Interventions in Committee
 
 
 
RSS feed based on search criteria Export search results - CSV (plain text) Export search results - XML
Add search criteria
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Good morning, everyone. Thank you for tuning in and for arriving. We're at the indigenous and northern affairs standing committee of Parliament. We are so pleased to have you here on the unceded territory of the Algonquin people.
All Canadians are in a process of truth and reconciliation. Canada has a long history of colonization and policies that have oppressed a particular group of people who, historically, were extremely generous and helpful to settlers, and still are. We say this not only as a formality but also as an opportunity to reflect on our history, whether we come from here in Ottawa with the Algonquin people, or, like me, from the homeland of the Métis on Treaty No. 1 territory. Each and every Canadian has a role in this story, and I ask everyone to reflect on that.
Today, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), we are conducting a study on the Grassy Narrows First Nation and the issue of the mercury that was leaching into the Wabigoon River system. This is something that happened decades ago, and we know that people suffered because of that industrial development.
Thank you for coming.
We have before us the Department of Indigenous Services, the Department of the Environment and the Department of Health. The presenters from each department will have 10 minutes, and after that we'll go into a series of questions.
On the order paper, I have us opening with the Department of Indigenous Services.
Keith Conn and Tom Wong, however you want to split it, when you're ready, please begin.
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 8:47
Thank you, Madam Chair.
Good morning. Thank you for inviting us to appear before the committee to discuss the critical issue of mercury contamination, which is continuing to affect the community of Grassy Narrows.
Before I continue, I'd like to acknowledge that we are meeting on the unceded traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
To start, I'll give a brief history of mercury contamination that has impacted the community of Asubpeeschoseewagong, also known as Grassy Narrows. In 1970, it was discovered that there was a high level of mercury in the English-Wabigoon river system. The contamination was traced to an area pulp and paper mill, found to have been dumping effluent containing high levels of mercury into the water system for a number of years.
The communities of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nation, known as Whitedog, were deeply impacted, with much of the population of both communities having varying degrees of mercury exposure.
In 1986, two pulp and paper mill companies, together with the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario, paid a total of $16.67 million, in a one-time compensation payment to the two communities.
The same year, the provincial and federal governments established a Mercury Disability Board to oversee the administration of a trust fund from which benefits are paid to those showing symptoms of mercury poisoning. Indigenous Services Canada continues to recognize the importance of the ongoing work the Mercury Disability Board does for the people of Grassy Narrows First Nation and Wabaseemoong Independent Nation.
The branch I oversee—the first nations and Inuit health branch—which fell within the purview of Health Canada prior to the announcement of the creation of Indigenous Services Canada, has had historical involvement in evaluation of the human health impacts of mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon river system, and has been providing primary care and public health services to the community for decades. Primary health care, treatment and community-based services, including mental wellness programming and medical transportation, are currently provided to Grassy Narrows through nurses.
Since 1970, our department has been investigating and supporting assessments of the impacts of mercury contamination on the residents of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong, which has included hair and blood sampling of community members, and monitoring and funding of environmental studies, as requested by the community.
Indigenous Services Canada has recently been working closely with Dr. Donna Mergler, a prominent environmental health researcher selected by the community of Grassy Narrows and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, to support the investigation of the long-term health impacts of historic mercury exposure.
We also provided funding in 2018-19 for an expert panel to review medical and scientific evidence that will inform the Mercury Disability Board. The work is well under way, and expected to conclude, with recommendations, by the end of 2019-20.
While the legacy of mercury poisoning impacts all the families in Grassy Narrows, the needs and aspirations of the community are not uniform. We need to support the whole community—children, youth, adults and the elderly population. We acknowledge that the community has been directly and indirectly impacted by mercury poisoning. Regardless of the underlying causes, we are working, and will continue to work with Grassy Narrows' leadership and first nations' partners to support improvements to the health and well-being of all community members.
This is why, on November 29, 2017, in a meeting with Grassy Narrows First Nation, the Governments of Ontario and Canada committed to fund the design, construction and operation of a mercury treatment centre in Grassy Narrows. We continue to work closely with Grassy Narrows and remain steadfast in our commitments to build a health facility that supports the unique needs of the community.
Early in 2018, funding was provided to the community to complete a feasibility study. Departmental officials have been working and meeting with Grassy Narrows' technical advisers to advance the project. The province has recently become engaged in this discussion and has committed to supply services that fall within its responsibility, such as physicians, specialists and allied health professionals.
It's imperative that Canada, Ontario and Grassy Narrows' leadership work together to ensure that the community receives the supports required.
As you are aware, the Minister of Indigenous Services recently met with Grassy Narrows' leadership to discuss a memorandum of agreement on an approach that addresses the unique health needs of the community members of Grassy Narrows First Nation.
