Following a march from the GE-Hitachi uranium plant at Lansdowne Avenue and Dupont Street, a capacity crowd of protesters filled the Davenport-Perth Neighbourhood Centre sanctuary for what organizers are calling the first of many meetings to come about the nuclear facility.
Decked out in costume, the “Raging Grannies,” a group of older women who use song to protest and raise awareness of environmental and social justice issues, kicked off the Nov. 15 meeting that brought out local politicians from all levels of government, as well as several guest experts.
“If you love your neighbourhood, no uranium... Kick GE out for good, no uranium,” sang the trio to rousing applause.
Facilitated by the Ontario Clean Air Alliance’s Angela Bischoff, the meeting brought together a host of speakers, including Roy Brady, from SAGE, Safe and Green Energy Peterborough and Council of Canadians, who spoke about public consultations to hold GE Nuclear to account; Kyra Bell-Pasht from CELA, the Canadian Environmental Law Association and Heather Marshall, a toxics campaigner from TEA, the Toronto Environmental Alliance.
Area politicians revealed they were shocked that a nuclear processing plant has been in their midsts for more than five decades.
“Like many of you in our community, I was really surprised, shocked. I didn’t know GE was here,” Davenport MP Andrew Cash admitted to the crowd of about 100. “When you find out after 50 years you’ve been living next to a nuclear facility – something went wrong with the process. Clearly, the public information program failed. What I’m going to be doing is calling the CNSC (Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission) and the Minister (of Environment) to a meeting that never happened during the review of (GE-Hitachi’s) license.”
Cash said he has requested that GE provide tours of its facility to community members.
“Residents need to know what’s going on inside those walls,” he said.
Davenport MPP Jonah Schein echoed his colleague’s sentiments, saying he only learned of the uranium processing plant through media reports.
“Before the recent press coverage, how many of you knew about this site? Raise your hand,” Schein asked the audience.
The vast majority had no idea that the company manufactured uranium.
“This is a major concern. This is a changing community. Its history is industrial, but more and more people are moving in. People expect to be a part of the conversation,” he said. “We’re happy this conversation is happening now, but it should have happened sooner.”
Parkdale-High Park MPP Cheri DiNovo said she has been fielding calls from her constituents as well.
“I, like others, didn’t know. I’m appalled this facility exists,” said DiNovo. “No level of radiation is safe. Have a rousing meeting and shut it down.”
Davenport Councillor Cesar Palacio called on GE and federal agencies for “a level of transparency.”
“They need to engage the community with factual information,” he said.
Trent University student and Davenport native Zach Ruiter, who took on GE’s sister plant in Peterborough, was the first to raise awareness of the Davenport-area plant.
“Keeping people in the dark is a pattern for GE,” he said.
SAGE’s Brady, who came in from Peterborough for the meeting, encouraged the Davenport community to band together to put pressure on the corporation to shut it down.
“They don’t care about the effects on residents because the effects don’t come to light for years and years,” he said, calling on everyone to pressure the city and the province. “Go, find out what GE has not told you. It’ll be amazing what you find out. Keep politicians on the case. Don’t give up. Safety is not short term. Safety is forever.”
TEA’s Marshall commended everyone for attending Thursday’s meeting. In 2008, city council voted for a precedent-setting toxics disclosure policy, the community’s right-to-know bylaw. Toronto became the first city that would require businesses – from dry cleaners to funeral homes and auto-body repair shops – to reveal their discharges of 25 priority chemicals, said Marshall. The problem is, uranium is not on this list, she said. However, there is an opportunity for Toronto Public Health to conduct studies.
“Ask Toronto Public Health for help. It’s worth a try,” she said.
Throughout the meeting, organizers collected written questions from the community. Because of time restraints, the questions could not be addressed that night, however, organizer Dawn Withers stressed that Thursday’s meeting was only the start of the dialogue surrounding GE.
“We will stay in contact with you,” she assured.
GE-Hitachi officials opened the doors to the media for a tour of the processing plant earlier this week.
“Frankly, nothing has gone wrong in 50 years,” said spokesperson Christopher White during the tour of the manufacturing plant. “This is a very safe facility.”
He added GE-Hitachi produces 25 per cent of Ontario’s electricity.