TORONTO — A northwestern Ontario first nation is planning to take the provincial government to court over plans to begin clear-cutting in their traditional territory.
The Grassy Narrows First Nation has filed an application for judicial review against both the Ministry of Natural Resources and the Ministry of the Environment.
The application challenges the Natural Resources Ministry's 10-year logging plan that would see clear-cutting of about 50,000 hectares of the Whiskey Jack Forest, as well as the Environment Ministry's decision not to order a comprehensive review of that plan.
Grassy Narrows argues that logging in their traditional territory would exacerbate a mercury contamination crisis that's plagued the community for decades.
The first nation has dealt with high mercury content in its water since a nearby paper mill dumped large amounts of the chemical into the Wabigoon River system in the 1960s.
A spokeswoman with the Ministry of Natural Resources says it is committed to working with Grassy Narrows First Nation, but wouldn't comment on the case because it is before the courts.
The Ministry of the Environment didn't immedediately respond to requests for comment.
Grassy Narrows lawyer Joe Castrilli said removing swaths of trees from the traditional lands near the reserve will have disastrous consequences for one of the community's main food sources.
"That cutting is going to release mercury to every single body of water within the forest for as long as the cutting continues, and it will basically augment the residual mercury contamination that's already in the water system," he said, adding that that contamination spread to the fish that Grassy Narrows residents partially rely on for sustenance.
Water around Grassy Narrows has been contaminated with mercury since a mill in Dryden, Ont. dumped an estimated 10 tonnes of neurotoxins into the system between 1962 and 1970. Since then, multiple reports have found that dozens to hundreds of residents suffer from mercury-related neurological disorders.
Castrilli said the application for judicial review, a process used to challenge ministry or tribunal decisions, will hopefully allow Grassy Narrows to plead its case before a panel of three superior court judges. The community is calling for a halt to the clear-cutting and an environmental review of the entire 10-year plan.
The application also says the logging infringes their rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by depriving them of "life, liberty and security of the person."
Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press