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UPDATE: 250 gather in Thunder Bay for Great Lakes public forum

Earlier today, Barlow visited the shoreline of Lake Superior to learn more about the clean-up needs of the lake.

More than 250 people are gathered at the Italian Cultural Centre in Thunder Bay at this moment for a ‘Great Lakes Need Great Friends’ public forum. Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow is speaking alongside Ellen Mortfield, the Executive Director of EcoSuperior, and Charlene Rogers, the President of Environment North.

The north-western Ontario city is located on Lake Superior, the largest of the Great Lakes (and the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area).

The Chronicle-Journal reports, “Lake Superior and the rest of the Great Lakes aren’t immune to the water problems faced elsewhere, veteran water rights activist Maude Barlow told a local gathering on Thursday evening. …Barlow said that though the lakes compose 95 per cent of the surface freshwater in Canada, they can’t take the pressure being exerted on them. With massive amounts of chemical, nuclear and sewage waste being dumped or finding its way into the watershed, the Great Lakes are in crisis, she said. …Barlow added, ‘We take more water from the lakes every day than we and nature put back in.’ That can’t go on forever, she said. …While there will always be private businesses that access lake water for their uses, private interests should be subordinate to public interests, she argued. The provincial government isn’t doing much to help, she said. And, she added, ‘the Harper government is setting out…to dismantle the protections for Canada’s water.'”

“‘We have to start making strong demands now and stop thinking in incrementals,’ Barlow said to a round of applause from the audience. A new vision and plan needs to be acted on to save the bounty of the lakes for future generations, she continued. The watershed must be treated as a communal resource, carefully protected both for our own long-term benefit and for the benefit of the rest of the natural world that relies upon it. ‘The Great Lakes need great friends and we are their hope for survival,’ Barlow concluded, to a standing ovation.”

“Ellen Mortfield, executive director of EcoSuperior, and Charlene Rogers, president of the board of directors for Environment North, also spoke at the event. Rogers gave a presentation on possible nuclear waste sites in Northern Ontario and how they could affect the region, highlighting the dangers of transporting radioactive materials near lakes and the communities that surround them. Mortfield urged individuals to take a stand for the lakes, even if it was by taking small steps such as reducing shower time and use of toxic cleaning agents.”

“The speakers urged the audience to contact local, provincial and federal politicians about the need to protect the Great Lakes. A petition addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper about the issue is available on The Council of Canadians website at www.canadians.org.”

A CBC report on the tour has noted, “Maude Barlow said she often hears how much people love the Great Lakes but the chair of the Council of Canadians warned we don’t love them enough. She said they’re under attack by pollution, invasive species and a host of other threats. Millions rely on the lakes for their drinking water. …Barlow said water is a human right and that it’s time to redefine the Great Lakes as a ‘commons’ where political jurisdiction and national borders take a back seat to shared management.”

The tour launched in Toronto (on May 15 with 125 people in attendance, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=15129), then went to Hamilton the next night (on May 16 with 350 people in the audience, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=15158), and after tonight’s public forum in Thunder Bay continues on to Kingston (May 22), Sarnia (May 24), Tiny Township (May 28), Owen Sound (May 29),and London (May 30).

For more on the campaign and the tour, please go to http://canadians.org/greatlakes.