This agreement has not yet been signed. “Yet” is the key word. As the minister commented earlier this week before this committee, this is part of the negotiations. The government is committed to reaching an agreement that will meet the community needs. We will continue working with Chief Turtle and his council until we agree on a solution that meets the health needs of Grassy Narrows now and in the longer term.
In closing, Madam Chair, by collaborating with the community in Ontario on this innovative project, Indigenous Services Canada will continue to demonstrate its firm commitment to advancing reconciliation and improving the socio-economic and health outcomes of indigenous peoples.
Thank you, Madam Chair.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Now we move to Susan Humphrey from the Department of the Environment.
Susan Humphrey
View Susan Humphrey Profile
Susan Humphrey
2019-06-06 8:53
Good morning Madam Chair and committee members.
I want to start by acknowledging that we are gathered on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin people. My name is Susan Humphrey. I am the associate regional director general in Ontario region for Environment and Climate Change Canada.
Thank you for the invitation to appear before you today to discuss Environment and Climate Change Canada's role with respect to mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon river system. Protecting Canada's freshwater resources is a key priority for the Government of Canada. Responsibility for protection of freshwater quality in Canada is divided between the federal and provincial levels of government. In the case of mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon river system, the Government of Ontario has the lead on working with the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong first nations communities to clean up the problem.
This is a long-standing problem, with mercury contamination originating from pulp mill operations in the 1960s and the 1970s. Cleaning up mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon river system is an extremely challenging problem, with more than a 100 kilometres of river between the mill site and the first nation communities.
In 2017, the Government of Ontario announced $85 million towards cleaning up the contamination and it renewed its commitment to planning and implementing clean-up measures in cooperation with the first nation communities. Environment and Climate Change Canada is engaged in the remediation efforts led by the Government of Ontario. Specifically, the department is providing scientific and technical advice to the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks in relation to the remediation of aquatic contaminated sites and contaminated sediment remediation technologies.
Environment and Climate Change Canada officials will continue to contribute to the efforts that the federal government is making to provide relevant support to the Government of Ontario and the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong first nation communities as they work to resolve this serious issue.
Thank you.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Thank you.
Our last presenter is Greg Carreau from the Department of Health.
Greg Carreau
View Greg Carreau Profile
Greg Carreau
2019-06-06 8:56
Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee.
Good morning. My name is Greg Carreau and I'm the director of the water and air quality bureau at Health Canada.
I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we are meeting today is on the traditional and unceded territory of the Algonquin nation.
I welcome the opportunity to discuss Health Canada's role in protecting Canadians from environmental risks to health. I will speak to the department's activities and expertise related to mercury and contaminated sites, first in general, and then as it relates to Grassy Narrows. Health Canada works closely with Environment and Climate Change Canada to protect the health of Canadians from environmental contaminants such as mercury through our chemicals management plan. This work is accomplished under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999, which provides the authority for the federal government to take action to address harmful chemicals.
Mercury poses a host of human health risks. The health risks of mercury depend on its chemical form, route of exposure and the level of exposure. Mercury in its organic form, methylmercury, bioaccumulates up the food chain—for example, in fish—and is absorbed through the digestive tract and distributed throughout the body. It readily enters the brain, where it may remain for long periods of time. In pregnant women, it can cross the placenta and into the fetus.
A child's developing nervous system is particularly sensitive to mercury. Effects can include a decrease in IQ, delays in walking and talking, blindness and seizures. In adults, extreme exposure can lead to personality changes, changes in vision, deafness, loss of muscle coordination and sensation, intellectual impairment and even death. Cardiovascular, renal and carcinogenic effects have also been observed.
The federal government has taken action to reduce levels of mercury and risks to health. A wide range of regulatory and non-regulatory initiatives have effectively reduced mercury emissions in Canada. Since the 1970s, domestic sources of mercury emissions have been reduced by approximately 90%. Global efforts are also important, and Canada ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury in 2017, a global treaty to reduce mercury emissions and exposures.
Today, methylmercury exposure in Canadians is often linked to eating fish. Health Canada establishes standards for the amount of mercury permitted in retail fish. To further reduce exposure, Health Canada provides advice to Canadians on the consumption of certain types of fish known to contain higher levels of mercury.
Health Canada has undertaken research to evaluate the levels of mercury in Canadians. The Canadian health measures survey collects information from Canadians about their health and includes measurements of chemicals in blood and urine. Results found that over 99% of Canadians sampled had levels of mercury below the established methylmercury blood guidance levels. When levels of methylmercury in blood are below the guidance value, no negative health effects are expected.
Regarding the health risks of contaminated sites, Health Canada participates in the federal contaminated sites action plan. Health Canada's role is to provide expert advice, guidance, training and tools on the assessment and mitigation of health risks. The historical source of the mercury contamination that impacts Grassy Narrows First Nation has not been part of the federal contaminated sites action plan.
