Having maintained all along that Strateco’s uranium mining exploration project in the Otish Mountains was not a threat to the surrounding environment, Guy Hebert seemed quite weary of what had transpired in Mistissini in the days following the two-day hearings.
While the President and CEO had anticipated some opposition to the project, what he didn’t see coming was who this opposition would be.
“The big surprise for us was that in Mistissini many high school students were targeted by the anti-uranium and anti-nuke activists. We find this very shocking,” said Hebert.
In particular, Hebert found it disturbing that the local high school had received repeated visits from activists like Dr. Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. And, after seeing what Edwards had presented to the students based on what he presented at the hearings, Hebert expressed his disgust that the youth had been subjected to that kind of subject matter.
“Their other focus was to show them a lot of atomic bomb processes. There were kids who came forward and said that 100% of the uranium produced in Canada goes for atomic bomb production. They actually said this.
“And, that wasn’t the worst to it. There were people coming up, many of them parents or teenagers who were saying that there would be nuclear fission meltdowns at the mine much like what happened at Chernobyl. It was so far away from anything that could possibly happen in reality,” said Hebert.
Hebert expressed deep frustration as he felt that the people of Mistissini, the youth in particular, were subjected to very one-sided information that was meant to scare them. Furthermore, he said what they were shown were images from previous eras that did not reflect the industry today.
And, Edwards was not the only person trying to dupe the public into rejecting the uranium project, Hebert said.
“When you see who is behind that with Dr. (Isabelle) Gingras, who is a psychiatrist, they really know which buttons to push to generate fear. This was really unacceptable. And, these kids are taking these pictures home and are probably having nightmares based on something that isn’t true,” said Hebert.
Hebert was also perturbed by the fact that many of the students spoke about atomic bombs, health concerns from nuclear bomb fallout and nuclear meltdowns, problems that he feels are unrelated to Strateco’s project.
From what he saw, Hebert said it was clear that none of the scenarios these youth were presenting were even possibilities from his project and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission confirmed that.
“But you know, it’s not only Mistissini and it is not because they are Cree or because they are young (that this went the way it did). The exact same thing happened with the people of Sept-Îles and another 300 municipalities, they (activists) went to Gaspésie with the same kind of information.
“For me this group of activists is insane because they target kids. If they want to do that in Sept-Îles, I don’t mind. But if they do that with kids in high school and people in a small community and now they are all afraid,” said Hebert.
It was not that Hebert wished to dismiss the fears of the people, but this particular hearing was supposed to focus on technical aspects of the project and instead the focus was on the social acceptability of what Hebert described as misinformation.
At the same time, he was equally frustrated by the fact that others had been allowed unlimited access to the community to spread this misinformation.
“We have been denied access to the kids over the years by the teachers and so it is like having a hockey team on the ice playing against open nets and then when another team shows up they refuse to play,” said Hebert.
Because those against the project have had the opportunity to address the community’s youth in their classrooms, Hebert feels Strateco deserves the same opportunities to present their side.
As for Chief Richard Shecapio’s vow to fight the project until the bitter end, Hebert chose not to respond.
He did, however, offer this: “You know, it is not unanimous in the community, there are some people who support the project and then there are others that work for us. We have contractors and contracts.
“I will not respond about the Chief because he has the right to say what he wants to say. But, we are living in a place where there are laws and so it is up to Quebec to decide. I think it is all going to be politics really.”