That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) formally recognize the responsibility of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Forces with regard to the contamination of the groundwater which is the source of drinking water for multiple homes in the residential area of Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Valcartier, residential areas of the municipality of Shannon, and numerous public institutions, due to the use of chlorinated solvents for several decades, including trichloroethylene (TCE); (b) take over the efforts of the Shannon Citizens Committee to monitor filtration systems in place for those dealing with the contamination of drinking water, and include the Committee in any environmental efforts undertaken; and (c) commit to (i) notify all persons employed at CFB Valcartier or who have lived in the residential quarters of the Base for the years during which the contamination took place, (ii) quickly clean up the affected sites, (iii) compensate victims of TCE contamination.
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to rise in this House today to stand up for the rights of residents and former residents of the municipality of Shannon, who have been affected by the contamination of their drinking water with toxic chemicals coming from CFB Valcartier.
Of all the noxious chemicals that have flowed into the groundwater beneath Shannon, the one that has caused the most damage to people has been trichloroethylene, or TCE. TCE was used for years in the manufacture of munitions at Valcartier, and was dumped and buried on land belonging to the federal government. It made its way through the soil and into the groundwater.
This tragic history of contamination has drastically affected—and continues to affect—the lives of thousands of Canadian families and is still a very emotional topic in Quebec and elsewhere across the country.
Since 2007, the current and former citizens of the town of Shannon affected by the contamination of their drinking water by dangerous chemical substances have been trying to obtain justice for themselves and their families through legal means. However, the government still refuses to listen. The situation has to change, and it has to change now.
The motion I am presenting today urges the government to finally admit the Crown's responsibility in this tragic affair, end the legal conflict opposing them to the Shannon citizens committee members by negotiating the fair settlement they deserve, and take concrete actions to rapidly decontaminate the affected sites on the Valcartier military base and in the town of Shannon.
The municipality of Shannon lies about 25 km north of Quebec City, along the banks of the Jacques-Cartier River. More than 5,000 people live there, many of them military personnel and their families. Part of the municipal lands form part of CFB Valcartier, and Shannon provides certain municipal services to people living on the base itself.
Today, almost 2,000 residents of Shannon live in the family housing area of the Valcartier base.
Shannon has the advantage of being located close to a major urban centre, Quebec City, while also having a natural setting with vast forests and the beautiful Jacques-Cartier River.
In earlier days, the municipality had considerable water resources and its water was of the highest quality. The water was so good that there was no piped water system; instead, the people of Shannon got their drinking water from individual wells tapping into the aquifer.
Unfortunately, life in this lovely town changed forever when TCE was discovered in the water.
TCE was used on the Valcartier military base beginning in the 1930s. It is an industrial degreaser and a highly volatile, powerful solvent used in manufacturing munitions, among other things. However, it is not the only substance of its kind that was used on the base. Over the past 70 years, the Government of Canada has used various chemicals in addition to TCE on the base for producing munitions, cleaning military equipment and maintaining combat vehicles and other vehicles, as well as in the research, development and production of a range of military equipment.
In addition to crown entities, a number of private companies, including SNC Technologies, also had facilities on the Valcartier military base, and they also used TCE during the contamination period. These toxic chemicals were typically buried in holes, pits or dumps on base property. Standards at the time were not what they are now. It did not take long for the chemicals to penetrate the ground and enter the groundwater.
Over the years, TCE and other chemicals were also spilled accidentally on the ground in various places, increasing the potential for soil and environmental contamination.
In 1997, contamination was discovered for the first time in groundwater supplying wells that were once used by SNC Technologies. The federal government was informed immediately, but the municipality of Shannon was not told about the contamination right away. The levels of TCE discovered in the water were apparently not high enough to alarm the authorities.
The citizens of Shannon would have to wait until December 2000 to finally be informed that the water they had been drinking and using every day had been contaminated with TCE.
TCE is a toxic substance that affects the central nervous system and is considered a probable carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. It has been linked to various types of cancer like brain cancer, stomach cancer and liver cancer. Prolonged exposure to TCE can also cause severe skin irritations, gastrointestinal problems and neurological symptoms like confusion, fatigue, euphoria and headaches.
The many citizens who had been suffering for years from unexplainable symptoms like the ones I just mentioned finally had an answer. They had been ingesting a very toxic, and likely carcinogenic, substance through their water without their knowledge.
In 2001, the Department of National Defence invested in the construction of a new water system linking 161 residents of Shannon to the Valcartier military base's system in an effort to buy some time until the situation could be cleared up. Then in 2004, the department agreed to fund an expansion of the water system, which was supposed to be temporary to begin with, to include more of the municipality's territory.
