The Varsity
November 12, 2017
Ilya Bañares

Fighting a ‘toxic threat,’ Indigenous groups protest at Queen’s Park
Demonstration opposes government nuclear policy, discarding of toxic waste on Indigenous land

Members of the Anishinabek and Iroquois Caucus First Nations, as well as the Bawating Water Protectors, led a demonstration alongside environmental activists and supporters in Queen’s Park on November 9. The purpose of the protest was to demonstrate against the provincial government’s nuclear policy and the proposed discarding of toxic waste on Indigenous lands, as well as to push for renewable energy. At its peak, the crowd consisted of around 100 people.

The demonstration, named “We Want a Renewable Ontario,” called for the phasing out of the province’s nuclear stations. A particular focus was placed on the Pickering Nuclear Generating Station. Originally designed to halt operations in 2018, the current Liberal government pushed back the deadline to keep the station functional for four more years.

Protesters also criticized the Ontario Power Generation (OPG), a Crown corporation, for its plan to dump its nuclear waste on First Nations lands in the province, arguing that the proposal could “potentially [poison] the waterways, soil, and air forever with radioactive contamination.” A 2017 OPG report contended that a site near the Lake Huron coast would be the ideal location for the toxic refuse. In order for this to happen, Catherine McKenna, the Federal Environment Minister, would have to approve the plan.

The group also demanded that the provincial government accept Québec’s offer to supply renewable energy at a lower cost than Ontario can provide, potentially replacing the current power generated at nuclear stations. In a pamphlet distributed during the event, the coalition called on “Premier Wynne to support a deal with Quebec that would enable us to replace our high-cost nuclear generation with low-cost renewable water power.” Many signs during the assembly supported this message.

Most of the demonstrators carried signs reading “Close Pickering,” and flags with “Nuclear Power? No Thanks,” written on them.

Candace Day Neveau of the Bawating Water Protectors emphasized the critical role of Indigenous worldviews in this context. “In our language, there’s no word for owning the Earth,” she said. “The Canadian government is just absolutely disgusting, and I’ll say it again: Canada is not a country. It’s a settler idea. This is Turtle Island and we have to own that. We have to be accountable to our identities here.”

Glen Hare, Deputy Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation, called on media groups to “stand with us; fight with us,” eliciting reactions from CBC journalists on site covering the event. “Only when bad things happen to us are we in the spotlight,” he said.

Amanda Harvey-Sánchez, student member of Governing Council and Academic Director for Social Sciences at the University of Toronto Students’ Union, was among the attendees. Harvey-Sánchez said in an email that she joined the rally “as an act of solidarity with Indigenous youth calling for a phase out of nuclear power in Ontario and a transition to 100% renewable energy.” Harvey-Sánchez reiterated that the proposed burial and abandonment of nuclear waste on Indigenous lands poses a threat to waterways and bodies of water like the Chalk River and Lake Huron. “The province and Canada more broadly has made a commitment to work towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples,” she said. “The abandonment of radioactive waste on their territory without consent stands in conflict with that commitment.”

Julia DaSilva, a second-year U of T student, was one of the protesters in Queen’s Park. “It’s really crucial that we have as many people as possible at events like this,” said DaSilva, “so that politicians can’t pretend that there isn’t public opposition to their irresponsibility — to their allowing the colonial project to continue.”

The group tried to bring a mock nuclear waste drum to the office of Premier Kathleen Wynne but were stopped by on-site security. The protestors then began chanting, “Take your waste, we don’t want it.”

The protest followed a panel from the previous day called “Toxic Threat: Radioactive Waste on Indigenous Lands” held at Massey College. The event hosted speakers Patrick Madahbee, Grand Chief of the Anishinabek Nation; Angela Bischoff, Outreach Director for the Ontario Clean Air Alliance; Neveau and Meawasige of the Bawating Water Protectors; and Dr. Gordon Edwards from the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility