Rally in Ottawa sends a clear message to government: Canadians expect justice for Indigenous nations impacted by toxic spill; federal government must use the full extent of its powers to hold Imperial Oil accountable 

Ottawa | Traditional, unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishinaabeg People –Today, Indigenous and environmental groups, along with members of the public, gathered on Parliament Hill to rally against Imperial Oil in solidarity with impacted Indigenous Nations affected by the recent toxic leak from its Kearl site in the tar sands. The rally took place on the day Imperial Oil’s CEO was called to answer questions in Parliament over the company’s handling of the toxic leak. 

Imperial Oil’s Kearl mine has been leaking toxic industrial wastewater, called tailings, onto the territories of numerous Indigenous communities, including Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation, for over nine months. Local Indigenous communities, the federal government, and the public were not informed of the leak until a separate incident spilled an additional 5.3 million litres of wastewater into the environment. This disaster underscores the ongoing failure of tar sands producers to responsibly manage their waste and the danger that poses to ecosystems and human health. 

Impacted Indigenous Nations testified at the ENVI committee earlier this week and are seeking justice for the damages caused by the Imperial oil spill and for the cover-up of the disaster. Supporters at the rally are calling for accountability and for federal charges to be laid against Imperial Oil for the disaster.

“Today’s hearings show Imperial Oil is more interested in protecting its image than in protecting human health and the environment. Imperial Oil is irresponsibly managing its toxic industrial waste, and in doing so,they have put Indigenous communities, who are already subjected to constant industrial pollution, at further risk. The federal government has been a passive bystander for too long. We demand they use their full powers to hold Imperial Oil accountable and to prevent any more toxins from tar sands mines from reaching the environment.” said Aliénor Rougeot, Climate and Energy Program Manager 

“Water is sacred. It’s our lifeblood. A lifeforce that is a sacred element in many Indigenous Peoples cultures around the globe. When companies like Imperial Oil recklessly pollute the waterways of Indigenous nations with toxic waste, they are not just threatening the environment, but also the very existence of the downstream communities. Our rally against Imperial Oil was a necessary act of resistance and of solidarity.” said Tori Cress, Communications Manager at Keepers of the Water and Anishinaabe from G’Chimnissing.

“I’m concerned about the moose I harvested, which is in my freezer right now, which I’ve shared with many people. Do I need to feel guilty or afraid that I have fed a contaminated animal to Elders and to loved ones? Now I have this fear of the long-term health effects that we are going to face.” said Jean LHommecourt, Keepers of the Water co-chair and Denesuline woman who lives just outside of Fort McKay. 

Photo credit: Environmental Defence Canada

Background information: 

  • Imperial Oil, the Alberta Energy Regulator, and Environment and Climate Change Canada are scheduled to appear at ENVI on April 20th and 24th.
  • The tar sands’ tailings “ponds” now contain over 1.4 trillion litres of waste, covering an area more than 2.6 times the size of Vancouver.
  • For more information about tar sands tailings “ponds” please see this fact sheet.

ABOUT ENVIRONMENTAL DEFENCE (environmentaldefence.ca): Environmental Defence is a leading Canadian environmental advocacy organization that works with government, industry and individuals to defend clean water, a safe climate and healthy communities.

About KEEPERS OF THE WATER (keepersofthewater.ca): Keepers of the Water are First Nations, Métis, Inuit, environmental groups, concerned citizens, and communities working together for the protection of water, air, land, and all living things within the Arctic Ocean Drainage Basin.

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For more information or to request an interview, please contact:

Paula Gray, Environmental Defence, media@environmentaldefence.ca

Jesse Cardinal, Keepers of the Water, ed@keepersofthewater.ca