Health Canada has had historical involvement in evaluating the human health impacts of mercury contamination in the river system of the English and Wabigoon rivers. Beginning in the 1970s, Health Canada has been investigating the impacts of mercury on the residents of the Grassy Narrows and Whitedog communities. This work was carried out by Health Canada's first nations and Inuit health branch, which was transferred to Indigenous Services Canada in 2017. My colleague from Indigenous Services Canada described these activities earlier.
The residents of Grassy Narrows First Nation have been exposed to elevated levels of mercury resulting from past industrial practices. Health Canada is committed to continuing to work with partners to address the health risk posed by mercury, including our scientific expertise and any future collaborative action with Grassy Narrows First Nation.
I wish to thank the committee for the opportunity to appear today.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Thank you.
I'm going to encourage you all, if you're not fluent, to put in your earpiece.
Questioning will open with MP Yves Robillard.
View Yves Robillard Profile
Lib. (QC)
Thank you for your testimony.
My first question goes to Mr. Wong.
In 2017, a team of researchers discovered that the old plant was still leaking mercury into the river.
Can you tell us whether that is still the case today and, if so, can you describe for us in detail the efforts that are being made to remedy the situation?
Tom Wong
View Tom Wong Profile
Tom Wong
2019-06-06 9:01
Thank you very much for the question.
My expertise is in the domain of medicine and public health. I will actually turn to my colleague, Susan Humphrey, from ECCC, to comment on the environmental sources of the mercury contamination. As Susan had talked about, there is a strong interest among the entire Canadian community to identify this source and for the Government of Ontario to address the issue.
Susan.
Susan Humphrey
View Susan Humphrey Profile
Susan Humphrey
2019-06-06 9:02
Thank you very much.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is involved in working with the Province of Ontario in providing advice related to the remediation of contaminated sediment in the English and Wabigoon river system. If the question is about the source—potentially related to the operations at the mill or to the former chlor-alkali plant—I'm afraid I'm not able to answer that question.
Thank you.
View Yves Robillard Profile
Lib. (QC)
I'm coming back with another question on that.
View Yves Robillard Profile
Lib. (QC)
My next question goes to Ms. Humphrey and Mr. Conn.
The economic life of the Grassy Narrows region has been greatly affected by the contamination in the river, according to Jamie Benidickson. In his words, the fishing industry, a major source of the residents' food and regular income, has been destroyed.
Can you describe for us the economic status of the Grassy Narrows region and the recent trends that have been observed there?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:03
I'll start.
From what I understand, you're right: It's had a detrimental impact on the economy, sustenance, hunting and gathering. From anecdotal information that has been shared, I understand that community members had to go further away from their traditional territory to hunt and gather and to fish. That's what I know, but we could probably come back to the committee with more detailed information on the socio-economic impacts of the mercury contamination.
Susan Humphrey
View Susan Humphrey Profile
Susan Humphrey
2019-06-06 9:04
Environment and Climate Change Canada's role in this particular issue is to provide technical and scientific advice to the Government of Ontario related to remediation technologies and sediment quality assessment in the river. I'm afraid I cannot comment on the socio-economic impacts on the communities of Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nation.
View Yves Robillard Profile
Lib. (QC)
Mr. Conn, it seems to me that a number of factors have to be considered in order to provide assistance to the Grassy Narrows First Nation: decontaminating the lake, the current contamination from the abandoned plant, building the health care infrastructure, and the health care services themselves.
First, can you tell us which level of government is responsible for each of those issues and then talk to us about the relationship you have with the provincial government?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:05
When we look at the vision and aspirations of the community, we have multiple levels of service that need to be realized. As I mentioned earlier, we do provide primary health care and public health services. The vision of the community is to provide specialized medical treatment to patients and community members suffering from mercury exposure. That will demand the co-operation and collaboration of the Government of Ontario with respect to their jurisdiction around specialized services. This includes physician services and allied health services. They are at the table. They will be part of the discussions to find the level of service required by the community.
Within the building facilities, there are actually two. One is the proposed expanded health facility. The second piece is the facility for mercury contamination treatment services as well as assisted living. Realization of those two facilities for the community will also demand, as I said, the collaboration and support of the provincial government in its jurisdictional domain.
View Yves Robillard Profile
Lib. (QC)
We know that negotiations are underway between the department and the Grassy Narrows First Nation on the construction of a health care centre. Once agreement is reached, how much time will we have to wait before the construction of the health care centre begins?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:07
Thank you for the question.
We're very close. Chief Turtle can speak to this as well.
The feasibility study has been completed. The design vision is there. They are just finalizing the financial agreements and arrangements to begin construction, which will probably demand some clearing and shrubbing to access the chosen site.
