collingwood and nearby Severn Sound – have been removed from the AOC list.

wmarsden  AT

C The Gazette (Montreal) 2008

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The Other Oil Disaster: Cancer and Canada’s Tar Sands

Gina Solomon

Senior Scientist, San Francisco

Blog | About

Posted May 3, 2010 in Environmental Justice , Health and the Environment , Moving Beyond Oil

Today I was privileged to be an invited guest of the community of Fort Chipewyan, Canada. I can’t blame you if you’ve never heard of “Ft. Chip” – after all, there are only 1000 residents, and it’s only accessible by plane or boat. But you should hear about it, because what happens there will affect all of us.

The town has been suffering for more than ten years from surprisingly high rates of cancer. A local doctor sounded the alarm, and eventually the government did an investigation. The government’s press release at the time the cancer study was released made it sound like there was no problem: “A study of the cancer incidence in Fort Chipewyan finds levels of the rare cancer cholangiocarcinoma are not higher than expected.”

The results of the cancer study were never presented to the community, and the government claimed there was no problem. That’s where I came in. One of my colleagues asked me to peer review the Alberta Health Services cancer investigation. To my surprise, the actual report did not align with the headlines:

  • Overall, the report found a 30% increase in cancers in Ft. Chip compared with expected over the last 12 years;
  • Leukemias and lymphomas were increased by 3-fold;
  • Bile duct cancers were increased by 7-fold;
  • Other cancers, such as soft tissue sarcomas, and lung cancers in women, were also elevated.

I’m not sure who wrote the press release for the government, but it sure weren’t the scientists who actually did the investigation.

It wasn’t just the elevated cancer rates that got my attention, however. It was also the types of cancers seen. Leukemias and lymphomas have been linked in the scientific literature to petroleum products, including VOCs (volatile components of petroleum), dioxin-like chemicals, and other hydrocarbons. Biliary cancers have been linked to petroleum and to PAHs (chemicals in tar and soot). Soft tissue sarcomas are very rare and lethal cancers that have also been linked to dioxin-like chemicals and hydrocarbons. It’s an interesting pattern — almost all of the cancer types that were elevated have been linked scientifically to chemicals in oil or tar.

It’s especially interesting because little Ft. Chip is located downstream from the largest tar sands mining and oil production operation in the world. Other scientists who also presented their findings to the community today revealed significant increases in toxic metals, PAHs, and related chemicals in the water and sediments of the river downstream from the tar sands.

About 200 community members filled the hall where the scientists and physicians presented their findings. Then the community members spoke. Elders from the Mikisew Cree Nation and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation decried the lack of action by the government and industry. Other community members talked about their own cancer diagnoses, or about the problems they were seeing in the fish, ducks, and wildlife they hunt for food. One man brought a deformed fish to the researchers, asking that it be tested for contaminants. The meeting was long, intense, and important. These people are concerned about their livelihood, and their lives. They are also concerned about the state of their rivers, the lake, and the wildlife.

Afterward, as I flew back to Edmonton on the tiny plane, I looked down on miles of pristine boreal forest dotted with lakes and entwined by rivers. Then the tar sands operations came into view – vast scars on the land, massive sulfur piles, smokestacks creating huge plumes into the sky, and enormous tailings ponds next to the river glimmering with an oily sheen; tailings ponds that are almost certainly leaching contaminants into the Athabasca River, which carries them down toward Ft. Chip.

As I prepare to head down to the Gulf Coast, I wonder what will happen here in Canada. Will the newfound distaste for offshore oil drilling be a boon to the tar sands, thereby worsening the ecological and health situation up here? Or will the public realize that petroleum comes with a price that is too high to pay, and move toward a safer energy future?

George J. Poitras
Mikisew Cree First Nation
tel. 780.264.1269

“It would be easier just to fold our hands and not make this fight…, to say, I, one man, can do nothing.  I grow afraid only when I see people thinking and acting like this.  We all know the story about the man who sat beside the trail too long, and then it grew over and he could never find his way again.  We can never forget what has happened, but we cannot go back, nor can we just sit beside the trail.”
– Poundmaker, Cree Chief

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The experiences (videos) of the two communities should be run side-by-side.  (We circulated the info on Aamjiwnaang in July.)   These are not the only two places where this is happening.

