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Grassy Narrows First Nation sues Ontario, Canada over mercury contamination

TORONTO — A northern Ontario First Nation is suing the governments of Ontario and Canada over ongoing mercury contamination in a river system that flows through its territory.

Grassy Narrows First Nation alleges the governments breached their obligations by failing to ensure the community could safely practise its right to fish.

The lawsuit alleges the governments first allowed the English-Wabigoon river system to be contaminated, then failed to remediate it, all while authorizing industrial activities that worsened the harm.

The legal action comes weeks after a study suggested discharge from a paper mill upstream of the community is exacerbating mercury contamination that dates back decades.

Researchers behind the study said that while the mill’s wastewater doesn’t contain mercury, the combination of sulphate and organic matter in it contribute to the elevated production of methylmercury – the most toxic form of the contaminant.

Grassy Narrows First Nation has been plagued with mercury poisoning since the 1960s, when the mill dumped 9,000 kilograms of mercury into the river system.

The mill stopped using mercury in its industrial process in the 1970s, but mercury levels downstream of the plant have not significantly decreased since the 1980s.

Grassy Narrows says a statement of claim was served to the governments today.

When the study was released last month, a spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks said the government would continue to work with the mill owner and Indigenous communities affected by mercury contamination in the area.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 4, 2024.

The Canadian Press

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