We could, perhaps, start with a shovel in the ground in late summer—in my humble estimation—but we need to secure the agreement first, and we're close to that. It's under negotiation as we speak.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
That concludes our time.
We move to MP Cathy McLeod.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
This certainly is a very important issue that, quite frankly, has gone on for far too many years. I remember having those little mercury thermometers as a young child, and the warnings about if your thermometer broke. Those were little beads. We're talking about barrels and barrels leaking into the river, so it's absolutely a significant concern.
Mr. Carreau, are children in Grassy Narrows still being born with levels of mercury that are in excess of the minimum standard or threshold that you talked about?
Greg Carreau
View Greg Carreau Profile
Greg Carreau
2019-06-06 9:09
Perhaps my colleague, Dr. Wong, would be best placed to speak to that question.
Tom Wong
View Tom Wong Profile
Tom Wong
2019-06-06 9:09
There are, to this day, still children who are born with impacts of the mercury poisoning of the past. We have observed a decreasing trend of that over the course of the last 40 or 50 years. However, it is still occurring at this point and is related to a mother's being exposed to mercury during pregnancy.
Tom Wong
View Tom Wong Profile
Tom Wong
2019-06-06 9:09
That is correct. However, that's been decreasing over time.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
This brings me to Jordan's principle and the comments that Mr. Conn was making. Jordan's principle is that we don't argue about how we're going to fund it when there are jurisdictional issues. We get it done, and then we have the argument with the provinces later.
From what I'm hearing, it sounds as though you're not applying Jordan's principle to the discussions to say that we go ahead. We should commit to what's needed and then talk with the provinces and figure it out.
Can you explain why you're not applying Jordan's principle to this particular issue because we don't have things worked out with the province, etc.?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:10
From my perspective, we are applying Jordan's principle. We're committed to working with the community and have developed a collaborative approach and an agreement on the vision forward for the construction of facilities. Build it and they will come; it's not an impediment. The province has signalled in writing that they will be at the table with supports and decisions around accessing specialized hospital services or physician services, so they're there.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
It sounded, certainly earlier, that perhaps it wasn't as robust as we might expect.
In your comments, Mr. Conn, you talked about the minister going to Grassy Narrows to discuss. From my understanding, he went to Grassy Narrows to sign, and his testimony on Tuesday indicated he did go there to sign, not to discuss.
Was Grassy Narrows provided with an MOA prior to the minister's conversation on the telephone the night before he went to Grassy Narrows? Did they have an MOA to look at when the minister had the discussion on the night before he went?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:11
The short answer is yes, there was a draft MOA shared with the community, developed and reviewed and provided with input for its content, describing the intent and the objectives and the two-track approach of the two facilities, as well as a detailed work plan. We were almost there two days before the visit by the minister. I was in attendance at that meeting, and the signals from the chief and other advisers were that we were almost there. It sounded positive and encouraging. Then when the minister arrived to meet with the chief and council and community members, there was a bit of a change in direction. I think it's a technicality.
As I said, the vision is there around the facility itself; it's just a technical issue around the financing.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
There was general agreement, but we always know that the dollars are what matter, so why would you think you could go in and sign an agreement when you hadn't discussed the dollars? To me, that was, first of all, so disappointing for the community. I understand that a feast was planned and all the signals were out there, but we all know that, if you haven't talked the dollars, you haven't really come to an agreement.
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:13
I don't think it's about the dollars; it was the mechanism. I think, to be honest, it was a trust issue with the Grassy Narrows First Nation, and rightly so, after many successive governments and not seeing progress or seeing the light of day. I think they wanted some level of assurance around the continuity and predictability and sustainability of funding, so we're working on that issue with a funding agreement that we can contractually oblige this government to commit to.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
Again, I think we're talking about some of the most critical pieces of the conversation: what the structure of the support will be in terms of dollars. For that even not to have been in the memorandum of agreement and not part of the conversation, and then your going to the community.... I mean, surely that is such a gap in what happened in this particular case.
Where are we now? I guess we'll certainly hear from Chief Turtle, but what is the issue with the funding?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:14
I think the issue with the funding is that the community had proposed putting this money into a trust, which would take an inordinate amount of time, with more delays. Therefore, what we're proposing is a contractual agreement, a legal agreement, in terms of funding commitments. We have an appreciation from both parties on the scope and magnitude of the resources; it's the mechanism by which we will commit that's at issue. I think we're almost there, and that's something we hope to have a successful conclusion to in a very short period of time.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Sorry, but we've run out of time, and so questioning moves to MP Georgina Jolibois.
View Georgina Jolibois Profile
NDP (SK)
Good morning and thank you.
