Indigenous, health and environmental groups call for action on lead-based ammunition and fishing gear

Wed, Apr 18, 2018


Kathleen Ruff,

Indigenous hunting organisations in northern Quebec, health experts and environmentalists are asking the Canadian government to take action to eliminate the use of lead ammunition and fishing gear.

A letter, sent in English and French on April 17, 2018, to Environment Minister, Catherine McKenna, notes that a study on lead ammunition and a study on lead fishing gear just released by the government provide compelling evidence that the use of lead ammunition and fishing gear is causing harm to human health and to wildlife and should be stopped.

The government has taken action on lead in gasoline, paint, and other consumer products, but thousands of tonnes of lead are released into the environment every year through the use of lead ammunition and fishing gear, causing harm to human health, poisonining large number of loons, eagles and swans and leaving a toxic heritage for the next generation.

It does not have to be this way. Safe non-lead alternatives exist. What is needed is political leadership.

Indigenous communities are at particular risk of harm

Indigenous communities who depend on hunting and fishing for their food supply are at particular risk of lead poisoning from this use of lead ammunition and fishing gear.

The World Health Organization (WHO) notes that lead poisoning has devastatingly harmful effects on children, affecting the development of the brain and nervous system. The WHO has concluded that there is “no known level of lead exposure that is considered safe.”

The letter notes that Health Canada itself admits that its Guidelines on lead are grossly inadequate and fail to include the latest scientific evidence of lead’s toxicity.

Most hunters and fishers care about the environment and want to act responsibly. A certain element in the gun lobby, however, refuses to accept the scientific evidence on lead poisoning and aggressively opposes any action to eliminate the use of lead, calling this an attack on hunters, when it clearly is not.

The signers of the letter call on the government to:

  • Respect the clear scientific evidence that there is no safe level of exposure to lead.
  • Change Health Canada’s outdated, dangerously inadequate Guidelines for determining whether Canadians – and, in particular, young children – have harmful levels of lead in their blood.
  • Respect the scientific evidence that the use of lead ammunition and fishing gear is causing serious harm to the health of hunting and fishing communities and to wildlife.
  • Recognize that aboriginal communities, particularly children, are especially at risk because of reliance on hunting and fishing for sustenance.
  • Support the call of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay, the Cree Trappers Association, the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services and the Nunavik Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Association to take action to eliminate the use of lead shot and ammunition
  • Introduce an action plan to phase out the use of lead in ammunition and fishing gear, working in collaboration with Indigenous communities, the provinces, non-governmental organisations and commercial interests.
  • Set up a fund for the specific purpose of assisting aboriginal communities to make the transition to non-lead ammunition and fishing gear.

The indigenous, health and environmental groups commend the government for its expressed commitment to respect scientific evidence, to make a priority of protecting the health of Indigenous communities, particularly children, and to be responsible stewards of the environment and wildlife.

They call on the government to demonstrate that this commitment is genuine by putting into action the above recommendations without delay.

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