Whistleblower alleges province failing to guard First Nations group in ‘Chemical Valley’ from ‘harmful’ air pollution

A authorities whistleblower claims the province’s atmosphere ministry has for years did not correctly defend the Aamjiwnaang First Nation — whose ancestral land close to Sarnia is surrounded by petroleum refineries and chemical crops — from doubtlessly harmful ranges of sulphur dioxide air emissions on account of “systemic discrimination” that features yielding to “secretive” business lobbying to loosen up compliance requirements.

Scott Grant, 56, is a senior combustion and air air pollution engineer on the Ministry of the Setting, Conservation and Parks. He alleges that top-level ministry managers have withheld technical and scientific details about sulphur dioxide impacts and caved to business pursuits whereas failing to correctly seek the advice of Aamjiwnaang First Nation representatives — all of which Grant says places residents at “unreasonable” well being and security dangers in an space often known as “Chemical Valley.”

Grant’s claims are contained in materials supporting his Ontario Labour Relations Board grievance software filed in August in opposition to atmosphere deputy minister Serge Imbrogno.

The 30-year ministry worker claims Imbrogno is chargeable for office reprisals he skilled after confidentially disclosing discrimination issues to Imbrogno in January. The ministry rejects each Grant’s allegations of systemic discrimination and his claims of office reprisals.

The grievance arbitration, submitted beneath the Public Service of Ontario Act, is scheduled for Thursday.

Grant says in his grievance that he beforehand submitted to senior ministry workers confidential claims of wrongdoing associated to Aamjiwnaang First Nation; in 2009 (alleging “reckless” disregard for public security) and 2014 (he claims two senior ministry managers “exhibited a discriminatory angle” towards Aamjiwnaang). Grant asserts a “long-term sample of ostracization” started in 2009, with senior administration reassigning his engineering work.

The ministry, in a response to the labour board relating to Grant’s grievance, mentioned there may be “no suggestion that his employment has ever been adversely affected and, specifically: his employment with the ministry has not ended; there have been no threats to finish his employment; he has not been topic to self-discipline nor any threats to impose self-discipline; he has not been topic to any penalty associated to his employment nor any threats to impose any penalty; there was no intimidation or coercion of him in relation to his employment; and his efficiency opinions have all the time been optimistic.”

Imbrogno, in Aamjiwnaang on Monday for a gathering the ministry requested with Chief Chris Plain, advised the Star — who was additionally there — he gained’t touch upon inside human assets issues.

Surrounded by petroleum refineries and chemical plants, Aamjiwnaang First Nation is located near Sarnia in an area known as "Chemical Valley."

Grant started working immediately with the Aamjiwnaang group in 2007 as a part of his ministry duties to look at air high quality. Right now, he asserts residents are nonetheless not secure.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that this group has been positioned at unreasonable threat of hurt because of air air pollution from close by petroleum refineries and chemical crops,” he wrote in his grievance paperwork, referring to the business’s use of acid gasoline flaring.

Petroleum refineries use acid gasoline flaring as a technique to burn off extra sulphur from crude oil if that extra can’t be safely managed. Sulphur is faraway from crude for merchandise like gasoline and diesel fuels.

In a abstract of his grievance filed with the labour board, Grant wrote “harmful acid gasoline flaring practices” that discharge sulphur dioxide into the air expose “delicate people” such because the younger, aged or asthmatics to a spread of potential respiratory troubles.

In January, Grant wrote to Imbrogno — who can be the ministry’s ethics govt — to report what he described as ministry “wrongdoing associated to the systemic discrimination in opposition to the Aamjiwnaang First Nation.” One among Grant’s key issues: the ministry’s new regulation 530/18, enacted final December, that he claims exempts the petroleum business from making substantive efforts to attenuate the variety of flarings till 2023. He additionally alleges Aamjiwnaang representatives weren’t consulted in growing the regulation.

In Ontario, at present there isn’t any restrict to what number of occasions a plant can flare, nevertheless, beneath the brand new regulation, services could also be fined for exceeding inside a 24-hour interval sulphur dioxide emission quantities set by the ministry.

Grant claims Imbrogno gave his disclosure a “damaging response” in a three-page letter dated Feb. 11 and, regardless of being what he calls a “chief within the subject of air air pollution engineering and program growth,” Grant says a sample of exclusion and ostracization adopted. He cites an “illegal” reprisal instance as being excluded from conferences and engineering work associated to his profession experience.

