ECO report tackles environmental rights, pollution affecting Indigenous peoples

Ground Water Canada
October 24, 2017
By Ground Water Canada
Toronto – The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario in her annual Environmental Protection Report called on the provincial government to make environmental justice part of its reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and identified successes and failures in the areas of environmental rights, algae and fracking.
 
“The Ontario government has long turned a blind eye to pollution that adversely affects many Indigenous communities,” said the commissioner in a news release. "For over 60 years, the Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations, northwest of Dryden, have suffered devastating effects from mercury poisoning. . . . Dozens of First Nation communities in Ontario lack access to safe drinking water. At the ECO’s last count, 36 First Nation communities are affected by a drinking-water advisory that’s been in place for more than a year, many being in place for over a decade. 

“The conditions faced by these Indigenous communities would not be tolerated elsewhere in Ontario, yet have long been deemed unworthy of priority, effort or expense,” Saxe said. “After decades of neglect, the province is finally taking some steps, but the pollution that these communities still face is outrageous.” 

The report also says the Aggregate Resources Act has failed to mitigate the impacts of resources extraction on ground water, wetlands, woodlands and species. Conditions in the aggregate approval to protect the environment are rarely updated to ensure ongoing environmental protection throughout the duration of extraction, it indicates.


The Commissioner’s report, Good Choices, Bad Choices: Environmental Rights and Protections in Ontario, highlights how the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is failing to protect species at risk, like the Algonquin wolf. 

The report contends and details how two ministries overhauled their permitting processes with very different outcomes. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change simplified its approvals process by shifting some low-risk activities from individualized permits to pollute to standard rules. The MOECC’s permitting system has successfully brought many previously unregulated facilities under consistent, up-to-date environmental standards, while also improving compliance. In stark contrast, the MNRF’s permitting system under the Endangered Species Act is a failure; the MNRF’s simplified approvals system generally lowers the standard of protection for species at risk, with little to no transparency, oversight or enforcement. In addition, in the almost 3,000 applications submitted since the act was passed, the MNRF has not turned down a single permit to harm or kill a species at risk. the report says. 

It also identifies toxic algae as a growing threat to Ontario’s lakes, citing phosphorus as a major cause of algae growth. Yet the province relies almost exclusively on voluntary and unevaluated phosphorus control programs that have not worked, Saxe says. She asks the provincial government to tackle non-point sources of phosphorus, such as contaminated water from farms, streets and lawns. It also calls for a ban on all spreading of phosphorus sources, including manure, fertilizer and sewage sludge, on frozen or saturated ground.

Good Choices, Bad Choices: Environmental Rights and Environment Protection in Ontario can be downloaded at eco.on.ca.

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