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Politicians, local celebrities, media representatives and community members were given helicopter tours over Shawnigan Lake, B.C. yesterday to see the issue of contaminated soil dumping uphill from the town's watershed first hand.
The event was an effort to bring awareness to the community's ongoing struggle to put an end to South Island Aggregate's 50-year contract that allows them to dump 100,000 tons of contaminated soil annually.
Little action has been taken to ensure that the company's water treatment system is functional and within weeks of the inaugural dump, the town was placed under a strict water advisory.
In conjunction with the tours, over 500 protestors met at the dumping site, creating the largest protest the community has seen over the issue. Previous protests have seen groups of up to 200 residents with nine arrests to date as a result of the company's injunction that prevents protestors from blocking its trucks.
"The point of this event was to get the story out about what's happening in Shawnigan Lake," says Area Director, Sonia Furstenau. "I think we've succeeded."
The event was put together by as many as 80 Shawnigan Lake residents who are part of 14 organized and active teams in the community working collectively to address the catastrophic dumping.
"The community is working extraordinarily well in a unified way," says Furstenau. "It's a story of a community really deciding to take this issue on."
Furstenau hopes the event will bring national awareness to the small island town's struggle. She says Canadians can support Shawnigan Lake by writing letters to Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Hunter Tootoo and Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna.
Supporters can also participate in the community's campaign to ask Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to repeal Bill C-38, which removed lakes and waterways from federal protection.
"If this is happening here because there's no protection on freshwater lakes and waterways, then what's to stop it from happening elsewhere," she says. "We need the federal government to decide to step in and reclaim its jurisdiction over freshwater."
To stay up to date on events taking place in Shawnigan Lake, follow the campaign on social media at #SaveShawniganLake.
Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen's University and is excited by media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen's News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer. She is now rabble's News Intern.
Photos: Jim Sprague