As I sit here and listen to the presentations, first I'm going to acknowledge my feelings, because as an indigenous MP listening to the presentations, it hurts a whole lot, and I think indigenous people across Canada are very, very upset, because both levels of government have been delaying, delaying, delaying. Studies were done, extensive studies—health impact, and economic studies, and the list goes on. Then I find it really disturbing when Minister O'Regan the other day sat here and said he didn't sign the agreement because...he essentially, basically, blamed Grassy Narrows. I find that very disturbing still.
It leads me to believe that the government is thinking that it knows best. The impression that I have is that Minister O'Regan and the department know better than what the people are asking. The people are frustrated, the people are hurting, the people are sick, the people need more and there's the trust issue—of course the trust issue is there—but the government is delaying, and I find it very difficult and very frustrating.
Going back to the funding, how can we ensure that the funding that Grassy Narrows is asking for...? Grassy Narrows, not the government, is asking for it to be completed ASAP. How can we speed the process up?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:17
The community does know best. This is why they did their engagement processes with community members. They conducted the feasibility with a lot of thought and vision. We're there with them hand in hand to realize that vision. The funding issue is, again, not really the issue; it's the mechanism by which we will commit. Like any other capital project, we are committed to realizing an agreement in terms of its duration, the funding amount and future operation and maintenance of the facility. Those are near the final stages, as we speak, and we will be working with the chief and council to conclude and get the shovel in the ground ASAP.
View Georgina Jolibois Profile
NDP (SK)
We know and your department knows that the Grassy Narrows First Nation is asking for the mercury home trust that you spoke about, but the government isn't supporting that. Can you explain in detail why that is?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:18
My understanding of the trust is that it would take an inordinate amount of time; it's complicated, and it's just adding further delays. We don't want further delays. We want to get the shovel in the ground ASAP.
View Georgina Jolibois Profile
NDP (SK)
The perception right now, though, is that various departments in both levels of government, from Ontario to the federal government, are delaying by playing these kinds of games, again taking that approach where the departments know better than what the communities are asking for. If it were any other community in Ontario, both levels of government would be right there.
For example, just this week Ontario cancelled a really good thing, tree planting, but what did the federal government do? They already committed funding to ensure that the project goes forward. Why is it so difficult for the departments and the ministers to move forward and make that decision? There is a crisis we've identified.
Explain that, please.
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:19
In my humble experience, we are trying to build on the experience of getting projects up and running, and the most expeditious way is to find a contractual agreement, a contribution agreement—call it what you will—to expedite the process. A trust fund would simply add delays upon delays, and I think the community is tired of more delays. They want to expedite—
View Georgina Jolibois Profile
NDP (SK)
Again, for the record, the community is asking for that trust fund, and the department and the government wants to take it somewhere else. That's the problem.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Questioning now moves to MP Mike Bossio.
View Mike Bossio Profile
Lib. (ON)
Thank you, Chair, and thank you all so much for being here this morning. We appreciate the testimony on this really difficult and complex but long overdue situation to be dealt with at Grassy Narrows.
I can't even imagine what the community must be going through, suffering through decades of a source that continues on and on, generation after generation. It must be very frustrating. I want to follow-up on some of the questions that have already been asked, to try to expand on them a bit.
Here we are. We find ourselves in this situation. What have previous governments done to try to address this issue? Has anyone? Is this the first time that we're actually taking this issue seriously in trying to come to an agreement on something that has been going on for so long?
Mr. Conn.
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:21
Our department, Indigenous Services Canada's first nations and Inuit health branch, has been working for many years with the community to conduct environmental impact assessment research that is led and prioritized by the community. We've had that continuous role for decades around providing primary health care services and public health services. I won't speak to the provincial government, but it's obviously public knowledge that they made a commitment to do environmental remediation for the Wabigoon and English rivers.
We have concluded that we want to support the community in terms of realizing its vision around the construction of the facility. We're there. We're on the same page. It's simply a matter of getting on with signing an agreement.
View Mike Bossio Profile
Lib. (ON)
Is it finally taking Jordan's principle seriously and has that been the catalyst pushing the government towards coming to a resolution on this issue?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:22
As I mentioned earlier, I think in principle—pardon the expression—we are taking the Jordan's principle approach in responding to actually support the community and realize its vision by the construction of the treatment facility and related services. But it demands a partnership approach with the provincial government, which can supply and has willingly stated that it will supply specialized physician services, which falls under their domain, and they are happy to collaborate.
View Mike Bossio Profile
Lib. (ON)
As a result, have we ever been as close to a resolution agreement with Grassy Narrows as we are today previously?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:23
From my recollection, this is a significant step forward.
View Mike Bossio Profile
Lib. (ON)
It has been raised that there are funding issues between having a contractual agreement versus a trust fund. The government in its position has decided that a contractual approach is better. Why?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:24
A contractual agreement through a contribution agreement is the most expeditious way of getting the resources out to the community to begin clearing the land and for construction to take place.
