Community Coalition Against Mining Uranium (CCAMU)
Citizens’ Inquiry on the Impacts of the Uranium Cycle
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Peasant Rights

by Karen Markle
National Farmers Union

Mme Chair, distinguished members of the panel, fellow concerned citizens, ladies and gentlemen, sisters and brothers,

My name is Karen Markle and I represent the National Farmers Union, regional district of Ontario.

The National Farmers Union welcomes this opportunity to bring the views of its family farm members to the Citizens’ Inquiry. The NFU is a direct-membership national farm organization that also advocates on behalf of family farmers and thereby protects Canadian food security and food sovereignty. The NFU uses the language of the trade union movement to promote solidarity and to strengthen our resolve.

I’m sure you are all familiar with the principles of Fair Trade, where coffee, cocoa and sugar farmers get fair prices for their commodities, improve the lives of their families, and build a strong, bio-diverse agricultural community. Apply those principles to Canadian family farmers, and you’ll get the idea of what the NFU is about. The predominant model of food production in the world is industrial agri-business that transfers wealth from the soil to a handful of multi-national corporations. These corporations work in concert with mining and power generation corporations. Few people get enormous benefit at the expense of everyone else.

For all the agri-business propaganda, food production is in fact lower than when we use practices that honour Nature and her tendency toward abundance. For proof, look at the riots in Egypt and Mexico caused by exploding prices and food shortages. Take note that we have eaten more food then we’ve grown in 7 of the last 8 years and we’ve depleted global grain reserves. The only solution is to keep local farmers on the land to provide food to us, their city neighbours. And the only way to do that is to honour the land and to honour the stewards of the land.

The NFU is declaring the strongest opposition to mining uranium in the Ottawa Valley. People depend on agriculture and agriculture depends on water. A mining operation will contaminate existing water sources. Accidents will happen. Contamination will leach into the water table and the entire Ottawa River watershed will be affected. Leave the uranium in the ground.

Via Campesina, an international peasant rights organization, has proposed a Convention on the Rights of the Peasant. The NFU is a founding member of Via Campesina. For the purposes of the Canadian context, substitute “family farmer” for “peasant”.

I’ll read from the preamble: “Most people in the world are peasants. Even in the high-tech world, people have to eat the food produced by the farmers. Farm agriculture is not just an economic matter but it means life for all of us. The safety of the population depends on the safety of the peasant and of agriculture. To protect human life, it's important to protect and fulfill the rights of the peasant. In reality, the ongoing number of violations of peasants' rights threatens human life.” And dare I add that they threaten all life.

I’m a bit of a social justice nerd. Anyone else, here? I even have the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Spanish in my dining room. So please bear with me as I read some sections from the Convention on the Rights of the Peasant.

Article II of the proposed Convention refers to the Right to Agrarian Resources.

8. Peasants and their families have the right to get support for the facilities, technology and funds from the state to manage water resources.

10. Peasants and their families have the right to reject all kinds of land shifting for industrial purposes.

11. Peasants and their families have the right to law protection on their farming land, their housing and other agrarian resources. Protection from claim of other communities or institutions and protection from contamination and pollution because of environmental activities.

Article IX of the Convention refers to Rights for Environmental Preservation.

4. Peasants and their families have the right to sue and claim for environmental damage and get compensation from the impacts of environmental damage.

Of course, this Convention has not been ratified. But the farmers’ rights that it describes would protect us all and better ensure food supplies in these times of economic uncertainty and climate chaos, caused in large part by the mentality of resource extraction at all costs, and symbolized by the nuclear power industry.

Local residents, both settlers and Native peoples, possess an enormous body of knowledge, based on generations of experience with local soil, water, wildlife, and the environment that cannot be easily gained from academic studies or satellite maps. Local people have lived their entire lives on their piece of land and in their community and they have "managed" and protected the environment for generations.

So when citizens say that mines can threaten health, lower property values, displace local family farms, cause mental anguish, and alter the local economy, we must pay heed. If democracy means anything, it means that citizens have a right to collectively make decisions on matters that affect them.

Citizens often do not accept mineral prospecting, exploration, and excavation because they feel shut out of a fundamentally undemocratic decision process. People who are shut out feel, not only harmed by the mine and its effects, but also by the approval process.

The pro-nuclear folks can declare that they have complete, technical information and environment impact studies which say that their mines are not going to have a polluting effect on the agricultural zone around the project.

But the distrust of farmers runs deep. And it runs deep for a very good reason.

Uranium mining threatens surface and groundwater. In Nebraska, Canadian-owned Crow Buttes Resources, Inc. (CBR), a subsidiary of Cameco Corp., has admitted to a spill of approximately 300,000 gallons of radioactive liquid waste at its mine in Crawford, and that they failed to clean up one-third of the spills. They admitted that a broken coupling led to a one-gallon-per-minute leak for several years into the Brule aquifer. It is believed that the leak resulted in toxic contamination of at least 525,000 gallons of water per year. They admitted to another leak that contaminated 25,000 sq. ft. of the Brule aquifer.

CBR has had no less than 23 reported leaks of radioactive material. Petitioners assert that this contradicts CBR’s statements that they have operated without any environmental impact and indicates that CBR should not be allowed to expand its existing operations.

In response to community protests in Colorado, lawmakers are considering legislation to place restrictions on uranium mining and require mining companies to prove they will restore groundwater aquifers to pre-mining quality before they receive permits for in-situ operations. The bill also would require companies to show that technology exists to clean up any pollution that results from mining. But, for goodness sake, wouldn’t it be too late by then? Wouldn’t it make more sense to avoid the contamination in the first place?

In many provinces and American states where uranium is mined, children played with the “yellow cake” or near the pits, or even swam in dams where uranium had leached into the water and their parents learned the hard way that uranium is poison. Deaths from leukaemia and other cancers have riddled communities sited next to uranium mines.

In Canada, primary cancers are recognized as an industrial health hazard of uranium mining. An industrial health hazard, eh? Let’s put a human face to the phrase “industrial health hazard”.

At our AGM last month, the NFU unanimously passed the resolution to make this presentation today. Afterward, a dairy farmer from Bruce County whispered in my ear and asked me into the hall for a talk. She spoke firmly and with an edge of anger in her voice. She wants everything to do with nuclear power to stop. And she told me the story of her son. He was born with chromosome damage that doctors said was caused by exposure to the Bruce Nuclear Power Plant. His brain did not develop properly. Then the lines on her face softened and her voice went peaceful. Her son passed away at 13. My heart broke for this young mum. I am here for her.

Thank you for calling the Citizens’ Inquiry. The attempts by pro-nuclear proponents inside and outside of government to discredit citizens' knowledge and opinions prevent the ability of local people to shape their own futures. For decades, citizens without Ph.Ds in nuclear physics pointed out that nuclear power threatens human health and the environment, and that electricity from such plants would prove very, very expensive. Those citizens were marginalized and accused of "fear-mongering." It turns out that those non-expert citizens were correct and that scientific experts from the nuclear industry and government were wrong. Attempting to limit debate to narrow, "scientific" questions, is an old tactic used to deter citizens' participation and undermine democracy. This format that welcomes all elements in society and a variety of presentation styles is a reflection of how highly you esteem diversity and life itself.

Thank you. Merci. Mi’gwetch.

Peasant Rights