rn: Elizabeth May – nonviolent direct action re: N. America’s most toxic site


Jan Slakov

Dear RN,

Naomi Klein's article ("Talk to Your Neighbour; It's a Start", sent to this
list on May 11) on the importance of community building sure comes at an
opportune time for me.

I went to the FTAA summit in Quebec as part of a locally-grounded group and
just last Friday we had a kind of "post-summit" celebration and discussion
time. We naturally ended up talking about Elizabeth May's hunger strike to
get government to relocate families living near to what may well be North
America's most toxic site, the Sydney "tar ponds" in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.

It has seemed that Elizabeth's hunger strike was doomed to failure for
government officials have tended to say they need yet another study and
Elizabeth was wanting to hold out for a permanent relocation program for the

But her determination, her caring, and my conviction that we have to find
ways to get beyond giving up and beyond token actions, has me convinced now
that we can make this hunger strike work. (It will be important to keep up
the pressure on this issue after Elizabeth ends her hunger strike, as I hope
she will soon.)

The message below explains more. I hope many people on this list will find
ways to contribute to this cause.

BTW, I have a report/diary that Elizabeth has written on her experience
which i can send to anyone who is interested. 

all the best, Jan
PS I had hoped to send this a couple days ago but e-mail problems are
plaguing me of late:( In the meantime, I have another great posting by Janet
Eaton <•••@••.•••> that I could send out to people wanting more
information and the latest update. (That is if my computer will cooperate!)

PPS There is an ACTION ALERT posted at:

>>For more information, please contact:
>>Angela Rickman
>>Sierra Club of Canada
>>(613) 241-4611
>>Email: •••@••.•••

>>or read:  Frederick Street --  Life and Death on Canada's Loe Canal, by
Maude Barlow and Elizabeth May (Harper Collins, 2000).
(French below)
Dear friends on various lists,

First, contact info:

Federal  Health Minister The Hon. Alan Rock 
Telephone:  (613) 947-5000 
Fax:  (613) 947-4276 
Email: •••@••.•••

Federal Environment Minister The Hon. David Anderson 
Ph#   (613) 996-2358 
Fax#  (613) 952-1458 

Prime Minister of Canada, the Right Hon. Jean Chretien
Telephone: (613) 992-4211 
 Fax:  (613) 941-6900 
 Email:  •••@••.•••

Nova Scotia Premier, The Hon. John Hamm  
Telephone:   902) 424- 6600
E-mail:   •••@••.•••

Please think of what you can do to seize this moment and break the logjam of
inertia and inaction on the Sydney tar ponds issue.... I would have thought
that after 2 weeks of her hunger strike, Elizabeth would be trying to find a
graceful way out, but no. I talked with her on the weekend and she said she
thinks it will be another week still; my goodness, I hope if we work hard
enough she will not have to endure another week with no food! 

It may seem like no one cares, but people know Elizabeth and cannot help but
like or love her and lots of MPs and others are encouraging her. We can
help. Contact your favourite media outlets and get them to cover this.
[later: it turns out that CBC news said she was on her 13th day of the
hunger strike this morning and As It Happens did interview her, but only at
the beginning. I hope they interview her again soon! The more coverage the
better; we can call in and thank the CBC for the coverage it has given, and
encourage them to give us more.]
Here are General Inquiry #s for the CBC (ask to speak with whichever progam
you want, news or whatever...) and a couple other numbers as well:

 <•••@••.•••>  (AIH talk-back: 1-416-205-3331)
Toronto: 1-416-205-3700 
Toronto (national) news: 1-416-205-6201
Ottawa: (613) 724-1200
Montreal: (514) 597-6000
Vancouver: (604) 662-6000
Regina: (306) 347-9540
Saskatoon: (306) 956-5000
Winnipeg: (204) 788-3222
Calgary: (403) 521-6000
Edmonton: (780) 468-7500
Charlottwtown: (902) 629-6400
Halifax: (902) 420-8311
Grand Falls, NFLD: (709) 489-2102
St. John's, NFLD: (709) 976-5000

This IS a national issue; the Sydney tar ponds are Canada's most toxic site.

Now, a letter-to-the-editor I am sending out, along with a letter from a
retired scientist who is on a local "Enviro-Clare & others" list I moderate.

all the best, Jan
PS I asked Elizabeth if she thinks the site could ever be cleaned up; it was
once a rich estuary, fished by native people. She said yes. I was somewhat
surprised for I had figured it would probably be best not to disturb the
site so as to better "contain" the contamination. She agrees that dumb
clean-ups are worse than no clean up at all, but a real clean up is possible.
To: •••@••.•••
From: •••@••.••• (C Fraser)
Subject: Sidney Tar Ponds
Date: Tue,  8 May 2001 15:19:24 -0600