View Mike Bossio Profile
Lib. (ON)
But from a long-term standpoint, I think they are looking out further into the future. Is that why they are taking the position on the trust fund and feel it would serve their needs in the long term in a better way? Has that model been used before, and was it successful?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:24
No. In my experience, the model has not been used before to secure 30 years of funding in a trust fund. All of our other programs and services and capital infrastructure works demand that there be ongoing funding on a year-to-year basis for the community. Those are normalized agreements for operational maintenance for the future.
We have these existing experiences and practices that would bode well with the Grassy Narrows project.
View Mike Bossio Profile
Lib. (ON)
I would like to pass the rest of my time over to the chair.
Thank you so much.
Dr. Wong, if you would like to—
Tom Wong
View Tom Wong Profile
Tom Wong
2019-06-06 9:25
Perhaps I'll make an additional comment.
I think Canada has never been so close from a medical standpoint to actually supporting the communities. It is a moral obligation to support the communities to have a medical facility to help support disabled individuals who are having problems feeding themselves, walking, learning, etc.
For us, this is as close to supporting the communities as we have ever got to from a medical standpoint.
Thanks.
View Mike Bossio Profile
Lib. (ON)
Why has it taken so long to get here? This is what I don't understand. This is not new. Why have previous governments failed? Has it just been a lack of political will?
Tom Wong
View Tom Wong Profile
Tom Wong
2019-06-06 9:26
I won't comment on that question.
In my transition from the Public Health Agency of Canada to the first nations and Inuit health branch and in the short time I've been here, I've seen significant accomplishments by all of the staff in trying to work with the communities, trying to actually support the communities, to get to this day. I can't comment on the remote past.
Thank you.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
I would like to ask a question about the economic situation in the area. Back in the seventies many indigenous people were employed in tourism by the fishing lodges. The guides had basically no choice but to eat contaminated fish daily at that time, and then, of course, that's problematic for their health and perhaps for their children.
Are there still fishing lodges that are using those waters contaminated with mercury?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:27
Madam Chair, I think we would have to come back to the committee on that specific question. I'm not in the economics business, but I do have colleagues who are and whom we can consult on the level of activity around tourism and fishing lodges.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
Perhaps you could indicate how many people are guides. In the seventies when I had an opportunity to work in the area, we saw many dozens of people who were fishing guides, and it put them into a direct workplace hazard really. The contamination levels were low for the tourists, but the levels accumulated in the local residents, of course.
I look forward to your information.
We move on to MP Arnold Viersen.
View Kevin Waugh Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you.
Thank you to all of you for coming here today.
Dr. Wong, you said there was still poisoning going on in the community.
Mr. Carreau, in your remarks, you noted that mercury poses a host of human health risks, including for the brain and pregnant women. It can cross the placenta into the fetus.
Health Canada refused to reveal the names of 150 residents who were identified at birth. The umbilical cord blood of babies was tested for 22 years, from 1970 to 1992, and 357 infants on reserve had testing data that sat somewhere. Some of it was, they said, in bank boxes in Thunder Bay and Ottawa. The information was slow and at times never even passed on.
If we're still having issues today, has this improved situation improved at Health Canada and your departments?
Tom Wong
View Tom Wong Profile
Tom Wong
2019-06-06 9:29
Perhaps I'll ask Jennifer Mercer, the director of the program, to speak to that.
What you described was something in the past. However, the department has spent a lot of time working with ethicists at the research ethics board and the community and has poured in additional resources in order to hand search all of the historical documents from the past 40 years and provide those to the communities in boxes, literally.
I'll turn to Jennifer Mercer for the details.
Thanks.
Jennifer Mercer
View Jennifer Mercer Profile
Jennifer Mercer
2019-06-06 9:30
You're right. There's over 50 years of historical data in approximately 100 banker boxes. This data is owned by the individuals who were tested. This personal medical information has been released to the individuals who were tested. If you have an individual who, for example, was born to a mother whose cord blood was tested at the time of birth, the cord blood data was released to the mother.
Throughout the past 50 years, we've had ongoing requests from community members to get access to their personal medical information. I've been in the position for about two years, and I've had 40 or 50 individuals who have asked for their personal medical information. That information has been released upon request to the individual, or, depending on how they sign the consent, to the person with whom they want to share the information, such as a researcher or a physician. It is an individual's personal medical information.
That said, since, I think, the mid-1970s, upon request by researchers who had the support of the community, we have been releasing this data, and this data has been going to the researchers in a de-identifiable format. That means it doesn't have a date of birth or a name. You cannot identify who the individual is, but we have been releasing that data when requested.
We need to make sure that we protect individuals' personal medical information, and we have to respect the Privacy Act. If we released data without the appropriate measures in place, we'd be not in keeping with the Privacy Act.
