Next week, a group of American journalists will be going on a public relations tour to visit the EnCana Carbon Sequestration test site and the Athabasca oilsands operations, care of the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC — but that’s not all that is happening along the Athabasca River this week.
For the past month, members of the Keepers of the Athabasca Watershed Society (KAWS) have been traveling the of the Athabasca River Basin and holding conferences in communities along the river in order to raise awareness about the importance of the river and the effects contamination and overuse of water by oilsands operations. KAWS’ tour will culminate at a large conference in Fort Chipewyan, downstream from Fort McMurray’s oilsands operations, whose residents have seen an increasing number of cancer rates in recent years. Fort Chipewyan’s former Doctor, Dr. John O’Connor, will be delivering the keynote address. at the conference.
In 2006, O’Connor publicly raised concern that an increase in cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan may be the result of the copious amounts of arsenic dumped into the water by oilsands operations along the Athabasca River. Instead of increased support to deal with this medical concern, Alberta Health and Wellness and Health Canada brought forward professional misconduct charges against O’Connor (three of which have been dismissed by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta).
In 2007, the Alberta Medical Association unanimously passed a motion in support of Dr. O’Connor and the Canadian Medical Association passed a resolution calling for whistleblower protection for doctors like O’Connor. Though they leveled charges of professional misconduct against O’Connor, the government is currently conducing a comprehensive report on cancer rates in the region.