Dr. David Suzuki visited the Gogama, Ontario CN derailment site yesterday and said the rail company had to do more to help cleanup the pollution caused when four million litres of crude oil spilled into the Makami River, which flows into the Mattagami River, in March, 2015.
“I came to Gogama to learn,” said Suzuki to a gathering of Gogama officials, representatives of the Mattagami First Nations, France Gelinas (MPP, Nickel Belt) and reporters. “I was shocked the derailment occurred almost two years ago.”
The Canadian rail company had declared that it had cleaned the spill up to Ontario and Canadian water regulations and had stopped further work. CN recently returned to the site to continue monitoring and containing the spread of the oil.
“It’s going to take a thousand years for the river to be restored,” Suzuki said by the banks of the still, noticeably discoloured waterway. “You can at least help the process along by doing more to remove the oil from the water.”
Suzuki made his comments to Norman Pellerin, a CN official on hand to explain the rail company’s action in the aftermath of the rail derailment.
It was the second rail derailment near Gogama; an earlier derailment poured over three million litres of into the Mattagami River. Gogama’s primary source of employment is the railroad and tourism based on hunting and fishing.
The derailment took place by the Mattagami River near a railway trestle just off of the Old Gogama Road.
“The cleanup must not be determined by how much it is going to cost,” Suzuki said.
Pellerin speaking for CN said, “The clean up was not influenced by cost, it was influenced by the timeline, the ability to get to the spill and the timetable to do the work.”
“The oil affixes to sediment and the question that science has not been able to answer is is it safer to dredge and remove the sediment or let it lie there?” Pellerin told the gathering.
“The best way to resolve the problem is to meet the problem head on instead of over monitoring,” Mike Benson, Gogama Fire Chief responded.
Replied Pellerin: “We listened to you and we did not ignore what you said. Didn’t we? We gave you the chance to express your concerns to identify the areas that were of concern and we worked on those areas.”
Chief Walter Naveau of nearby Mattagami First Nation disagreed with Pellerin.
“My people are the people of the land they lived here thousands of years and yet you are talking about science table. Yes, I agree with the need for a science table…but our traditional knowledge speaks for itself.” Chief Naveau said.
“CN came to our community. They had papers in their hands and said we are testing the air for poisons, our people were getting sick,” Chief Naveau added. “CN came into my board room with their papers and I asked for a copy - CN said no - you said we were working together, but when this happened, I wondered, where the trust is.”
Chief Naveau said things had come to a complete standstill and it was only the blockade of Highway 144 and the CNR tracks that that got CN to move on the cleanup again.
“You leave us with a mess, we have seen and we can attest to that fact,” Naveau stated. “And yet when we see dead fish you say they died because the water is too warm.”
Naveau pointed out that the water in the Mattagami River was just as warm but the Mayor of Timmins said there were no dead fish there.
“They are concerned on the James Bay coast because that is where the oil will flow - north into James Bay,” said Naveau.
“They don’t care about First Nations its all about money they care about money,” Naveau added. “It should be about that water that sacred water that we use in our ceremonies.”
Naveau told gathering by the river, that a resolution was passed by the Assembly of First Nations to watch developments as they will set a precedent of how First Nations deal with CN.
Suzuki said. “For this cleanup to succeed everyone has to be on a platform of agreement –the health of the river is the highest concern - there is no economic discussion then; the river is all that matters.”
Pellerin interjected “And that is why we want to rebuild the river.”
“You can’t rebuild it,” Suzuki interjected. “You can help, but it is going to take thousands of years for the river to recover.”
Suzuki criticized CN for not removing the contaminated sediment because they don’t want to upset balance.
“You’ve already upset the balance,” he noted.
Pellerin responded by asking: “So what are we supposed to do?”
“I am amazed no one has gone to jail,” replied Suzuki. “This is a crime against Mother Earth; if people went to jail there would be an entirely different approach.”
“They should be fining CN $5 million a day until the clean up the mess,” said Fire Chief Mike Benson.
The Ontario Environmental Protection Act and the federal Fisheries Act call for penalties and fines, but haven’t been applied in the Gogama derailments.
“You can point to Mike Harris and Stephen Harper,” said Suzuki. “Departments of the environment have been gutted across Canada -federally and provincially.
“Who is fighting for mother earth?” asked Suzuki.
Suzuki said in light of the Paris global warming accord signed by Canada, 80 per cent of oil should be left in ground.
“You can minimize derailments with precautions, but trains are longer and when you pull more cars around curves - does that lead to more derailments?” pondered Suzuki. “I imagine that puts more pressures on tracks – can they handle the greater volume and weight being transported - are the tankers safer?”