In that Feb. 11 letter to Grant, Imbrogno defended the brand new acid gasoline flaring regulation as efficient. Imbrogno wrote “… the ministry’s view is that the regulation is not going to enhance the danger of hurt to the Aamjiwnaang and Walpole Island First Nation communities.”

The deputy minister additionally acknowledged within the letter that petroleum business consultants have been intently concerned with the ministry in crafting the proposed 530/18 regulation and that First Nations’ issues have been “thought of in finalizing the regulation.”

“Extra detailed discussions with representatives from petroleum refineries occurred to make sure the proposed laws was technically sound,” wrote Imbrogno, who additionally refuted Grant’s allegations of systemic discrimination. “In particular regard to O. Reg. 530/18,” he wrote within the letter, “I can guarantee you its growth was by no means motivated by discriminatory views in opposition to Indigenous communities.”

Ministry spokesperson Gary Wheeler mentioned in an electronic mail to the Star that: “The ministry takes issues about air high quality in Sarnia and throughout Ontario very significantly and has robust protections in place to control air contaminants launched by numerous sources, together with industrial and industrial services.” Wheeler additionally acknowledged the ministry “has labored intently for a number of years with each the Aamjiwnaang and Walpole Island First Nations communities to reinforce their engagement in air monitoring and air high quality within the Sarnia space.”

Chief Plain mentioned his group has been proactive in growing relationships with the ministry and the petroleum business and collectively, environmental safety good points have been made.

Nevertheless, Plain and his environmental co-ordinater, Sharilyn Johnston — a former atmosphere ministry enforcement officer — mentioned they’re usually annoyed by authorities foot-dragging on requests like enforcement of current air high quality requirements, sharing air monitoring information, getting replies to correspondence and conducting honest nation-to-nation consultations in accordance with Aamjiwnaang’s established protocols.

Aamjiwnaang First Nation Chief Chris Plain said he is frustrated by what he sees as a lack of government enforcement of air quality standards. "They listen but there's no willingness to express any kind of movement on these types of requests."

“Listening appears to be the simple half,” Plain mentioned.

“They hear however there’s no willingness to precise any form of motion on these kinds of requests.”

Johnston, who calls Grant a “hero” and a “champion” of the Aamjiwnaang, mentioned her group being excluded from growing the flaring regulation was “an enormous failure” by the atmosphere ministry.

Johnston advised the Star she had no concept the regulation was being created till she acquired a cellphone name from a ministry official in December of 2018. She mentioned she was advised the proposal was achieved, that it was being posted that very same day and did she have any issues earlier than it grew to become official?

“We didn’t actually have any time to take a look at it,” she mentioned, recalling the band workplace was closed for 2 weeks on the time.

“We referred to as (again) and mentioned ‘Listed here are our issues,’ however that was means too late to ever be concerned within the course of,” Johnston continued.

“So if you discuss engagement and session and responsibility, that was a failure. And an enormous failure.”

Stephanie Montreuil, spokesperson for the Canadian Fuels Affiliation, mentioned in an electronic mail to the Star that the business group and its members “are pleased with our relationship with Aamjiwnaang First Nation.”

“The group has been a robust advocate for improved air high quality within the space as we work collectively towards more and more improved business environmental efficiency,” Montreuil mentioned.

This Indigenous group of two,500 trapped inside considered one of Canada’s most polluted locations has lengthy been studied and assessed by environmental teams and authorities companies, together with provincial Setting commissioners and the United Nations.

Baskut Tuncak, UN particular rapporteur on hazardous substances and waste, toured elements of Canada this summer time, together with the Sarnia space.

He described Aamjiwnaang’s state of affairs as “deeply unsettling,” with greater than 60 industrial services on three sides of the group “that create the physiological and psychological stress amongst group members relating to the danger of impending explosions or different disasters, in addition to all kinds of well being impacts from unquestionably toxic persistent exposures.”

Tuncak additionally wrote: “It’s acknowledged that current rules don’t defend the well being of Aamjiwnaang.”

Toronto lawyer David Donnelly represents Grant in his grievance software. He mentioned Grant’s grievance “confirms that senior bureaucrats have constantly failed to guard this group by not permitting scientists and engineers to do their job to guard human well being and the atmosphere.”

“We have to dig deeper and uncover precisely why,” Donnelly mentioned.

Grant seeks two “cures” in his settlement-by-arbitration listening to.

