Chemical Valley lawsuit moves ahead

Shawn Jeffords in The Observer

A landmark Charter of Rights challenge launched by two members of the Aamjiwnaang First Nation over the health impacts industrial pollution has on their community is moving forward.

More than 2,100 pages of evidence have been filed with an Ontario District Court is support of the lawsuit, which names the Ontario government and Suncor Energy.

Band members Ron Plain and Ada Lockridge allege pollution from the Chemical Valley is violating their human rights.

“For the last six months we’ve been pulling together the evidence from 13 different witnesses,” said EcoJustice staff lawyer Justin Duncan.

The filings include sworn affidavits from seven experts who speak to links between pollution and adverse health effects, Duncan said.

A 2005 health study found the sex ratio in the First Nations community was roughly two girls born for every boy. Some scientists blame the effect of gender-bending industrial chemicals.

“There is evidence of injury and there really isn’t any other cause it can point towards than pollution and contamination,” Duncan said. “The socio-economic situation of the people of Aamjiwnaang, and their vulnerability because of their location and history, are key pieces that are really hard to refute.”

The suit does not seek compensation, only for the province to change current emissions standards.

“People often ask if Ada and Ron are interested in getting rid of industry. They’d say no. They just want them to clean up their act,” Duncan said.

“We want to stress that Ada and Ron aren’t out for money. One of the things we saw when we filed was (Internet) postings about how it was just First Nation’s people looking for money, or just blatant racist comments.”

The application challenge Environment Ministry approval last year for Suncor Energy to ramp up production at its Sarnia diesel unit. The company was fined $500,000 for exceeding emissions at the unit in 2009. Last summer, Ontario gave the company permission to return production levels to 100%, saying it had complied with emission rules by doing $6 million worth of upgrades.

Ecojustice alleges that despite work done to reduce unit flaring the refinery isn’t meeting emissions standards.

The government and Suncor are expected to file evidence in October.

Ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan said the government will review Ecojustice’s court filings and make their own submissions.

“Because it is before the courts, I can’t get into a lot of detail at this time,” she said.

Suncor officials could not comment by press time.

Ecojustice will ask the court to set a timetable for the case. It hopes the hearing will take place over the next month.

“We’re certainly hoping the court recognizes pollution can be a violation of charter rights,” Duncan said. “Courts around the world have been doing that and things haven’t fallen down. It’s resulted in better protection of people’s health.”

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