STOP: Stop Tar Sands Operations Permanently

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Fort Chip to World: SOS

Posted by mhudema on September 15, 2008

Fort Chip to world: SOS

Climate change, water policy and aboriginal health. Three issues that should be atop the election agenda. Three issues that start with the oil sands.

Canadians are dying. Our government is doing nothing about it. Will it take world attention to end this injustice?

That’s what some residents of Fort Chipewyan, the small northern Alberta town at the mouth of Lake Athabasca, have concluded, starting a campaign for an oil sands moratorium that they plan to take across North America and Europe, until health and water concerns are addressed.

Residents in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., say they saw this fish, seen in this Aug. 15 photo, caught from Lake Athabasca the previous week. (Courtesy of Ling Wang)

Residents in Fort Chipewyan, Alta., say they saw this fish, seen in this Aug. 15 photo, caught from Lake Athabasca the previous week. (Courtesy of Ling Wang)

Fort Chip, an aboriginal community of 1200, has received increasing attention due to the high levels of cancer in the community. Dr. John O’Connor, a fly-in doctor first raised the issue publicly in 2005, noting the unusually high levels of a rare bile duct cancer, but was soon silenced by Health Canada and reprimanded by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta for causing “undue alarm”. Only last December was he finally cleared.

Even a 2006 report by the Alberta government put the cancer rate at 29% above the provincial average, while a report commissioned by Suncor found the lifetime cancer risk due to arsenic exposure to be 450 per 100,000 people, well above accepted public health standards of 1 per 100,000. Yet policy remains unchanged.

Fort Chip’s residents have put together an excellent series of videos featuring acclaimed water scientist David Schindler and community members. Scientist Kevin Timoney has continued to show levels of arsenic, mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons at carcinogenic levels. Yet Health Canada and the Alberta cancer board have so far yet to undertake a promised cancer incidence study.

Jack Layton was right to make the oil sands an election issue. Let’s hope that he and the other opposition leaders maintain the pressure, despite what Ed Stemach and the Calgary Herald may say.

While we look out at the world, pointing to human rights violations and health injustice abroad, Canada may find itself with others pointing at us. Our track record for protecting the human rights of our first peoples is shocking, whether it’s in our cities or in native communities across the north.
In Canada’s World, our actions at home shape our influence abroad.
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