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First, he’s asking for $186,000 “to restore the hurt attributable to the illegal reprisals.” Then, he needs the ministry to start discussions with him and Aamjiwnaang representatives “with the purpose of offering capability funding and to develop a program” that will grant authority to Aamjiwnaang to implement Ontario air air pollution necessities that influence their territory, moderately than the ministry.

And if the arbitrator dismisses his monetary request however helps a path towards Aamjiwnaang’s autonomy to guard their land?

“I’d be happier than hell,” Grant mentioned in an interview.

“My purpose is to make sure a significant nation-to-nation dialogue.”

Plain mentioned the prospect of Aamjiwnaang changing into its personal environmental safety authority is desired.

“The magic-wand want is we do it ourselves,” the chief mentioned.


The grass, even in October, remains to be deeply inexperienced in Aamjiwnaang’s cemetery. Sprays of contemporary flowers adorn gravesites. Older tombstones, smaller and naked, date again to the late 1800s, their chiselled letters worn easy from the weather.

This sacred floor was as soon as a serene place for mourning, reflection and remembrance. However that was earlier than petroleum and chemical industries started shifting into the realm about 70 years in the past, ultimately cramming three sides of the cemetery with buildings, mammoth containment tanks, twisting tangles of pipes, lights, vans and vehicles.

There’s a towering acid gasoline stack across the nook from the cemetery. Within the occasion of an acid gasoline flare, a cloud of sulphur dioxide would discharge in that space, which can be near a road of tidy properties.

Acid gasoline stacks are peppered round Aamjiwnaang lands. Chief Chris Plain says the stacks flare “continuously,” and he doesn’t must see the flaring to understand it’s occurring.

“One simply occurred final week,” mentioned Plain.

“We will really feel it. We will hear it. Our homes shake, the foundations shake. You’ll be able to really feel the vibration in your home.”

Past air air pollution worries, business noise compounds the checklist of environmental issues in Aamjiwnaang.

Sharilyn Johnston, environmental co-ordinater for Aamjiwnaang First Nation Chief Chris Plain, alleges the environment ministry excluded her community when it developed a recent acid gas flaring regulation, calling it "a big failure."

On the cemetery, there isn’t any silence. Noise from an adjoining pipeline facility blares like a fleet of huge large rigs whose horns shriek, continuous. There’s additionally a definite oscillation; the whup-whup-whup of equipment spills over the cemetery grounds.

Sharilyn Johnston mentioned fixed industrial noise is a part of the cumulative results of environmental air pollution in her group, simply as air, water and soil are affected by business contaminants. She mentioned residents complain their conventional methods, equivalent to holding fasting camps, sweat lodges or meditations, are disturbed.

“It impacts our way of life, you may’t take pleasure in your land,” she mentioned. “It impacts our tradition and practices that maintain our group,” she mentioned. “It’s onerous to seek out these little spots the place it’s quiet, for contemplation.”

Grant mentioned he has labored intently with the Aamjiwnaang group on air air pollution management points for practically a decade. He mentioned that have taught him what true session with First Nations means.

“Aamjiwnaang have a (session) protocol they developed and it’s about listening — and listening to a wide range of members of their group,” Grant mentioned in an interview.

“It’s about giving them a chance to ask questions … it’s not simply speaking to Sharilyn and her crew but additionally the chief, his council, the atmosphere committee and particular person teams just like the elders and the moms’ group.”

Grant mentioned “it grew to become clear in a short time there’s a lengthy historical past of their love for the land, their connection to the land and their group.”

“It wasn’t only a allow we have been or giving an approval for some industrial proposal; it was ‘How does this really influence the group (who had) been wonderful stewards of the land for actually 1000’s of years?’ ” he mentioned. “We have to respect that.”

“Mr. Grant didn’t got down to grow to be a whistleblower,” mentioned lawyer David Donnelly, noting Grant’s motion will price him mates in business and authorities.

“However the name to behave within the identify of reality and reconciliation overcame his allegiance to a ministry and system he’d been loyal to for practically three many years.”

Grant will retire on the finish of this 12 months. He utilized for and acquired a civil servant exit incentive. He mentioned the alleged reprisals have been “a key side” in his resolution to go.

In an interview, he mentioned he realizes some folks, together with colleagues, may assume he’s merely a disgruntled worker, however he insists that’s not true.

“At this stage of life, you wish to do belongings you be ok with.”