Indigenous services minister says he’s ‘eager’ to meet with Grassy Narrows chief over mercury treatment centre

Canada’s Indigenous services minister says he’s “eager” to meet with Grassy Narrows’s chief over the development of a specialized mercury treatment facility in the northern Ontario First Nation as the federal New Democrats added their voice to calls for the prime minister to visit the community.

At question period on Monday, Georgina Jolibois, the MP for Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River in northern Saskatchewan, asked whether Justin Trudeau would commit to “immediately” visiting the community northeast of Kenora, Ont.

A number of studies have linked the comparatively poor health of people in Grassy Narrows to the historical dumping of mercury-contaminated effluent by former owners of the mill in Dryden into the English-Wabigoon River system throughout most of the 1960s, making it one of Canada’s worst environmental disasters.

“Apologies from the prime minister aren’t good enough anymore,” Jolibois said, referencing Trudeau’s response to a video that showed him thanking an advocate for Grassy Narrows for her “donation” while she was being physically removed from a Liberal Party fundraiser in late March.

Grassy Narrows “needs actions and not words,” Jolibois said.

Trudeau wasn’t in the House on Monday — he was already scheduled to attend the state visit of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who is in Canada for three days.

Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett responded by saying that Ottawa “remains steadfast” in its commitment to build a promised treatment facility in the community for people suffering from the effects of decades of exposure to mercury.

Bennett added that Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan “is looking forward to meeting with Chief [Rudy] Turtle to determine how was can continue moving this critical work forward.”

O’Regan wasn’t present in the House Monday but his office said they’ve reached out to Grassy Narrows’s leadership about setting up a meeting.

Grassy Narrows Chief Rudy Turtle has said he and the community are frustrated by how long it’s taking to break ground on the treatment facility, noting that they had hoped to have shovels in the ground this spring.

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