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London chapter hosts talk with Vanessa Gray on environmental racism

London chapter: “Some of those who attended our meeting last night at which Vanessa Gray spoke on Environmental Racism in Canada.”

The Council of Canadians London chapter hosted a public forum last night featuring Vanessa Gray speaking on ‘Environmental Racism in Canada: The Frontline Reality’.

The promotion for the public forum had noted, “Vanessa Gray is a 24 year-old Anishinaabe kwe from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, located in Canada’s Chemical Valley. Vanessa has been working with community members to bring awareness to the health issues resulting from her reserve’s toxic surroundings. She is an organizer with the group Aamjiwnaang and Sarnia Against Pipelines (ASAP).”

Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow has stated, “The Aamjiwnaang First Nation is surrounded on three sides by toxic-belching industries and on the fourth by a Michigan coal plant. They are grappling with high levels of cancer, headaches, numbness and many other ailments that have brought them international attention in the last decade.”

Barlow has also highlighted, “Their water supply has been so contaminated by the petro-chemical industry that two girls are born for every boy. Under the obligation to protect – won with the United Nations recognition of the human right to water – governments must step in to ensure that third parties such as corporations or extractive industries aren’t destroying local water systems.”

There are 60 industrial facilities found within a 25 kilometre radius of Aamjiwnaang lands. Approximately 40 per cent of Canada’s petro-chemical industry is clustered in the area, which is why it’s often referred to as Chemical Valley.

The average life expectancy in the community is 55 years of age. Forty per cent of band members require an inhaler. A study conducted in 2004-05 found that 39 per cent of women in Aamjiwnaang had suffered through at least one stillbirth or miscarriage.

Residents of Aamjiwnaang have been calling for more detailed research to further establish the connection between the pollutants and these health issues, but funding has not been forthcoming from the federal and provincial governments.

This by definition is environmental racism.

Gray has also been an outspoken critic of the controversial Line 9 pipeline.

On December 21, 2015, Gray, along with Sarah Scanlon and Stone Stewart, closed a valve on Line 9 just west of Sarnia stopping oil transport on the pipeline for several hours before they were arrested. At that time, Gray stated, “It’s clear that tar sands projects represent an ongoing cultural and environmental genocide. I defend the land and water because it is sacred. I have the right to defend against anything that threatens my traditions and culture.”

Gray, Scanlon and Stewart were charged with several counts including mischief over $5000 (maximum sentence 10 years in prison) and mischief endangering life (which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison).

In November 2016, the London chapter held a fundraiser to help cover the legal costs for Gray, Scanlon and Stewart.

On January 13 of this year, all criminal charges against the three were dropped.