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Mine a 'national problem'; Green party leader to speak on behalf of opponents

The Kingston Whig-Standar: Paul Schliesmann - September 08, 2007

Citizen groups opposed to a proposed uranium mine near Sharbot Lake yesterday announced that the national leader of the Green Party will speak on their behalf on Parliament Hill later this month.

John Kittle, spokesman for the Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium, told reporters yesterday that Green party leader Elizabeth May offered to speak on their behalf at a Sept. 18 news conference and "we gratefully accepted."

May's offer was announced at a news conference on Kingston's waterfront beside the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise. Representatives from Greenpeace have joined forces with citizen groups to fight a proposed uranium mine near Sharbot Lake.

Kittle said that Greenpeace and the groups are "on the same page" following a three-hour meeting on board the ship.

"It's a national problem and there's a huge push on nuclear power, but nuclear power isn't the best answer," he said. "Even if you go with nuclear power, you don't have to mine uranium in populated areas."

The meeting included representatives of the Algonquins of Ardoch First Nation who are occupying the site with the Obaadjiwan First Nation.

A court recently ordered them off the site, but the natives have refused to move. They were joined on Monday by four members of the international group Christian Peacemakers who will monitor the situation.

"We're very excited about Greenpeace coming to help with this issue," said Ardoch chief Paula Sherman, who explained that her people had a "responsibility to protect the land."

The company, Frontenac Ventures, has staked 30,000 acres for exploration with the purpose of opening a uranium mine. But the opposing groups fear such an operation would pollute the region and its water table with radioactive fallout. They called yesterday for a moratorium on all uranium exploration and mining in Ontario.

Bruce Cox, Greenpeace Canada executive director, said the Arctic Sunrise tour of the Great Lakes is meant to highlight energy issues leading up to the Oct. 10 provincial election. The Sharbot Lake uranium issue dovetails nicely with their campaign, he said.

"We'll try to make the nuclear power issue an issue in the campaign," said Cox.

He said that while the Liberal government is on the right track with its plan to shut down coal-powered electricity plants, it's making a mistake by planning on using nuclear power to make up the difference.

Greenpeace Canada energy expert Dave Martin said all of Ontario's nuclear reactors will have been operating 25 years or more by 2019. "Those reactors will either have to be shut down or rebuilt," he said, adding that the time is right to convert to wind and solar power sources.

"We have the technology. What we're lacking is the political will at Queen's Park," said Martin. "We're saying uranium should be kept in the ground and never taken out."

Cox said that, for now, Greenpeace support for the uranium mine opponents will include "simple things" like linking their websites and making sure that the Greenpeace Canada's 80,000 members become familiar with the issue.

"We offered emergency support in case police move in on their action," said Cox, explaining that such support would take the form of a "pretty extraordinary" information network.

While Ontario Provincial Police have been ordered to remove the protesters, police officials have promised they will give advance warning before taking any action at the site.

Cox said yesterday's meeting in Kingston benefits everyone involved. "Basically for [Greenpeace] it was an opportunity to learn more about what their fight is on the ground," he said. "When we come into a community like this, we probably learn as much from them as they learn from us.

"What's really striking about the issue is, unfortunately, it's a story played out time and again - it's resource extraction that really is not sustainable. It is degradation of the environment. And it pits governments against ordinary citizens. All too often, First Nations people take the brunt of it."

pschliesmann@thewhig.com