Indian reserves potential toxic waste route

According to a report commissioned by Environment Canada, initiated in part by the potential threat of terrorist attacks involving dangerous chemicals and goods, terrorists or other parties intent on smuggling hazardous waste across the Canada-U.S. border would face little scrutiny if they crossed through aboriginal communities that straddle the border. Waste rules there are largely ineffective, the study concludes.

Transportation of haz-waste across official border points is heavily regulated and security has tightened in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks. The U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection recently announced it’s sending 375 more agents to police the frontier with Canada, making the force three times the size it was before 9-11. But there is little oversight of potentially dangerous material moving through reserves. The materials could include medical and infectious wastes, flammable liquid, toxic PCBs and more.

The report was obtained by National Post reporter Tom Blackwell through Access to Information. He discovered that people who violate the current waste disposal regulations set out under the federal Indian Act would face a meager $100 fine.

First Nations communities that could be at risk for smuggling of such material include the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve straddling the border near Cornwall, Ont., and Sarnia First Nation, located in a southern Ontario border area with a high volume of chemical and hazardous waste traffic.

But the authors stress they found no evidence of any illegal dumping or transportation of hazardous waste through aboriginal lands, though the potential exists. Fortunately a recently implemented system of co-operation between police forces — including the RCMP, band police, provincial police, state police and the FBI — has cut down on smuggling.

The study recommends that proposed new federal hazardous-waste regulations be applied to reserves, including stiffer fines for violations. It calls for recording of information on hazardous-waste shipments, and public awareness campaigns to help people identify illegal activity.