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Toronto reverses garbage dump decision

Author: 
Joan Taillon, Windspeaker Staff Writer, TORONTO
Volume: 
18
Issue: 
7
Year: 
2000

Page 11

On Oct. 11, Toronto city council made a decision to dump its garbage in somebody else's backyard. It voted to ship 20 million tonnes of municipal garbage to the Adams mine site in Boston Township near Kirkland Lake, Ont., beginning in 2002. The move could have put the lands and rivers of Timiskaming and the Ottawa Valley at risk for 1,000 years, and polls show it was opposed by a majority of Native groups, farmers, environmentalists and ordinary citizens on both sides of the Ontario-Quebec border.

On Oct. 20, Toronto suddenly announced it had changed its mind and would send its garbage to Michigan.

The reason: a clause in the contract with Rail Cycle North, the conglomerate that would handle the waste, that would have held Toronto responsible for unmanageable costs that could arise from myriad factors.

Natives and northerners are relieved, seeing the reversal as a victory that may be partly the result of the united stance they took to defeat the proposal. At the same time, they fear that some other municipality will want to dump its trash in the mine.

Timiskaming First Nation, along with the Algonquin Nation Secretariat; the Union of Ontario Indians; the federal MP for Timiskaming-Cochrane Benoit Serre; MPP David Ramsay from Kirkland Lake; the anti-Adams Mine project coalition headed by Pierre Belanger (which includes the MRC de Temiscamingue in Quebec and the Timiskaming Municipal Association in Ontario; the Timiskaming Federation of Labour; Northwatch; and the Ontario Federation of Agriculture); and some Toronto politicians such as Jack Layton who fought vehemently against the proposal, want the federal minister of the Environment, David Anderson, to step in and order an environmental assessment.

But on Oct. 19, Toronto MP Judy Sgro (York West) said "There's lots of pressure coming from here, within our caucus but he (Anderson) is not responding to political pressure."

Anderson has asked the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to make a recommendation on whether he should order an environmental assessment or not. He is waiting for the agency's opinion, which is not expected before the end of the year.

Gordon McGuinty, head of Notre Development, the lead company in the Rail Cycle North consortium, has cash tied up in a mine property it isn't using and an investment in seeing the pit turned into a landfill. We don't know his next move. He did not return Windspeaker's telephone call. In a September telephone interview, however, he said a complete environmental assessment had been done and full consultation had been done with Native groups, which Timiskaming First Nation denies.

Timiskaming First Nation is in Notre-Dame-du-Nord, Que. on Lake Timiskaming, and would bear the direct consequences of any escaped hazardous leachate from the mine or unregulated chemicals in water pumped out of the mine. The reserve is situated near the mouth of the Blanche River, which drains the Adams mine site. Lake Timiskaming is on the border between Ontario and Quebec.

All summer and fall, Chief Carol McBride has maintained an exhausting schedule of meetings, rallies and protests against turning a lake that formed in the abandoned pits of the former surface iron ore mine into a garbage pit.

On Oct. 10, the day before the vote, both Native and non-Native men prevented Toronto council chamber security staff from evicting the chief from the chamber. McBride was there to put people on notice that Timiskaming First Nation was preparing a land claim that includes the Adams mine. She said if Toronto passed the project, the band would seek an injunction to prevent work proceeding at the site. She also objected to the threat to their drinking water, fish and wildlife, and the narrow terms of the provincial environmental assessment that excluded her band from consultation before the province gave Notre the green light.

On Oct. 23, Arden McBride, the director of health for Timiskaming First Nation, spoke about Toronto's change ofplans.

"What happened, is that Rail Cycle North couldn't agree to the terms of the contract or the liability, so Mr. Mel Lastman decided because they couldn't come to a deal, the contract was off."

McBride said he could only guess at the reason, but "the (anti-Adams mine) coalition had a part to play. I'm wondering if the waterfront deal wasn't part of it also." McBride said with the deal off, Lastman "is looking good all over Ontario now that the Adams mine is gone, with an election coming up (Nov. 13)." He stressed this was his view, not Timiskaming 's. But the oblique reference to Lastman's pride in Toronto's recently announced multi-billion dollar plan to move its port and spruce up its waterfront was there.

McBride says his First Nation will continue to pressure Anderson for a comprehensive environmental assessment that could stop any future plans to use the mine as a dump. "Our chief tried to meet with Mr. Anderson last week in Ottawa and was unsuccessful."

The health director indicated because of Toronto's decision to back out of the dump deal the pressure was off temporarily, but "we do have a fight to continue, because the next fear is that even though Toronto is out, that still opens the door for other cities to dump their waste there. Because it's not the city of Toronto that owns the pit, it's Rail Cycle North."

He added one of their fears is that "the Canadian cities might think twice before even approaching Rail Cycle North, but that doesn't mean that the American cities can't ask Mr. McGuinty for disposing of their garbage. Mr. Lastman's fear is that the American government will stop him transporting across the border. . . . Americans say, 'well, you can run your stuff if we can run our stuff.'"

McBride said their legal team was evaluating the situation.

A lawyer for Timiskaming First Nation, David Nahwegahbow, spoke to Windspeaker from Ottawa on Oct. 23.

Nahwegahbow said that while he isn't privy to the contract, his understanding was that theToronto-Rail Cycle North deal fell through because of a condition "that in the event of unforseen events . . . Rail Cycle North was insisting that Toronto . . . share in the liability. And the Toronto city council-one of the motions was that it be removed as a provision of the contract. And they had so many days after they voted for the approval of the contract to try and get that negotiated, and they weren't able to negotiate it, so it effectively killed the contract."

Franz Hartmann, executive assistant to Toronto councillor Jack Layton, said before the vote Toronto had other more environmentally sound ways of dealing with municipal waste.

"In the short term ship our garbage to Michigan in an existing landfill site that's a state of the art landfill facility, that's using proven technology as opposed to unproven technology, which is what would be used in the Adams mine.

"We ship that to Michigan for no more cost for the city of Toronto. What that does is give us five years to develop aggressive composting facilities here in the city and to approve our recycling processes. And if we did that, we would in fact reach a point in about five years from now where the amount of garbage produced by the city would be so small, we could probably ship it to existing landfill sites in southern Ontario. So that option is open and available to councillors.

"The question then is why didn't they choose that? . . . I think it has everything to do with politics and money."

Hartmann said that many Torontonians opposed shipping the garbage to Kirkland Lake too, especially after Chief McBride's impassioned speeches were broadcast.

National Chief Matthew Coon Come issued a strongly worded press release Sept. 21 calling on Environment Minister Anderson to undertake a "full and objective environmental assessment" on the "potentially dangerous project."

On Oct. 18, Jean LaRose, communications director for the Assembly of First Nations, toldWindspeaker "no response has been receivedby the national chief or the AFN from Minister Anderson on that issue, and . . . we will pursue that issue because the First Nations involved have asked the national chief to keep pushing for a full environmental assessment, and the national chief has said that he would assist them as best as he can."

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