Click on the link and watch the video on Ft Chip, if you missed it on CBC TV.

Remind me:  when the majority of communities in Canada have done what these people are doing – taking matters into their own hands because Health Canada isn’t doing its job  – – there are branches of Health Canada that should be shut down.  They have become an obstacle, as we also found out in the battle to get chemicals properly regulated.   /Sandra


Below is a link of a documentary that was aired on this past Sunday’s CBC News Sunday. I think its an excellent documentary for a number of reasons. The Fort Chipewyan residents including former Chief Archie Waquan, Donna Cyprien (Director of Nunee Health Authority), Georg Macdonald (Head of Nursing Station), Julie Mercredi (Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Member) and Pat Marcel (Elder, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation) did an awesome job of portraying the reality of our current situation. Thanks also to Dr. John O’Connor and Dr. David Schindler who also give some very credible context and perspective that is difficult to refute.

I’ve often said that in my short life, in comparison to many Elders who are also observing this horrible chapter in our history, that I never would have fathomed that I would be watching my beautiful, remote & isolated community on the national news or internationally like we are today. We were a remote & isolated community, God’s country, I often described as “our best kept secret” which is now the subject of international attention. It is unfortunate.

(Out-of-date links removed)  . . . and for your information watch Darrow MacIntyre’s feature documentary . . .�
George Poitras, B.Admin.

Consultation Coordinator

Mikisew Cree – Industry Relations

Tel: 780.714.6500 ext. #224

e: george.poitras  AT 

However, Walt Patterson, associate fellow at think-tank Chatham House, said: “Extracting oil from tar scares the pants off me. The whole idea is fundamentally perverse in the context of our present environmental situation. To then power it with nuclear, it seems to be the worst of all worlds.”

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Posted December 1, 2009

The harm this country could do in the next two weeks will outweigh all the good it has done in a century.

By George Monbiot. Published in the Guardian 20th November 2009

When you think of Canada, which qualities come to mind? The world’s peace-keeper, the friendly nation, a liberal counterweight to the harsher pieties of its southern neighbour, decent, civilised, fair, well-governed? Think again. This country’s government is now behaving with all the sophistication of a chimpanzee’s tea party. So amazingly destructive has Canada become, and so insistent have my Canadian friends been that I weigh into this fight, that I’ve broken my self-imposed ban on flying and come to Toronto.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petrostate. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation which has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

In 2006 the new Canadian government announced that it was abandoning its targets to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto Protocol. No other country that had ratified the treaty has done this. Canada was meant to have cut emissions by 6% between 1990 and 2012. Instead they have already risen by 26%(1).

It’s now clear that Canada will refuse to be sanctioned for abandoning its legal obligations. The Kyoto Protocol can be enforced only through goodwill: countries must agree to accept punitive future obligations if they miss their current targets. But the future cut Canada has volunteered is smaller than that of any other rich nation(2). Never mind special measures; it won’t accept even an equal share. The Canadian government is testing the international process to destruction and finding that it breaks all too easily. By demonstrating that climate sanctions aren’t worth the paper they’re written on, it threatens to render any treaty struck at Copenhagen void.

After giving the finger to Kyoto, Canada then set out to prevent the other nations from striking a successor agreement. At the end of 2007 it single-handedly blocked a Commonwealth resolution to support binding targets for industrialised nations(3). After the climate talks in Poland in December 2008, it won the Fossil of the Year award, presented by environmental groups to the country which had done most to disrupt the talks(4). The climate change performance index, which assesses the efforts of the world’s 60 richest nations, was published in the same month. Saudi Arabia came 60th. Canada came 59th(5).

In June this year the media obtained Canadian briefing documents which showed that the government was scheming to divide the Europeans(6). During the meeting in Bangkok in October, almost the entire developing world bloc walked out when the Canadian delegate was speaking, as they were so revolted by his bullying(7). Last week the Commonwealth heads of government battled for hours (and eventually won) against Canada’s obstructions. A concerted campaign has now begun to expel Canada from the Commonwealth(8).