Dear Minister Allan Rock. Re the Sydney tar ponds, I would like to point out (1)
that, because of the small size of the population involved, it will be
impossible to demonstrate, statistically, anything less than a very large
increase in cancer, or birth defects, whereas a medically and socially
significant increase may well escape detection. Therefore, there is no
point in waiting for further epidemiological studies before making a
decision.(2) In vitro tests for mutagenicity or carcinogenicity will
undoubtedly be positive on Tar pond material, but there will be arguments
drummed up about their in vivo significance. (3) Testing for mutations in
the cells of exposed individuals would be useful. Have these been done, and
with what results? (4) It is perfectly clear that the citizens around the
tar ponds have been exposed, through no fault of their own, to highly
toxic, noxious, and intolerable pollution. I join those who urge you to
take steps to see that these unfortunate people are removed from this
disgraceful environment, forthwith. I would appreciate knowing your thouhts
on this
F. Clarke Fraser, OC, FRSC,etc. Molson Professor of Human Genetics, McGill
University, Montreal, QC.
81 Chute Road, Bear River, NS, B0S1B0
Elizabeth May, Sydney residents deserve our support
Elizabeth May, executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada, is on a
hunger strike to get governments to relocate families living near the Syney
"tar ponds", Canada's most toxic site, 35 times more polluted than was the
infamous Love Canal

Why now? Elizabeth took this drastic step because, after over 15 years of
working on this issue, and knowing people whose health is at risk, she just
coulnd't stand it any longer. When the government had yet another study
confirm the toxicity of the site, and still say they needed more time or
more information before they would move the families, she started her hunger
strike on May 1.

Some people criticize Elizabeth for undertaking a hunger strike. But with
all the crises we are aware of, we can end up wondering where to begin. We
can thank Elizabeth for seizing the moment on this particular crisis, and
finding a way to make our efforts count.

Elizabeth's action actually inspired the first letter to authorities from my
(translated from the French)

"I am 12 years old and my name is Sophie. I am a friend of Elizabeth May's
daughter. I know it isn't my business but I think it is unfair to allow
Elizabeth May to die of hunger when you could very easily do something. You
should be ashamed of yourself. And think of Victoria Cate. If her mother
dies, she won't have any mother any more. It will be your fault."

I reassured my daughter that Elizabeth May will not continue until death; I
myself would have thought that Elizabeth would be looking for a way to end
her hunger strike by now, but she is determined to continue until the
government puts in place a permanent program to relocate families living in
the contaminated area. Token measures just won't cut it any longer.
Thankfully, many MPs have been supportive of Elizabeth in her hunger strike
and there is reason to hope...

We, as citizens, have a responsibility to help. We may not be able to cure
all the world's ills right now, but we can at least make a start. 

sincerely, Jan Slakov, President, Enviro-Clare, box 35, Weymouth, NS B0W 3T0
(902) 837-4980
Elizabeth May, directrice executive du Sierra Club du Canada fait une grève
de la faim pour qu'on démenage les familles habitant des endroits contaminés
à Sydney.

Pourquoi maintenant? C'est que Elizabeth travaille sur ce dossier depuis
plus de 15 ans, elle connaît des gens dont la santé est en danger et elle
n'en pouvait plus quand elle a appris que le gouvernement avait, à nouveau,
une étude qui indiquait que la région près de "tar ponds" à Sydney était
contaminée, mais qu'il n'allait quand même pas démenager les familles.

Maintenant le ministre fédéral de la santé, Allan Rock, dit qu'il voudrait
mettre en place un programme de démenagement mais qu'il faudrait la
coopération du gouvernement provincial. Or, le premier ministre John Hamm a
refusé de rencontrer une délégation de Sydney qui est allé à Halifax le 10
mai. Il a dit que les résidents voulaient une solution hâtive et que lui
voulait agir correctement ("do the right thing"). 

Après plus de 15 ans, sachant que ce site est au  moins 35 fois plus
contaminé que le Love Canal et que c'est le site le plus pollué en Amérique
du Nord, n'est-ce pas qu'il faudrait, sans plus tarder, au moins démenager
les familles habitant cette région contaminée?

Certaines personnes critiquent Elizabeth May d'avoir fait une grève de la
faim. Mais, avec toutes les crises au monde, nous avons besoin que quelqu'un
qui nous est cher prenne les choses en main et nous incite, finalement, à ne
plus attendre d'autres études avant d'agir.

L'action d'Elizabeth May a inspiré la première lettre aux décideurs de ma
fille; la voici :

"J'ai 12 ans et je m'appelle Sophie. Je suis une amie de la fille
d'Elizabeth May. Je sais que c'est pas de mes affaires mais je trouve ça
injuste de laisser Elizabeth May mourir de faim quand vous pouvez faire
quelque chose très facilement. Vous devriez avoir honte de vous. Et pensez à
Victoria Cate. Si sa mère meure elle n'aura plus de mère du tout. Ce sera de
votre faute."

J'ai rassuré Sophie qu'Elizabeth May ne continuera pas jusqu'à la mort; je
pensais même qu'Elizabeth abandonnerait après les deux semaines qui ont
maintenant écoulées, mais elle est déterminée à continuer! Le député de
South West Nova, où j'habite, l'a encouragé la semaine dernière, ainsi que
beaucoup d'autres politiciens et autres personnes concernées. J'espère que
quand cette lettre sera publiée, un programme de démenagement sera en place
et Elizabeth sera, à nouveau, en pleine forme. C'est à nous, le public, de
l'appuyer, d'insister que nos décideurs fassent ce qu'il faut faire pour
protéger les gens qui habitent trop près des "tar ponds".

Jan Slakov
présidente, Enviro-Clare
Weymouth, NS