View Kevin Waugh Profile
CPC (SK)
Thank you. I'll switch over to Mr. Viersen.
View Arnold Viersen Profile
CPC (AB)
Mr. Conn, in the minister's testimony the other day, he said that if the deal had been done last week, the shovels would be in the ground now. You said today that we would be building in August. Is there daylight in-between that, or does “now” mean this summer?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:32
I'd better follow suit with the minister, I suppose. Yes, now, this summer; I'm just humbly estimating. It takes time to secure contractors, and the community needs to get organized around that, and they are primed. That was just my humble estimation of summer. It's now June, so July, August....
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:33
Not at this point, but I think there's a state of readiness, I have to say.
View Arnold Viersen Profile
CPC (AB)
Okay.
Ms. Humphrey, you used the word “potential” for the contamination. Why did you use the word “potential”?
Susan Humphrey
View Susan Humphrey Profile
Susan Humphrey
2019-06-06 9:33
I mentioned earlier that the responsibility for freshwater quality and for protecting freshwater quality in Canada is divided between the two levels of government—federal and provincial.
Environment and Climate Change Canada is co-leading sediment remediation projects in areas of federal jurisdiction; in the case of Ontario, in the Canadian Great Lakes and the Canadian waters of the Great Lakes. Our involvement in the English-Wabigoon river system assessment of contamination and proposals for remediating that sediment is one of providing technical and scientific advice to the Province of Ontario, because the lands that are contaminated in the river are actually under provincial Crown jurisdiction. The information that has come to us comes in various sources from the Province of Ontario, from the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. We've received various documents on sediment quality. We've been commenting on sediment quality in the river—the assessment of the quality and the potential for the different remedial options to work. We have not commented on, or received documents related to, contamination at the mill property, and I was assuming that was what the earlier question was on. That was what the response was about.
View Arnold Viersen Profile
CPC (AB)
My question is this. If we remediate the mill sites, are we certain that we're going to remove the source of this mercury by taking this remediation action?
Susan Humphrey
View Susan Humphrey Profile
Susan Humphrey
2019-06-06 9:35
The information that Environment and Climate Change Canada has, and from our experience in leading sediment remediation projects elsewhere in the province, is that dealing with a source, if it's a current source, is always a first step. We need to ensure that we're dealing with the source and, at the same time, remediating the legacy issue, meaning any deposits that have actually accumulated in the English-Wabigoon river system, whether in the rivers proper or in the lakes as well.
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
The questioning now moves to MP Gordie Hogg.
View Gordie Hogg Profile
Lib. (BC)
As a naive person sitting on this committee for the first time, I've been listening to the testimony that there's the emergent need to do something and, at the same time, there's the trust fund issue that is compromising or setting that back.
I don't understand why those two issues are mutually exclusive. I've dealt with a number of issues in the province I come from, British Columbia, where we do put trust funds in place; we do start operationally. I don't understand why you can't start the building with an agreement and then have an agreement that we're going to deal with the trust fund issues afterwards. There seems to be a certain emergent need with respect to the building, and the trust fund—if I'm correctly interpreting what I'm hearing—is something that is delaying that or not making it possible at this point.
I don't understand why there can't be some discussion and negotiation to make those things happen in parallel. I don't see them as mutually exclusive; I've seen organizations, models and governments that have done that. I'm wondering whether that's been explored and there's some possibility of actually recognizing, as you do, the emergent need of this. Somehow it doesn't seem that we should be risking the challenge that comes with delaying any of that further, yet we can't seem to accomplish both of those things at one time.
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:37
Yes, they may not be mutually exclusive. There's a strong desire to get the process moving and the shovel in the ground, so perhaps that could be a possible scenario of looking at the longer term, 30 years out, in terms of some kind of trust mechanism. Certainly agreements that we normally sign for quick and expeditious execution projects are through an agreement—a contribution agreement, for example—so we can get that moving quickly. As we speak, there's a finalization on a proposed approach around that.
We'll leave it to the minister and Chief Turtle to look at a vision forward around that concept or that thought.
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:38
Has it been discussed to look at the mutually exclusive issue? No, but I think we should be open to the concept.
View Gordie Hogg Profile
Lib. (BC)
Thank you. I'd like to turn the rest of it over to Mr. Bossio.
View Mike Bossio Profile
Lib. (ON)
Once we get past this stage, what's the next part of the plan? We know there's going to be a long-term need within the community on many different fronts, beyond the health centre. Once again, is that strictly within provincial jurisdiction, or what federal involvement would there be in trying to address the long-term needs of Grassy Narrows?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:38
I think it's not strictly the provincial domain. Federally, we'll be working with the community and the province on a combination of specialized services, including assisted living. This is where we can play a role as a department, because that's part of the need identified by the community. We have seniors or elderly populations requiring assisted living. We have community members who are away and want to be brought back to the community to be close to their families. That's where we would play a role as well. So it's not strictly the provincial government that will provide specialized services, including physicians and allied health care. It's a combination of service delivery structures that would need to be in place. That's all for the discussions and planning processes.
