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Opening the windows to breathe in the fresh air and cool down the house is no luxury, yet it’s something that people in Kanesatake have been deprived of.
A woman who wishes to remain anonymous, whom we will call Jane, lays on her bed every night wondering when and if the smell will come. For the past few years, it has been so noxious that it has often left her with a burning sensation in her eyes as well as throat irritation. Then the headaches come on strong, shortly followed by a feeling of being ill.
“Some days, I want to sell my home and move,” said Jane. “I can’t run away in the middle of the night to breathe clean air because it lingers outside in the air.”
The foul smell described by Jane emanates from the G&R recycling site, not that far from her house. With the pandemic forcing people to stay indoors, the smell has now been impossible to avoid.
The site, owned by Robert and Gary Gabriel, is well-known in the community and has been causing tension since 2014.
Documents obtained by The Eastern Door show the Mohawk Council of Kanesatake’s (MCK) approval for G&R recycling, dated back to October 7, 2014. The resolution authorizes both brothers, but also Stephen John Borbely, a non-band member, to operate their business until 2044.
Back then, before the site was moved to Rang St. Jean on the border of St. Placide, it operated on Centre road, close to Julie’s house (another person who wishes to remain anonymous). Julie recalls that it didn’t take long until she started to receive verbal threats and vandalism after raising questions regarding activities on site.
She was and still is not the only one being intimidated, she said. Neighbouring farmers, also wanting to remain anonymous for security reasons, reported fences bulldozed, garbage bins kicked all over the place, and threats of burning down houses. “
“The community is scared,” Julie said. “It’s just a terror on this community from this family, and it’s been like this for years and years.
Community members have complained to the MCK, but no action is being taken to address the issue. As a matter of fact, the complaints remain mostly unanswered.
A lot of questions and no answers
When it comes to the MCK, the recycling site is yet another issue that lacks transparency, according to Tracy Cross, who also lives not far from the site.
Along with six other community members, Cross has been pushing for explanations in a letter sent to the council on June 30, but he’s mostly a worried community member who’s also been noticing the recycling site’s effects on his health and environment.
“We are people that are looking seven generations down the road,” said Cross, “so what about our grandchildren? This could have long-term effects. We need a soil sample, water sample, air particle, blood sample. We want to know whether or not the health director knew about it and if they did, why didn’t they inform the community?”
As an ex-member of the Ratihontsanontstats Kanesatake Environment department, Gabrielle Lamouche said she knows the council had some information all along, but employees’ hands were tied from disclosing anything and instead, ordered to re-direct every question to MCK grand chief Serge Otsi Simon.
On June 9, Lamouche was fired from the department. No reasons were given, but she believes the fact that she was asking too many questions regarding G&R played a part.
“Questions were about the smell,” said Lamouche, “and as I was working for the environment, people were asking them to me, wondering what we were doing about it. There are even people who said I should lose my job because nothing was being done about it. I was telling them, call the council, call the grand chief because I couldn’t share any information with them.”
Lamouche is now part of the seven community members who are asking for accountability and transparency from the MCK. The council had until Tuesday to provide the requested documents, which also included financial disclosure of emergency funds, but they asked for an extension.
One of the requested documents is a Golder Firm report, showing environmental assessments in relation to the recycling site. Simon told The Eastern Door he was reluctant to hand out the report, as he felt it was still incomplete and needed clarification.
“People are gonna make their own assumption based on half the information,” said Simon. “I need to know what we are dealing with, anywhere on the territory, before releasing the information and everyone starts panicking like hell.”
Simon also agrees that the contract has been breached. Yet, G&R is still allowed to operate despite the fact that the 2014 resolution, signed by Simon along with six other chiefs, clearly states that it shall remain valid subject to G&R respecting the terms of their contract with MCK.
The terms of that contract are yet to be disclosed with the community.
While Kanesatake is asking the MCK to act on the matter, the municipality of Oka, along with St. Placide and Mirabel, is putting pressure on the ministère de l’Environnement et de la Lutte contre les changements climatiques to retract the recycling site’s permit to operate.
The latest environmental report shows that in addition to going way beyond the limit of permitted dimensions, almost double the amount of allowed recycling material is stored at G&R. Following the report, the ministry released an ordinance on March 18, against G&R, to cease any material storage on non-authorized land, which is also exceeding the allowed amount. In addition, it requests that the owners clean up and restore the unauthorized use of land.
Requests for comment to G&R from The Eastern Door have gone unanswered.
“Different deadlines are planned regarding the order and the requested actions,” said the communication advisor for the Environment ministry, Frédéric Fournier.
“The situation is being closely monitored. Diverse interventions occurred on site since the order was made in March 2020. The ministry is considering every possible action to ensure a return to compliance.”
But despite the Quebec government’s threat to withdraw the permit, the site remains on Mohawk territory – meaning the MCK will have no other choice but to eventually get involved.
“The people on this end of the reserve are suffering from this,” said Jane. “No one should have to live like this.”