A cottage on the Ottawa?

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Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan


Dispatches from the 148 by Fred Ryan

A week ago I spent an evening at a friend’s cottage along the Ottawa River watching the sun set after one of our first twenty-degree days. We listened to the geese settling in for the night, an occasional duck quacking his objections – and then a loon called from the water, the first I’ve heard this year. There were frogs, too, and like frosting on the cake, three deer carefully approached from behind the cottage. What an evening!
We had been talking about a letter received by the Journal from a reader in Trois Rivieres who revealed rather startling news from his native France (also dealing with a huge backlog of nuclear waste). He reports (it’s on page 4) that the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which has tried war-criminals from the Balkans to Africa, has expanded its concept of human rights and liberties to include our right to a clean and healthy environment. France, he writes, has labelled various crimes against the environment as eco-cide; this covers some nuclear waste disposal, the Achilles heel of the nuclear industry. The writer concluded that we may soon see politicians and corporate executives on the dock of The Hague for crimes of “ecocide”.
Several nations of the world have already written this into their criminal codes – the right to a healthy environment, clean water and air and even healthy food. These are human needs, and thus they are human rights. We have rarely considered them as such, and have instead relied on local legislation and appeals to morality to pause anyone contemplating actions which will damage or even threaten to damage their surroundings.
My host and I agreed that this might be an advance in jurisprudence which our own MP, a former environmental lawyer, might finally feel moved to comment on. Many of us in the Pontiac, startled by the apparent carelessness of the planning of the Chalk River radioactive dump project, have expected MP Amos to speak up and defend his constituents, even if it meant crossing into territory forbidden of comment by our two largest political parties. 
It is unlikely there will be any jobs lost if the Chalk River dump is cancelled, since the radioactive waste – and other concerns – will remain there, and require tending by employees.  Now that so many scientists have questioned the wisdom of this dump upstream on the Ottawa River, pointing out that the project does not meet even minimal international standards, we had expected to have the project sent back to the drawing board. There are so many alternative sites and methods for dealing with this material, why take such a risk here? Now, we learn that these risks alone could open the politicians and the corporations involved to serious international legal charges.
Last weekend at a funeral, I met a geologist following the service. Of the Chalk River dump, he told us, “when I was studying geology, we did a survey of regions most liable for a serious earthquake. Of course the West Coast was first, but the Quebec City area and the Ottawa Valley are in second place.” This certainly added to the funeral’s already somber atmosphere.
And then, heading home after the cottage sunset, I listened to a CD by “TriContinental”, whose lyrics include these lines, “What are the things worth knowing? Where do we think this will lead?” Those two lines reached out from the song and grabbed me by the heart.
Haven’t we learned that future generations, our grandchildren and their
children, are our most valuable possessions – and our genuine responsibilities? Building a massive radioactive dump near a major water source for four to six million Canadians, on a fault line, all “protected” by a fabric covering . . . where do we think this will lead?
Have we really learned so little? Do you and I really care so little about where these actions, our actions, are leading that we are willing to say and do nothing, while well-paid blab artists talk us into accepting this disaster-waiting-to-happen? Even if the executives approving this end up in International Criminal Court, we’ll still be stuck with this Fukushima upstream. Our gift to our grandchildren?