View Mike Bossio Profile
Lib. (ON)
Wabaseemoong is the nearby community that is also affected by mercury. Is there anything being done to assist this community that we can learn from?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:40
Yes, we are working closely. My officials in the Thunder Bay regional office are working closely with the leadership in the community of Wabaseemoong and were actually provided, last year I believe—Jennifer can speak to this—with the task of doing a health impact study. That is under way as we speak. Again, similar to Grassy Narrows, we are providing ongoing supports for primary health care, public health functions, Jordan's principle funding, and mental wellness funding to support the community's identified needs.
Jennifer, do you want to add to that?
View MaryAnn Mihychuk Profile
Lib. (MB)
I'm afraid we've run out of time. Perhaps the answer will be through the Conservatives.
We move to a five-minute session and MP Cathy McLeod, who I understand is sharing her time with MP Viersen.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
First of all, I do want to note that I absolutely agree with my colleague, Dr. Hogg, asking why we are not starting the building and taking the time. I think we can chew gum and walk, and I think it should absolutely be going ahead.
The following is what I really want to know. I'll ask the environmental officials, though maybe it will be the next panel that will give us some additional information. Has all of the source been identified and is there a plan to clean up all of the source pollution?
Susan Humphrey
View Susan Humphrey Profile
Susan Humphrey
2019-06-06 9:41
I think it's a question better posed to my colleagues at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks. Certainly, the contaminated sediment in the English-Wabigoon river system is a source, and it is on that that Environment and Climate Change Canada is providing technical and scientific advice to our provincial colleagues.
View Cathy McLeod Profile
CPC (BC)
I'll turn it over to my colleague.
View Arnold Viersen Profile
CPC (AB)
I'm not exactly sure where to direct this question. I think I'll start with you, Mr. Carreau.
My Google search of this mercury revealed that it has a half-life of 80 days, so to speak. We've been aware of this now for several decades. How come we still have babies being born who are affected by this?
Greg Carreau
View Greg Carreau Profile
Greg Carreau
2019-06-06 9:42
Perhaps my colleague, Dr. Wong, would be best placed to speak to that.
Tom Wong
View Tom Wong Profile
Tom Wong
2019-06-06 9:42
I'll start commenting and then Jennifer can comment further.
One of the things is this. Despite the recommendations not to consume fish from the river system, individuals, because of their cultural links to the fish, which are a very important dietary source, will from time to time consume contaminated fish, even more than they should, and thus be exposed to mercury. With that said, I'm going to turn it over to Jennifer.
Jennifer Mercer
View Jennifer Mercer Profile
Jennifer Mercer
2019-06-06 9:43
From 1970 to 1999—approximately 30 years—there was ongoing monitoring of mercury exposure in the communities of Wabaseemoong and Grassy Narrows. The results of that showed a definite decline over time, and we were in really good shape in 1999-2000. Around the 2000 period, the approach of the government shifted from doing research on communities to supporting communities doing their own research. The levels were at a reasonable, acceptable level. At that point in time, we shifted to community-focused research. The community would hire researchers to do their own research. Grassy Narrows then began to access the first nation environmental contaminants program, and it undertook research.
In 2015—
Jennifer Mercer
View Jennifer Mercer Profile
Jennifer Mercer
2019-06-06 9:44
I'm getting there.
In 2015 and 2016, the community said that they were still seeing issues and there were still concerns. Together with the Province of Ontario, we funded the community health assessment being undertaken by Dr. Donna Mergler, which Keith Conn spoke about earlier today, to investigate what is going on in the community to get a better understanding of the concerns. We're seeing, what we understand to be, both direct and indirect impacts of mercury poisoning.
In regard to the latter, for example, we spoke earlier about the socio-economic impacts. When a fishing guide is no longer able to fish, he can no longer feed his family. It's a struggle, and that has an impact on the social structure of the family. Those are the indirect impacts we are seeing.
View Arnold Viersen Profile
CPC (AB)
Mr. Conn, one of the issues I'm concerned about is that I don't think Grassy Narrows is the only community along this river.
What kind of precedent is this going to set in dealing with Grassy Narrows? Will multiple communities be doing it, or is this just a Grassy Narrows concern?
Keith Conn
View Keith Conn Profile
Keith Conn
2019-06-06 9:45
For the time being, we need to realize this project, obviously, and then see what the promising practices would lead to.
Results: 1 - 100 of 17538 | Page: 1 of 176

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
>
>|