On June 23, 2016, supporters of Grassy Narrows First Nation (Asubpeeschoseewagong) dumped several barrels of liquid onto the pavement in front of Queen's Park in Toronto. The barrels, filled with a mixture of corn starch, water, and paint, were labelled with the toxic symbol and the words "Mercury Kills", a reference to the mercury that has contaminated, since the 1960's, the waterways Grassy Narrows relies on for fish and water.
After the action, the six individuals involved were arrested and held for 24 hours, then released following a bail hearing. They each faced two charges, one for mischief over $5000 and the other for wearing a disguise with the intent to commit an indictable offence (Disguise with intent - Section 351 (2) of the Canadian Criminal Code). The "disguises" were exactly as pictured above here. Due to this second offence, the protesters were facing a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
Yesterday, on December 7, 2016, almost six month after the action, all charges were dropped. The reason is unclear at the moment.
Several defendents reported the past six months as being somewhat stressful, but affirmed that they are committed to seeing Grassy Narrow's waters cleaned up. At the time of the action in Queen's Park they had known that they were taking a risk, but were prepared to face the consequences.
"The contrast was obvious: within 10 minutes of spilling cornstarch at Queen's Park the hazmat team showed up to clean it up and cordon it off, but meanwhile [in Grassy Narrows] 50 years later, 9 tonnes of mercury has never been cleaned up," says Shelagh Pizey-Allen, one of the defendants. Asked whether the severe charges had changed her outlook, Pizey-Allen responds, "We will continue to support Grassy Narrows and their demand for a river clean up until it happens."
Karl Gardner, another of the protesters who acted in solidarity with Grassy Narrows, says "[this action] has only sharpened my resolve." Gardner and Pizey-Allen both stress that the risk they took is negligible compared to the every day reality of mercury poisoning in Grassy Narrows. ""Families and the people of Grassy Narrows continue to get sick, and they have continued to get sick in the six months that [the government] dragged out these court charges, and they will continue to get sick every day they don't take action," says Gardner.
The Ontario government has faced pressure for decades to clean Grassy Narrows' waters after an upstream pulp mill dumped 9 tonnes of mercury in the English-Wabigoon River system in the 1960's and 1970's. The fish in Grassy Narrows are the most heavily mercury-contaminated in Ontario, and 90% of residents tested show symptoms of mercury poisoning. Recently, pressure for a clean-up has intensified, with David Suzuki and scientist David Schindler writing a letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne calling her out on her inaction and her baseless rationale for not moving ahead with a clean-up. The letter has garnered the attention of several celebrities in Canada.
Visit freegrassy.net for updates on the struggle for a clean-up in Grassy Narrows.