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Mattagami First Nation sues CN Rail over oil spills in Kazaway Lake and Makami River

A bridge over Makami River is shown after a train derailment in 2015.  Photo by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

The Mattagami First Nation is suing CN Rail for $30 million for oil spills in Kazaway Lake, Makami River and connected waterways near Gogoma (about 200 kilometres north of Sudbury, Ontario) in 2015.

The Canadian Press reports, “A northern Ontario Indigenous community is suing CN Rail for alleged environmental and cultural damage caused by two 2015 derailments that led to significant oil spills. The $30 million suit alleges that the damage, in turn, has created health risks for the population and crippled community members’ ability to observe their Indigenous traditions including fishing, hunting and gathering.”

The article adds, “The lawsuit alleges that problems began for the Mattagami First Nation late on Feb. 14, 2015, when 29 cars carrying crude oil derailed near Gogama. It said the derailment took place alongside a wetlands area and a stream, resulting in the spilled oil entering the environment almost immediately. Oil eventually migrated into nearby Kazaway Lake, the statement of claim said. …Scarcely three weeks later, the suit said 39 oil-bearing cars derailed just west of Gogama on March 7, 2015, destroying a rail bridge in the process. Some of the cars were submerged in the Makami River, the suit said, adding the spilled oil then travelled into at least five connected waterways.”

It also notes, “The suit alleges negligence from CN and claims the rail company breached its standard of care when conducting operations ranging from track maintenance to staff training. It also alleges CN has created a corporate culture that valued speed over safety.”

The statement of claim says, “The relationship Mattagami First Nation has to the land in its traditional territory is profound and interconnected with all things. The land is the source of life, spirituality, teaching and everything in between. The importance of the land, in its unaltered form, for Mattagami First Nation cannot be overstated.”

The Harper government weakened the approval process for pipelines, hydro lines, bridges and other infrastructure that impact waterways and fisheries. Despite their election promises, the Trudeau government has yet to take significant action to restore and enhance protections for lakes and rivers across this country.