Mr. Speaker, I am happy to have the opportunity to revisit my question from last June on the subject of mercury poisoning and the plight of the people from the Grassy Narrows and Whitedog First Nations.
At the time of my question, a Japanese study had just been translated into English that was an update to an earlier study. It showed how the health effects of mercury poisoning still ravage these communities a full 50 years after the contamination that initially poisoned the food supply began.
The studies were published by mercury poisoning expert, Dr. Masazumi Harada, who passed away this past summer. Dr. Harada's recent work in Grassy Narrows revealed that 59% of people tested had mercury poisoning and 34% of those tested would have been diagnosed with Minamata disease. Of those people tested between the ages of 21 to 41, 44% were affected by mercury poisoning even though none of them were alive 50 years ago when a pulp mill in Dryden dumped about 10 tonnes of mercury into the Wabigoon River.
Incredibly, Health Canada studies in the 1990s showed that 0% of patients examined were deemed at risk due to the levels of mercury in their system. Needless to say, Dr. Harada's update gave completely different results.
Worse, Health Canada issued a statement declaring that poisoning due to methyl mercury contamination in these communities was a “minimal risk”.
As recently as 2010, when I raised the issue in the House of Grassy Narrows mercury poisoning, the Minister of Health stated that the mercury levels were safe. We now know that was simply not true.
We do know that Canada has yet to acknowledge a single case of Minamata disease despite acknowledging the waterway that fed these first nations communities is polluted.
Despite all of Dr. Harada's research to the contrary and his significant reports that were released in English in 2005 and 2012, if people were only to listen to the Canadian government, they would hear that there has not been a single case of Minamata disease in Grassy Narrows.
What may be worse is the way that clear-cut logging is complicating the problem and adding to the risk of mercury poisoning. Science shows us that clear-cut logging causes boreal land to shed its mineral load into its waterways. This increases mercury levels in boreal fish and yet clear-cut logging persists in the Grassy territory despite clearly stated and consistent opposition from the community.
In fact, this December 2 is the 10th anniversary of the Grassy Narrows logging blockade, which has been led by mothers and young people trying to protect their treaty rights to hunt and fish in the face of industrial clear-cut logging.
Grassy Narrows recently won its court case at the Ontario Superior Court after a decade of legal wrangling. Now Canada is appealing. In doing so, it is arguing against the treaty rights of Grassy Narrows to fish and hunt. Having their own government appeal their victory can only be seen as piling on the people of Grassy Narrows.
Dr. Harada is on record saying that even if the pollution itself could come to an end, the impact on the health and socio-economic life of the people throughout the area is immense.
Despite pushing ahead with licences for clear-cut logging, Ontario is moving forward on the issue of mercury poisoning and has formed an inter-ministerial committee to deal with the phenomenon. Canada and Health Canada have been invited to join them at the table but they have refused. The government also refused to comment to the CBC when it was reporting on developments in the story in June of this year. Why is the government silent on this?
Why will the government not admit that there is an ongoing problem with mercury poisoning, admit the existence of Minamata disease in Grassy Narrows and Whitedog and then get to work on dealing with the problem?
Will Canada come to the table to resolve ongoing mercury issues?