Children’s singer Raffi is passionate about protecting the environment and public health.
Ahead of his April 24 Save Shawnigan Water #Belugagrads benefit show in Duncan, Raffi emphasized how disappointed he is in the B.C. government’s reaction to contaminated soil dumping near Shawnigan Lake and how committed he is to trying to stop it.
“Throughout my career I’ve sung songs in appreciation of nature and our basic needs of clean air and clean water,” said Raffi, who recently penned an op-ed for the Guardian newspaper in the U.K. talking about the negligence leading to water poisoning in Flint, Mich. The op-ed also refers to the dumping of contaminated soil near Shawnigan Lake, stating that a similar breakdown in democracy is evidenced in both Flint and Shawnigan.
“Clean water, you can’t do without it, and of course Flint, Michigan was the other very much in the news example of what happens when you don’t take care of people’s basic right to water,” Raffi said, though adding Shawnigan’s situation is not yet near as bad as Flint.
“That’s just it. You don’t want it to get anywhere near that. Because once the lake is compromised, well what do you do then? … Now is the time to keep the pressure on this government to do the right thing.”
South Island Aggregates and Cobble Hill Holdings were granted a permit in 2013 to receive up to 100,000 tonnes of contaminated soil per year at the site and limited dumping began in February, 2014. Contaminated soil from Port Moody on the mainland began being dumped at the site in May, 2015.
“You keep your toxic materials away from populated areas, away from a watershed that would serve a town of 12,000. You don’t put toxic soils at the head of a watershed, you just don’t,” Raffi said.
Paul Hasselback, the chief medical officer on Vancouver Island, assured the public recently that the project is being extensively monitored to ensure the risk to human health is minimal.
He said “extensive work” has been done on the project’s permit to operate that sees ongoing and frequent monitoring and other checks and balances that is intended to safeguard against any negative health impacts.
“There’s no question that there have been some hiccups on the way, including a flow from the property a few months ago, but nothing serious that could be considered as a health risk,” Hasselback said.
Raffi said he first heard of Shawnigan’s situation last summer and was flummoxed and outraged.
“I thought ‘Well this is odd, how could a provincial government not hear the voice of 12,000 people?’ They actually presented a 15,000-signature-petition on paper and presented that in the B.C. legislature. And we have it on record that both the premier and the Minister of the Environment walked out during that presentation,” he said.
As far back as 1979 with his hit song All I Really Need, Raffi has been focused on caring for the environment.
“All along I’ve been singing about the basics that children and families need to be healthy and whole and it just makes sense that you protect the most precious assets in our nature that we’re a part of too. You don’t foul your nest, it makes sense. That’s what we teach children,” he said.
Raffi, who lives on Saltspring Island, has attended protest events in Shawnigan Lake over the soil dumping several times recently including going up in a helicopter and looking at what he called “a piece of Heaven.”
“How could anyone think to put a health risk, not only on a town, but on the whole ecology? It’s unbelievable to me. This government is either incompetent or stupid or unresponsive,” he added.
Raffi said he’s called for Minister of the Environment Mary Polak to resign.
“I think it’s shameful that the premier and the minister have not even set foot in Shawnigan Lake over this issue and will not face the public,” he said. “It’s cowardly.”
“Not only must the permit be pulled and stopped, but the toxic materials that have been carted in have to be shipped out and that site has to be cleaned up,” Raffi said.
Raffi’s April 24 benefit concert for Shawnigan Lake will feature many of his fan favourites as well as several singalong songs from his new album Owl Singalong.
“While I have a new album I’m really proud of, I keep the concert shaped around my favourites that my fans know and love,” Raffi said. “It’s going to be a very joyful concert and I think people who come to this show are not only going to have a great time but they’re a supporting a good cause as well.”
It starts at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 24 at the Cowichan Performing Arts Centre. Tickets are $38 with proceeds going to the Shawnigan Residents Association. The concert is best-suited to children old enough to talk, sing or clap along. For more information or tickets call the centre at 250-748-7529 or visit www.cowichanpac.ca.