Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is apologizing for his response to protesters who showed up to a Liberal fundraiser on Wednesday evening to draw attention to mercury contamination in Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations.
It’s the latest in a string of recent controversies faced by Trudeau as he grapples with the SNC-Lavalin affair and chaos within his own party.
A video posted on Twitter shows Grassy Narrows protesters with a banner stepping in front of the stage where Trudeau was speaking Wednesday evening for a Laurier Club event at a lavish hotel downtown Toronto. Laurier Club members must donate a minimum of $1,500 annually to the Liberal Party to join.
“People in Grassy Narrows are suffering from mercury poisoning. You committed to addressing this crisis,” says one woman protester as she’s being escorted out of the event, according to the video. Her banner urged Trudeau to compensate the people of Grassy Narrows, which for decades has dealt with a poisoned water supply.
Trudeau responded in a sarcastic tone: “Thank you very much for your donation tonight, I really appreciate it.” The crowd then erupts with laughter and cheers.
On Thursday morning, Trudeau apologized for his response to the protesters, telling reporters that he will continue to work to resolve the issues in Grassy Narrows.
“From time to time I’m in situations where people are expressing concerns or protesting a particular thing and I always try to be respectful and engage with them in a positive way,” Trudeau told reporter, according to Global News.
“I didn’t do that last night. Last night I lacked respect towards them.”
Free Grassy, the Twitter account for a Grassy Narrows support group that posted the video, “failing to help #GrassyNarrows, a key test of his 'commitment' to meaningful relationships with First Nations and to a healthy environment.”
The incident prompted the hashtag #Thankyouforyourdonation, which is being used by people on social media to criticize the way Trudeau handled the protesters and the crowd’s reaction.
In the 1960s, a paper mill spilled thousands of kilograms of mercury, known to cause birth defects and other health ailments, contaminating the river system for Grassy Narrows.
A study released last year found that mercury contaminated fish have “gravely affected” the wellbeing of Grassy Narrows residents. It also ravaged the local economy that once had a thriving fishery.
“We are a poisoned people, but we will continue to fight for mercury justice for our people and future generations,” Grassy Narrows community leader Judy Da Silva told reporters at the time.
Former Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott had vowed to fund a treatment centre in Grassy Narrow for people suffering from the impacts of mercury poisoning.
Last year, the Ontario provincial government pledged to increase disability payments to 200 people from Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong who are struggling with mercury poisoning.
Grassy Narrows community leaders have been calling on Ottawa to properly compensate those dealing with mercury poisoning.
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