Mary Gorman is a Green Hero, local activist, and Sierra Club Member who has dedicated her life to protecting the Gulf of St. Lawrence. She has lived for decades in the toxic legacy of the Pictou County pulp mill - her family’s cottage was on its once pristine shores.
Mary’s parliamentary petition calls for the federal government to accept its responsibility for a real clean-up of Boat Harbour, a toxic waste site that has been taking pulp effluent, sewage and other industrial waste for decades, and prevent more pollution from flowing into the Northumberland Strait. The petition calls for our leaders to recognize they need to step up to keep the waters and fisheries of the Strait clean and healthy.
The Northern Pulp paper mill in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, ably assisted by federal and provincial politicians, has been the source of pollution, environmental racism, and injustice for decades.
Joan Baxter's excellent book The Mill is a shocking indictment of decades of pollution and injustice, and how such wrongs can occur within what we perceive as a modern democracy with frameworks meant to protect citizens and the environment.
The Mill documents decisions made to initiate and prop up the pulp mill in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, originally owned by paper giant Scott Paper, now called Northern Pulp, and owned by Paper Excellence, a subsidiary of Asia Pulp and Paper.
To those familiar with the politics of rural vote-taking (I will not say job-making, as there are many other sustainable alternatives that don't involve this kind of destruction) the story is a cliché – politicians ruling relatively small populations hoodwinked over and over again by corporations who have a “grab and go” philosophy regarding local resources. Concerns about the health of local citizens ignored or, if acknowledged, cynically weighed against the ability to promise prosperity and jobs before the next election.
Along with the Nova Scotia Environmental Network, the Atlantic Canada Chapter of Sierra Club held its annual gathering near Boat Harbour in 2011, because we were alarmed about the environmental racism that resulted in the destruction of a tidal estuary known as Boat Harbour being turned into a toxic soup that made it impossible for some people to breathe on warm summer nights.
I recall elder Daniel Paul, author of We Were Not the Savages talking about how the site was chosen because governments and industry of the day disregarded impacts on the Mi’kmaq community at Pictou Landing, destroying a place used so extensively for fishing and recreation it was referred to as “The Other Room” in Mi’kmaq. Dr. Paul told us government officials told the Pictou Landing band chief and councillors were taken on a trip to St. John, New Brunswick and asked to drink water downstream of the mill there - to show them how safe the waste in Boat Harbour would be. The unit they were downstream of that day only came online two years later.
We now know the burbling bubbling mess that is Boat Harbour today contains dioxins, furans, chloride, mercury and other toxic heavy metals. Cleaning up the toxic waste at the site and restoring it to the tidal lagoon that once supported local fishing and recreation will take $133 million - with government, not the mill, footing the bill.
For decades, government after government has promised to clean up the site. Finally, in 2014, a pipe carrying the 90 million litres per day of pulp effluent to Boat Harbour burst (for the second time in 6 years), Mi'kmaq leaders and elders and their allies refused to budge from the spot – essentially refusing to allow the effluent to flow once more. Their courage and determination finally created the political will for the provincial Liberal government and then Environment Minister Randy DeLorey, to legislate timelines for the clean-up of Boat Harbour. The final deadline for clean-up is January 31, 2020.
In more recent years, non-indigenous people in nearby Pictou rose up to oppose air pollution from the mill - which sometimes creates smog and stench so thick it’s hard to see, not to mention breathe. Through action and inquiry, the community insisted on finding out what the mill was emitting (which - believe it or not - was being monitored by the mill itself and was not being released to the public) and then pushed for and got greater air pollution controls to protect human health and quality of life for residents. Controls which the mill owners saw fit to question in court.
But what will be done with the pulp effluent once Boat Harbour is closed - as it must be - remains a question. Northern Pulp wants to treat the waste by separating liquids and solids, aerating and then releasing the remaining wastewater into the Northumberland Strait, the shallow strip of water that separates Prince Edward Island from Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. It is feared that the effluent will affect the thriving and sustainable lobster and other coastal fisheries that are integral to the local economy and culture.
After decades of mistrust and bad behaviour on the part of the mill and local politicians, people have finally had enough. In July, the largest public demonstration in Nova Scotia’s history was held on the Pictou Waterfront. Representatives of Pictou Landing First Nation, tourism and fishing industries, government, and environmental organizations were present to say no to pumping effluent in the Strait.
Shockingly, in the weeks after the demonstration, Prime Minister Trudeau claimed the federal government had no responsibility to protect fisheries and fish habitat in Northumberland Strait from the toxic effluent, and that they would not interfere in "provincial jurisdiction."
The fight to stop Northern Pulp from moving its pollution from Boat Harbour to Northumberland Strait is at the nexus of so many environmental issues that plagued Nova Scotia and Canada over the years. Industrial over-capacity devastating renewable resources, environmental racism and colonialism, and using human health as a bargaining chip as the “cost of doing business” in rural economies. Corporate handouts on behalf of players that cleave to the free market agenda when it comes to "deregulation" of environmental controls and monitoring is a cherry on the cake - as the mill has received numerous subsidies and incentives for taxpayers over the years.
These themes will resonate with so many people across this country- because they have lived them.
Which is why we need you, whether you live in Nova Scotia or have only seen our beautiful shorelines in videos and books - to sign up and take action.
National Program Director