The water system is now being completely separated from CFB Valcartier's system. The latest investments came in 2009 to complete the work. While those much-needed government investments did help improve the quality of the water in Shannon, the situation is by no means resolved.
The new water system does not yet cover all of Shannon. Some residents are therefore still at risk of suffering serious health problems related to prolonged exposure to TCE, especially given that the decontamination process is still not complete and is moving forward at a snail's pace.
In addition, the government has never admitted the Crown's responsibility in this whole sad affair. Instead, it prefers to hide behind the pretext that the standards that existed at the time were being met when toxic chemicals were being dumped in the ground at CFB Valcartier.
Lastly, the government has never compensated the victims of the TCE water contamination in a fair, equitable manner. The government refuses to even admit the possibility of any link between the presence of TCE in the water and the physical suffering manifested by many past and current residents of Shannon.
In an effort to obtain justice, a group known as the Shannon citizens committee launched a class action lawsuit against DND and SNC Technologies in 2007. The lawsuit covers about 3,000 concerned citizens and includes any civilian or soldier who has lived in Shannon since 1953 and whose person, property or family has been directly affected by TCE contamination of Shannon's water supply.
The class action lawsuit is requesting that the co-defendants finally admit their combined responsibility in the physically harmful consequences the victims of the contamination had to suffer; that the government admit it should have announced the contamination to the municipality of Shannon as soon as it found out and not three years later; that the government take concrete steps to stop the spread of the contamination, as well as steps to actively decontaminate the area as soon as possible; and, finally, that the co-defendants financially compensate the victims of the contamination and their families for their suffering and material losses due to the consequences brought on by the presence of TCE in the water of Shannon.
Even though the citizens committee started working on the lawsuit in 2007, the trial only started in January 2011 and finished in November of the same year. Now, we are waiting for Judge Godbout to render his verdict which could still take a few more months. However, it is not too late for the government to do what is right and act to correct the terrible wrongs committed against the present and former residents of Shannon affected by this tragic contamination.
The motion I am moving today urges the government to make three commitments. First, the government must formally recognize the responsibility of the Department of National Defence with regard to the contamination of the groundwater in Shannon and in the residential area of Canadian Forces Base Valcartier. Then, it must take over the efforts to monitor filtration systems in place for those dealing with the contamination of drinking water and include the Shannon citizens committee in any new environmental efforts undertaken. Finally, it must commit to notify all persons who were employed at CFB Valcartier or who lived in the residential quarters of the base for the years during which the contamination took place, quickly clean up the affected sites, and compensate victims of TCE contamination. That is what the citizens committee has been urging the government to do for years, but to no avail.
This government has a moral obligation to do something about this whether it was directly responsible for the contamination or not. The Department of National Defence is cited as partially responsible for the contamination and must take action to try to provide restitution. This government has a bad habit of denying any responsibility and hiding behind lawyers. It should be more concerned with the health and well-being of all citizens in this country than with its image.
We must never forget that many of the victims of the TCE-contaminated water are soldiers, former soldiers and their families. They have made tremendous sacrifices and given their hearts and souls in service to their country.
I was raised in a military family. Both of my parents are still serving in the Canadian Forces. My aunts and uncles all served at some point in their life. My grandfather served in the Royal 22nd Regiment in Valcartier and fought in the Korean War. I know all about the sacrifices soldiers and their families make and the devotion it takes to serve this country like our military does so well.
Many victims of the contamination in Shannon have since been posted all across Canada and are still proudly serving their country. Others cannot because they are still suffering from illnesses relating to TCE exposure or, sadly, have died from it. I cannot understand why a government that is constantly bragging about how much it supports our military and veterans can ignore this terrible situation and refuse to give the victims the help they so rightly deserve.
It is absolutely unacceptable that this government refuses to take action to compensate Shannon's civilian population, which has also been seriously affected by the groundwater contamination. There are hundreds of heartbreaking stories of families torn apart by illness or the death of a loved one. For years, the people of Shannon have felt abandoned by their government, which is washing its hands of all responsibility. Nevertheless, it is not too late to do something about this.
While we are awaiting Justice Godbout's verdict, the government could still be negotiating a fair and equitable out-of-court settlement with the Shannon citizens committee.
I am asking every party in the House to support this motion so that the victims of the groundwater contamination in Shannon can finally have some justice from their government and live in an environment that is safe for them and their children.
The citizens of Shannon have been waiting far too long. The victims have been suffering far too long. It is time for the government to stop the unending legal proceedings. It is time for this government to stop shifting the blame. It is time for this government to acknowledge how much the victims have suffered as a result of Shannon's contaminated water and to try to do right by the victims.
It is time for the government to do the right thing for the citizens of Shannon.