OTTAWA — A United Nations human-rights expert says the case of a northern Ontario First Nation plagued by mercury contamination is “emblematic” of an overall pattern of inaction in the face of grave risks to the health of Indigenous Peoples.
Baskut Tuncak, a special rapporteur on human rights and hazardous substances and wastes, has released preliminary findings after a two-week tour in Canada that involved visiting communities affected by toxins.
He says the need to address mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows dates back some 50 years, adding the case should have been at the “highest of priorities” and the government has failed to explain its “inaction.”
Grassy Narrows First Nations Chief Rudy Turtle has urged Ottawa to put $88.7 million — the estimated cost for a specialized health facility for residents affected by health problems associated with the contamination — into a trust fund to ensure the project moves ahead no matter the results of the October federal election.
Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan says he is committed to working with Grassy Narrows to sign an agreement on the fate of the facility even though the two sides could not reach a deal when he visited the First Nation last week.
A key sticking point is the federal government believes creating a trust fund would cause delays and it would rather sign a contribution agreement instead.