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Federal Commitment to Support Mercury Poisoning Treatment Centre is a Long-Overdue Step Toward Justice in Grassy Narrows

    November 30, 2017

    Amnesty International welcomes the federal government’s commitment to support in the establishment of a specialized treatment centre for people suffering from mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. On November 29th, Minister of Indigenous Services Jane Philpott committed to support “in the development, planning, design and construction of the treatment centre in Grassy Narrows.”

    “We welcome this long-overdue commitment which comes after years of requests from the Grassy Narrows First Nation for effective measures to address mercury poisoning and contamination of their waters,” says Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada.  “All measures must be taken to ensure that this facility is established quickly, effectively and in collaboration with the people of Grassy Narrows in order to uphold the community’s right to much-needed health care resulting from years of grave human rights violations. We are also looking for the provincial government to fully assume their proper responsibilities in addressing human rights violations arising from mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows.”

    Background:

    Amnesty International was part of a group of human rights and environmental organizations who urged the federal and provincial governments to ensure people from the Grassy Narrows First Nation have access to specialized, long term medical care for mercury poisoning in an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne earlier this week. The group wrote in support of the Grassy Narrows First Nation’s appeal for the creation of a specialized facility in their community to meet the needs of those suffering from the effects of mercury poisoning resulting from contamination of their river system.

    The letter noted that long-overdue commitments from the Ontario government to mitigate the existing mercury contamination of the river system are an important step, but those measures are insufficient on their own. Federal and provincial governments must take action to minimize further harm to those whose health and well-being have been compromised by the poisoning of their waters. A dedicated Minamata disease treatment facility within the community is needed to provide appropriate care in order to uphold the right to health of the people of Grassy Narrows and to reduce the loss of culture and community cohesion resulting from individuals having to leave the community for care.

    Ontario’s decision to allow an upstream pulp mill to release mercury into the river system in the 1960s undermined the economy and way of life of the Anishnaabe people of Grassy Narrows and left a legacy of generation after generation of chronic and debilitating illness. While both levels of government have long denied that there was any cause for ongoing concern over the mercury contamination of the English and Wabigoon River system, it has been revealed that government officials have actually known for decades both that there is credible and compelling evidence of Minamata disease at Grassy Narrows and that there is a clear risk of ongoing contamination of their waters from contaminated soil and groundwater that remains under the mill to this day.

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    For media inquiries, contact: Jacob Kuehn, Media Relations at (613) 744-7667 ext 236 or jkuehn@amnesty.ca