In Copenhagen next week, this country will do everything in its power to wreck the talks. The rest of the world must do everything in its power to stop it. But such is the fragile nature of climate agreements that one rich nation – especially a member of the G8, the Commonwealth and the Kyoto group of industrialised countries – could scupper the treaty. Canada now threatens the well-being of the world.

Why? There’s a simple answer. Canada is developing the world’s second largest reserve of oil. Did I say oil? It’s actually a filthy mixture of bitumen, sand, heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals. The tar sands, most of which occur in Alberta, are being extracted by the biggest opencast mining operation on earth. An area the size of England, of pristine forests and marshes, will be dug up, unless the Canadians can stop this madness. Already it looks like a scene from the end of the world: the strip-miners are creating a churned black hell on an unimaginable scale.

To extract oil from this mess, it needs to be heated and washed. Three barrels of water are used to process one barrel of oil(9). The contaminated water is held in vast tailing ponds, some of which are so toxic that the tar companies employ people to scoop dead birds off the surface(10). Most are unlined. They leak organic poisons, arsenic and mercury into the rivers. The First Nations people living downstream have developed a range of exotic cancers and auto-immune diseases(11).

Refining tar sands requires two to three times as much energy as refining crude oil. The companies exploiting them burn enough natural gas to heat six million homes(12). Alberta’s tar sands operation is the world’s biggest single industrial source of carbon emissions(13). By 2020, if the current growth continues, it will produce more greenhouse gases than Ireland or Denmark(14). Already, thanks in part to the tar mining, Canadians have almost the highest per capita emissions on earth, and the stripping of Alberta has scarcely begun.

Canada hasn’t acted alone. The biggest leaseholder in the tar sands is Shell(15), a company that has spent millions persuading the public that it respects the environment. The other great greenwasher, BP, initially decided to stay out of tar. Now it has invested in plants built to process it(16). The British bank RBS, 70% of which belongs to you and me (the government’s share will soon rise to 84%), has lent or underwritten £8bn for exploiting the tar sands(17).

The purpose of Canada’s assault on the international talks is to protect this industry. This is not a poor nation. It does not depend for its economic survival on exploiting this resource. But the tar barons of Alberta have been able to hold the whole country to ransom. They have captured Canada’s politics and are turning this lovely country into a cruel and thuggish place.

Canada is a cultured, peaceful nation, which every so often allows a band of rampaging Neanderthals to trample all over it. Timber companies were licensed to log the old-growth forest in Clayaquot Sound; fishing companies were permitted to destroy the Grand Banks: in both cases these get-rich-quick schemes impoverished Canada and its reputation. But this is much worse, as it affects the whole world. The government’s scheming at the climate talks is doing for its national image what whaling has done for Japan.

I will not pretend that this country is the only obstacle to an agreement at Copenhagen. But it is the major one. It feels odd to be writing this. The immediate threat to the global effort to sustain a peaceful and stable world comes not from Saudi Arabia or Iran or China. It comes from Canada. How could that be true?


1.  (Link no longer valid)

2. The government has pledged to match the (feeble) US 2020 target (which in Canada’s case means just 3% against 1990 levels) , but unlike the United States, Canada has proposed no cuts beyond that date.

3. Eg

4. Andrew Nikiforuk, September 2009. How The Tar Sands Are Fueling The Global Climate Crisis.
Greenpeace Canada. ***


6. Lee Berthiaume, 17th June 2009. Government Planned to Split EU On Climate Change Talks. Embassy Magazine. Cited by Andrew Nikiforuk, ibid.



9. WWF, 2008. Scraping the Bottom of the Barrel?, Page 27.

10.  (Link no longer valid)

11. Environmental Defence, February 2008. Canada’s Toxic Tar Sands: the most destructive project on earth.

12. Andrew Nikiforuk, ibid.

13. (Link no longer valid

14. Andrew Nikiforuk, ibid.

15. ibid.

16. ibid.

17. Ed Crooks, 16th November 2009. Canadian Protest Over RBS Oil Sands Role. The Financial Times.

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