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UPDATE: 350 people at Great Lakes event in Hamilton

This evening about 350 people gathered for a standing room only public forum on the Great Lakes in Hamilton. As reported by CBC Hamilton earlier this week, “The chair of the Council of Canadians will speak about protecting the Great Lakes during a stop in Hamilton on May 16. Maude Barlow will present ‘Great Lakes Need Great Friends’ as part of an eight-city tour. Barlow will discuss how to protect the Great Lakes from private interests and restore democratic control over them. The event is at Hamilton First Unitarian Church, 170 Dundurn St. S., at 7:30 p.m. Admission and parking are free.”

Tonight, the Hamilton Spectator reports, “The head of the Council of Canadians listed a litany of troubles the Great Lakes face when she spoke Wednesday in Hamilton on the second day of a two-week Ontario tour she has undertaken to get support for a proposal to have the watershed protected as a public trust. …Barlow said there have been successes such as the reduction of the ‘dead zone’ in Lake Erie, but she noted more than 200 toxic pollutants are still dumped in the Great Lakes, massive contamination from agribusiness continues, wetlands are disappearing at an alarming rate and foreign species are threatening the watershed.”

“Many of us see the Great Lakes as a precious resource… others see the Great Lakes as a great big dollar sign,’ Barlow said. ‘The story of the Great Lakes is one of exploitation … the threats are growing.’ …She said the council would like to create ‘a new narrative’ for the watershed where it is declared ‘a common heritage enjoyed by all, not just the few, which I would argue is the current situation.’ The public trust would have some legal weight, though ultimately she would like to see a treaty. In the meantime, there would be some way to have common goals on such issues as toxic dumping, sewage, invasive species, pipelines and ocean-going vessel access to the Great Lakes. Barlow said the trust would take into account an economic interest for the lakes, but she would like to see that governed ‘by democratic laws’.”

“The event also featured appeals from Mark Mattson, president of Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, and Lynda Lukasik, executive director from Environment Hamilton. The gathering also heard from two Grade 8 students at Hillfield-Strathallan College, Sinclair Jeejeebhoy and Hamzah Khan, both 14, who joined with Barlow last fall on a project to highlight the importance of water at their west Mountain private school. The school has banned plastic water bottles and the two students hosted an assembly where they returned water bottles kept in the lost-and-found to students.”

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 continues tomorrow in Thunder Bay, and then it’s 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.