Jeff Green | Apr 10, 2008
Feature Article - April 10, 2008
Back toHomeFeature Article -April 10, 2008 Citizens’ Inquiry draws a crowd in Sharbot Lakeby Jeff Green
Back in the cold days of December, when Donna Dillman was two and a half months into a hunger strike, and waiting in vain at Queen’s Park for the Province of Ontario to declare a public inquiry into the uranium cycle. That’s when the idea of going to the public directly with an inquiry was hatched.
Donna agreed to eat, which was the first objective for Wolfe Ehrlichman and Marilyn Crawford, who were with her in Toronto. Since then a lot of work has been done to establish a process to give people an opportunity to have their say on the broad issues surrounding uranium exploration, mining, processing, use of nuclear facilities, and the entire matter of the disposal of waste products.
The first hearing was scheduled for April 1st, at Sharbot Lake. This was in recognition of the role the protest against the Frontenac Ventures Corporation mining claim near the village has played in galvanizing interest in a whole complex of issues.
“We had presenters lined up for a full day of hearings,” said Donna Dillman (at left), “but we did not realise that so many people would come to hear what people had to say.”
The hearing room, which was the Anglican Church Hall in Sharbot Lake, was too small for the crowds, and eventually the hearings were moved to the main chapel of the church to accommodate everyone. Among the spectators were members of the Aboriginal studies class at Sharbot Lake High School.
Thirty-five pre-registered presenters each were given ten minutes to speak, and were encouraged to also submit their presentations in writing to the inquiry. The spoken submissions were made to the large public audience as well as to three invited panellists for the session. These included former public servant Fraser McVie, journalist Cameron Smith, and Central Frontenac Mayor Janet Gutowski.
“People want to be heard,” said Donna Dillman, “They have been writing to politicians and getting no response to their letters. What we provided is an opportunity for them to express their views, without pre-judging what these would be.”
Dillman said that there were many heartfelt presentations in Sharbot Lake about a broad range of issues connected to the nuclear industry and its impact. There was a focus on uranium mining and “the community, the water, the land, and the future.”
“This hearing took place so close to where the exploration project is located, and at a place where people have been living with this for the past nine months, that people had a lot of heartfelt things to say. I expect we will see different kinds of presentations at the next hearings, which are taking place in Kingston, Peterborough and Ottawa - locations that are somewhat removed from the direct impacts of the local project,” Dillman said. She added that in Peterborough delegations are coming from Bancroft, where there is a history of uranium mining and active exploration projects that are further advanced than the one in Robertsville.
Although letters went out to several provincial ministers and the premier, there were no ministry or premier's office representation at the Sharbot Lake session. There were, however, a dozen plain-clothed members of the Ontario Provincial Police in attendance.
“Considering the high profile of this issue, it's unfortunate that the government didn't send a representative,” said Dillman.
A letter from Minister Gravelle, from Mining and Northern Development, was received by the Concerned Citizens Against Mining Uranium, CCAMU, the group behind the inquiry.
In it he said he was unable to attend, and made a couple of points in regards to uranium exploration in Ontario, including the following: “Modern exploration for uranium deposits involves the use of geophysical instruments or drilling, which have very little impact on the environment.”
CCAMU sent a response to Minister Gravelle. On the issue of exploration it said, “CCAMU is concerned that exploration and mining is considered to be the best use of land, without first considering other land uses, such as residential, farming and recreational land use. We are concerned that there are no considerations given to the current use of land and the impact on people and community. There has been no consideration for the resolutions passed by 14 local municipalities, counties and cities from Kingston through to Ottawa, related to exploration for uranium.”
The results of the inquiry will be encapsulated in a report, tentatively scheduled for release on June 28, the one-year anniversary of the occupation of the Robertsville mine.