Evidence of meeting #155 for Indigenous and Northern Affairs in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was grassy.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Keith Conn  Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada
Susan Humphrey  Associate Regional Director General, Strategic Policy Branch, Ontario Region, Department of the Environment
Greg Carreau  Director, Water and Air Quality Bureau, Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch, Department of Health
Tom Wong  Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of Public Health, Department of Indigenous Services Canada
Jennifer Mercer  Director, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada
Grant Wedge  Assistant Deputy Minister, Ministry of Indigenous Affairs, Government of Ontario
Rudy Turtle  Grassy Narrows First Nation
Frank Miklas  Director, Northern Region, Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks, Government of Ontario
David Sone  Advisor, Grassy Narrows First Nation

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gordie Hogg Liberal South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Has that been explored, to this date?

9:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Keith Conn

That's in negotiations.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gordie Hogg Liberal South Surrey—White Rock, BC

It's part of the discussion?

June 6th, 2019 / 9:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Keith Conn

Has it been discussed to look at the mutually exclusive issue? No, but I think we should be open to the concept.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Gordie Hogg Liberal South Surrey—White Rock, BC

Thank you. I'd like to turn the rest of it over to Mr. Bossio.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, 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?

9:35 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Keith Conn

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.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Mike Bossio Liberal Hastings—Lennox and Addington, 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?

9:40 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Keith Conn

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?

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

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.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, 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?

9:40 a.m.

Associate Regional Director General, Strategic Policy Branch, Ontario Region, Department of the Environment

Susan Humphrey

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.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Cathy McLeod Conservative Kamloops—Thompson—Cariboo, BC

I'll turn it over to my colleague.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, 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?

9:40 a.m.

Director, Water and Air Quality Bureau, Healthy Environments and Consumer Safety Branch, Department of Health

Greg Carreau

Perhaps my colleague, Dr. Wong, would be best placed to speak to that.

9:40 a.m.

Executive Director and Chief Medical Officer of Public Health, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Dr. Tom Wong

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.

9:40 a.m.

Director, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Jennifer Mercer

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—

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Babies are still being born today....

9:40 a.m.

Director, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Jennifer Mercer

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.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, 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?

9:45 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Keith Conn

For the time being, we need to realize this project, obviously, and then see what the promising practices would lead to.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

How many more communities are we potentially concerned about?

9:45 a.m.

Assistant Deputy Minister, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Department of Indigenous Services Canada

Keith Conn

We are potentially concerned about Wabaseemoong.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Arnold Viersen Conservative Peace River—Westlock, AB

Yes, okay.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal MaryAnn Mihychuk

All right.

I see that we've run out of time.

Thank you so much for coming out, participating in the discussion and answering our questions.

We appreciate your knowledge, time and efforts to provide us with answers.

We will suspend for a couple of minutes and then have our second panel.