It’s been nearly a decade since Ouje-Bougoumou has been faced with evidence that mining residue in its territory poses a toxic risk to food animals and human health. As the Nation details this issue, the community’s frustration with inaction by the Quebec government is growing. It’s almost as if Quebec is following the 12-step solution to contamination complaints exploited by governments everywhere – a strategy to protect the companies that exploit the territory and leave a toxic legacy behind.
1. Stall. Stall some more and delay. Go on holiday. Take sick leave. Then retire and pass on the file to someone who has to start from zero and doesn’t accept any previous studies on the issue.
2. Bury studies that may confirm fears of dangerous contamination for months or years. Ensure the wheels of bureaucracy turn very, very slowly.
3. Deflect. Raise jurisdictional red herrings. If there is a problem, it always belongs to someone else.
4. If any legal challenges are launched, say you must wait for the courts to resolve the issue, even if it takes years.
5. Use fancy titles to intimidate. The executive vice-director of the office of expert bafflegab, departmental obfuscation, says you’re wrong. And he has the right to bury the issue in layers of even more impenetrable bureaucracy of long, meaningless titles.
6. Never, ever, propose any actual action. Find reasons that justify rejecting any proposed actions.
7. Intentionally fail to hire staff to inspect or enforce existing regulations. The budget is already stretched. There’s a big deficit. We don’t want to waste money actually doing something useful.
8. Acknowledging a problem would be an admission that the mining industry is a major polluter; thus, no problems must ever be acknowledged.
9. Question the causes of abnormal illnesses or death. Blame people’s lifestyles.
10. Discredit descriptions of deformities in fish and wildlife because they are “anecdotal”. Then fail or refuse to actually collect the data.
11. When faced with overwhelming evidence, make a strategic retreat. Compliment the critics you once vilified and defamed. Pretend to be on their side. Make heartfelt calls for more studies to fill in knowledge gaps. But, above all, do nothing.
12. Then jumble up the preceding ingredients, stir and repeat. Soon enough, a decade will pass. Some people will die, but that’s the risk of risk management. Aboriginal lives are cheaper than actually enacting and enforcing environmental regulation, or forcing mining corporations to clean up their poisonous mess.