Are we having fun yet?
When we launched this thing, I half expected my mother to buy dozens of subscriptions under fake names like “Greg Electric” or “Dr. Spiderman” or “Fabienne Côté.”
But goddamn if she didn’t buy hundreds of them. Thanks mom!
Welcome to The Rover, from Ricochet Media. My original plan was to live in my car and forage for nuts by the highway just to keep bringing you that sweet sweet journalism. It’s looking like I may not have to do that now. Thank you. Truly. This is going to be a trip.
We hit the ground running this week with a story that scares the hell out of me. If you didn’t read it yet, here’s the gist: Truckers from Montreal, the suburbs and the greater Ottawa region are dumping a mountain of industrial waste on Mohawk land. The pile is about the size of a Major League Baseball stadium and it’s leaking ooze into the land and water that’s sustained Mohawks in the region for over 300 years.
Meanwhile, trash mountain is emitting a poisonous gas into the air and its neighbours complain about nosebleeds, headaches and sore throats.
What is Quebec’s ministry of the environment doing about it? They’ve issued fines.
At this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that the story was a tag team effort with Virginie Ann from the Mohawk-owned Eastern Door. She’s been working in Mohawk country for months, packing her wiener dog, Eddie, in a Baby Bjorn so she can be on the ground in Kanesatake. Eddie’s breath smells like dog food.
Now, I can’t overstate how brave our sources were on this. One of the dump’s owners — Gary Gabriel — threatened five of the people who spoke to us for this piece. Gary is like 6’4’’, about as wide as a refrigerator, and his rap sheet includes convictions for aggravated assault, armed assault and uttering threats. The last time I saw him, Gary called me a “lying cocksucker” and demanded I leave Mohawk territory. The time before that, he grabbed me by the collar and told me he’d snap my neck “like a chicken.” Two Sûreté du Québec cops just sat in their cruiser and watched.
So when our source “Dave” helped smuggle us into the dump last week, I kept telling myself, “If Gary comes at me I’ll just get in his face and use my karate.” The minute we set foot on his landfill, my legs went soft. Had I seen the man, I would have just run or gone into the fetal position or faked a heart attack. But I digress.
The point of this story wasn’t that Gary is bad or that Mohawk territory is a scary place. It isn’t.
Two things stood out to Virginie and me:
The section of the dump you can see from the road is just the tip of the iceberg. Way out of sight, at the foot of the green wooded hills behind the landfill, there’s a universe of garbage. How this hasn’t already caused a bigger disaster is beyond me. Provincial regulators took a tour of the facility in 2015 and determined it was suitable to house 27,000 cubic metres of waste. There are now 400,000 cubic metres on site and the trucks just keep coming. So when you’re storing nearly 15 times more garbage than you’re allowed to, there are clearly grave consequences.
All three of us almost puked while sneaking around the dump and I had a headache that lasted hours that night. Imagine living next to the landfill. Under the terms of their permit, the dump’s operators aren’t allowed to burn any of the refuse. But we saw burn sites across the dump, which means they’re either violating the agreement or the pile of garbage is emitting so much sulphur that it’s spontaneously combusting. I can’t decide which is a scarier scenario.
The fiercest and bravest opponents of the dump live in Kanesatake, and have used every tool at their disposal to have it shut down, including lawyers' letters and letters to the band council, the provincial government and the minister of Crown-Indigenous relations. They’ve been to town hall meetings in neighbouring Oka and St-Placide, enlisting mayors, farmers and environmentalists to help prevent a disaster. But the landfill just keeps growing. There’s no equivocating here: the system has failed them and going to the press was their last resort. We’re grateful they trusted us.
Virginie and I also have a story about the landfill in today’s issue of The Eastern Door. Pick it up if you’re driving through Mohawk territory.
Well, I’m gonna find out if the Toyota Yaris can hack it in Abitibi. She nearly caught fire in the Ville Marie Tunnel last week. I was shifting into third gear, screaming along to Soundgarden when the smell of burning rubber overtook the cockpit. Not 48 hours earlier at a garage in St-Henri, my mechanic told me the timing belt was gonna go in a few months.
I cocked my head back. “She’s good for another year.”
We were both wrong.
Anyhow, the car is fixed — new brakes, oil change, new timing belt —and ready to head to Val-d’Or. My side mirror had been knocked loose by a garbage truck last year but thanks to some clutch work by my engineer brother, Vincent, who used a zip tie and masking tape to secure it in place, the car is in mint condition. So it should be a fun trip.
Val-d’Or is at the heart of a mining boom that’s bringing loads of cash to the region. With the price of gold at over $2,000 an ounce, it’s nearly impossible to find a cheap room to rent in town and the place is chock full of prospectors, miners with money to burn and locals trying to make sense of it all.
But there is also a huge Indigenous population in town — Anishinaabe from the Algonquin nations near the city and Cree from James Bay about 500 kilometres north through the bush. And my sources up there tell me that for some — Anishinaabe in particular — the racism is overwhelming; people won’t rent them apartments and they’re routinely harassed by police.
I'm going to ask around, and I’ll start building sources up there.
But there are also good things brewing in Anishinaabe territory. Local nations are in negotiations with the provincial government to take control of their own youth protection system so they can keep children safe without removing them from the territory. Over the next few months I’ll be meeting with the Anishinaabe women leading this movement.
We’ll also start taking a look at the impact of mining on traditional territory. There are still families living off traplines in the boreal forest, an ecosystem that is especially sensitive to commercial activity. And, of course, where there are mines there are tailings ponds and people who worry about their water being contaminated.
So after hitting "send" on this thing, I’ll do some laundry, take a nap and start getting ready to head north. I’m supposed to be staying with my mom’s cousin but I haven’t told him yet. Please don’t tell him. He’s not subscribed to this newsletter, is he?
Before I fire up the washing machine, I want to say thanks to everyone who supported this project so far. You really stuck your neck out for me and I appreciate that. Hundreds of you bought paid subscriptions in the first 48 hours, and we’re already at 25 per cent of the monthly revenue we need to make this project work. Unlike a traditional newspaper — which has fancy things like an office and “employees” — your money is going directly towards journalism. I’m getting messages from young, kickass journalists who have stories to tell and nowhere to publish them. We’re closing in on a budget to pay these people and introduce you to the next generation of fearless, kickass journalists.
So if you’re one of the people who hasn’t subscribed to The Rover and joined our Army of Champions (copyright) yet, consider signing up. We’re starting something crazy over here and legacy media is taking notice. I’ll be on the Tele Quebec TV show Dans les Medias in a few weeks to talk about it, and we’ve already been featured in La Presse, Radio Canada, CBC Montreal and BellMedia radio stations across Canada. There’s also an article forthcoming in J-Source. TEAM ROVER!
Have a great trip, Chris. (P.S. Think CAA membership, if not already signed up.)
All signed up. Keep up the good work Tito. Can't wait for the next article.