This is why I serve. For all those who have given some of the best years of their life to fight for their small rural community, for the environment, and for future generations. For those who are no longer with us, but fought the good fight: Margaret Walsh, Steve Geneja, Al Gardiner, Mary Lynn Sammon, and Howard O'Connor.For all those who continue to fight the good fight: I am with you, and we will continue! We will fight on the side of the angels, on the side of you angels who are there now fighting to protect our beautiful, pristine rural communities.And as long as I am a Member of Parliament, I will never stop fighting to have a Canadian Environmental Bill of Rights.
Posted by Mike Bossio on Friday, June 7, 2019
Madam Speaker, my congratulations to my colleague from Edmonton Strathcona on getting this bill onto the floor. I am privileged to have the opportunity to speak to it.
I would like to tell a story. It is a true David and Goliath story. It is a story that starts in a small rural community that is up against the world’s largest waste company, Waste Management Inc.
It starts in 1998, when I was on the municipal council in Tyendinaga Township and Waste Management Inc. came to our council meeting to present a fantastic idea it had to build a 200-acre mega-dump that would take in 750,000 tonnes of waste and 250,000 tonnes of contaminated soil a year in, once again, a small rural community, which just happened to have a fractured limestone base that would be underlying this landfill. The site would have been on vertically and horizontally fractured limestone.
This is a pristine area of the country. This is a part of the country where every home, farm and business relies on wells for water. It is a site that would be upstream from the Mohawks at the Bay of Quinte and upstream from the Bay of Quinte itself, which has been listed by the U.N. for a number of years as one of the worst polluted bodies of water in the world.
When Waste Management Inc. had finished presenting, the reeve of the day, Margaret Walsh, and I looked at each other. They wanted to do what on fractured limestone? It was not going to happen on our watch.
We then proceeded to have multiple town halls to educate the area residents about this travesty: this mega-company wanted to build a mega-dump in a neighbouring community. Everyone, of course, was up in arms. It was plain wrong to build it on this site.
After those town halls, the Concerned Citizens Committee of Tyendinaga and Environs was born. A core group of individuals headed the committee, starting with the chair, Steven Geneja; Margaret Walsh; me; Ed File; Allan Gardiner; Mary Lynne Sammon; and Chief R. Donald Maracle, of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, because the Mohawks were very interested in this fight.
We also were very fortunate to have a brilliant professional team in lawyer Richard Lindgren, from the Canadian Environmental Law Association; hydrogeologist Wilf Ruland; and a toxicologist, Dr. Poh-Gek Forkert, who, by the way, actually wrote a book about this fight called Fighting Dirty.
We launched massive fundraising campaigns, sign painting campaigns, awareness campaigns and protests. Over the next eight years, we submitted over 6,000 documents opposing this landfill expansion and petitions. It was to the point that the former environmental commissioner of Ontario, Gord Miller, called the Richmond Dump “arguably one of the worst sites in Ontario to ever locate [a] landfill”. He went on to say that it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to monitor the site.
After eight years of fighting this battle, lo and behold, in 2006, the Ontario government decided to reject the expansion proposal, stating that there were significant environmental risks associated with expanding this landfill. Everyone, of course, celebrated, thinking that we had won the battle. No, we had not, because there was a 50-year-old leaky dump right next door to where they wanted to build the original landfill that was still open. We suspected that there was toxic leaching into the surrounding environment and local wells.
In 2007, I took over as chair of the committee. Colleagues need to understand that this was eight or nine years later, and volunteers are starting to get burned out. This was such a demanding fight for a small rural community to undertake, but there was still, thankfully, a hard-core group of individuals, including Mike Whalen, the present chair of the committee; Ian Munro; Marilyn Kendall; Jeff Whan; Steve Medd; Marilyn Carey; Janelle and Ken Tulloch; Carolyn Butts; Fred Whelan and Howard O’Connor. Once again, they were just hard-core individuals who deeply cared about our community and were willing to make whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure that we protected our community from this landfill.
Lo and behold, in 2010 the province announced the forced closure of the landfill. Unfortunately, the very same day, Waste Management came back and announced another terms of reference for an environmental assessment. It was the first time in Ontario’s history that a company lost an environmental assessment and turned around and asked for another one in exactly the same location with virtually the same proposal.
We were appalled. We were angry. We were determined that we were not going to allow this project to continue. We redoubled our efforts to defeat what they called the Beechwood Road Environmental Centre. What an oxymoron, if I have ever heard one.
Early in 2012, the province finally came back and approved a deeply flawed environmental monitoring plan. Finally, we had had enough. We said, okay, this finally opens up the opportunity for us to ask for leave to appeal to an environmental review tribunal to finally have a semi-judicial process of environmental and legal experts studying this issue.
We then entered into a three-year period of negotiations with Waste Management to try to resolve the 36 recommendations. After that time, finally, in 2015, we had a trial and we finally had a judgment. Of course, the judgment fell completely our way, and we finally forced Waste Management to test for a chemical called 1,4-dioxane that only exists in leachate. We have to remember that leachate has up to 10,000 chemicals.
The company was always testing for chemicals that exist in the natural surrounding environment, so when there was a spike, they would say “Oh, it’s just Mother Nature, not leachate.” Lo and behold, when they finally started testing for 1,4-dioxane, many of the wells were contaminated, including six residential wells. It was absolutely appalling that the company was able to hide this contamination for decades without anybody being aware of it.
Here we are in 2019, and we are still trying to delineate the contaminant attenuation zone. This is now massively off-site from the landfill. It is a kilometre south of the landfill so far from circumference of the landfill, and it is still continuing to move.
Why do I tell this story? How does this relate to an environmental bill of rights?
Dumps are the underbelly of a post-consumer society. As I mentioned, there are up to 10,000 chemicals in a landfill. Everybody thinks, “out of sight, out of mind; it is in a dump”. No, these chemicals exist within our environment. They exist in our homes, they exist in our workplaces, they permeate society, and we need to have a mechanism in place to actually deal with these chemicals.
In Ontario, we have an Environmental Bill of Rights, and we have a mechanism within that bill of rights called an environmental review tribunal. This is put in place so that citizen groups like ours could hold the government to account and could force a decision that will overturn a poor decision made by government. That is why it is so vitally important for us at the Canadian level to have a Canadian environmental bill of rights.
I would like to finish up by recognizing a number of individuals who were deeply involved in this fight and who, unfortunately, are no longer with us. Margaret Walsh, Steve Geneja, Al Gardiner, Mary Lynn Sammon, Ben Sutcliffe, and Howard O’Connor all passed during that time. The best years of their lives were wasted fighting this landfill, non-stop. It is an incredible burden to a small rural community to be up against the world’s largest waste company.
However, it was not in vain. If we had not fought that fight, today, 21 years later, we would have 21 million of 25 million tonnes of waste that would be leaching into our local environments and contaminating our residential wells, our farm wells, our business wells, our children. That fight was not in vain.
We will continue to fight the good fight. We will fight on the side of the angels, on the side of you angels who are there now fighting with us to protect our beautiful, pristine rural communities.
As long as I am a member of Parliament, I will never stop fighting to have a Canadian environmental bill of rights.
For more background on the community fight against the Richmond Landfill, see: Fighting Dirty, the Making of an Activist