Elliot Lake and our ‘unwritten contract’ with society

Elliot Lake is a small community in Ontario on the North shore of Georgian Bay, above Manitoulin, the largest fresh-water island in the world.  It is located between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, and has a population of some 11,000.  It recently suffered a disaster as part of the rooftop parking area of its only shopping mall collapsed into a food court below. 

Elliot Lake used to be a mining town, having been ‘planned’ in the mid-1950’s after the discovery of uranium in the area. The principal mining companies were Denison Mines and Rio Algom, and the principal customer was expected to be the United States.

But a few years later, the Americans declared that they would be not buying any more uranium from Canada after 1962, and the town pretty-much folded.  Over the years, the population has varied from around 26,000 to less than 7,000, and is presently at around 11,000. 

Nowadays it is much-touted in TV commercials as a wonderful place for Canadians to retire to, with great scenery and wildlife, and all the amenities that old folks could possibly want.  Little mention is made of the radiation and other hazards to be found in the basements of many of the houses there, and uranium miners have in the past gone on strike over concerns about the high rates of lung cancer and silicosis affecting them.  The father of one person I know died very young from lung disease after working in the mines there for a number of years.

Elliot Lake is thus somewhat of a mixed blessing.  More to the point, following the disastrous collapse of part of the roof of the only shopping mall in town into the main-floor food court, and with several people believed to be presently trapped under the rubble, Elliot Lake has now become a defining point in our individual interplay with the society we are born into. 

Whether we like it or not, we are part of a ‘collective’ in which we are required to obey the law, and we have to pay taxes to the various authorities holding sway over us.  Then again, part of the deal is that in return we receive benefits, such as schooling, welfare, and health services.  And protection. 

The halting of rescue efforts, even though a trapped person could be heard tapping, made me and many others absolutely cringe.  That is not what society is about; as long as government emergency workers and properly-trained volunteers are available and willing to risk their lives, then every possible effort should be made to save those we can. 

One thing which will stick in my mind for a long time is a woman on TV with a mining background screaming in horror and outrage over the fact that rescue efforts had been ordered stopped because of a perceived risk to the safety of the rescuers.  She kept yelling “Nobody gets left behind!  Nobody!” and although I think of that as an American military term, I certainly know what she meant.  Many miners have come into Elliot Lake from Sudbury, Timmins and elsewhere, on their own dime, to volunteer their services in the rescue efforts, and they are being sidelined and ignored.

It is totally unacceptable that efforts to rescue survivors, in this or any other situation, should be stopped by bureaucratic edict while there are people still known to be alive.  That was the Ontario Ministry of Labour talking, and I pray to God that they will pay dearly for that breach of trust in the unwritten but very real contract between society and its citizens. 

There will undoubtedly be much discussion of this in the months to come.

And although this may seem unrelated, I think we should bear in mind that “safety” is being used by police throughout North America to justify abandoning their duties, injuring civilians, and even shooting household pets.  Are concerns about “safety” coming from the “bottom up”, or from the “top down”? 

“Officer safety” played a large part in the ghastly G20 exhibition in Toronto two years ago, with the police abandoning the streets to protesters who vandalised businesses and destroyed police cruisers.  In Chicago last year, the police were ordered to pay substantial damages for shooting a family pet during a home raid after the occupant had offered to lock the dog up prior to the police entering the residence.  The officers ignored the offer, and then shot the dog as it ran forward to welcome them, saying they had to “protect themselves”.  And a man died in Toronto just a few months ago when an ambulance crew refused to attend a patient having a heart attack because – guess what! – they were afraid for their safety.

In my opinion, this “safety” business is being used to undermine our society, in more ways than one; people will feel considerably less loyal to a society which is quite prepared to abandon them if they cannot be “safely” helped.

And, think of the affect on premiums when insurance companies realise that fire departments and EMS crews might simply stand by, out of concern for their “safety”, thus allowing payout costs to soar because of increased property damage, deaths and personal injuries.

I don’t like this at all.  Below are some background stories for those interested.

And the effects of this disaster will not go away soon.  With the only shopping mall in town (which was the local bus terminal) likely to need lengthy rebuilding and upgrading, older people without cars will have to leave town as they will be unable to travel elsewhere to obtain food and other necessities of life.  There could be an exodus over the next year or so that will devastate house prices and basically gut the place.

The mall has been the subject of complaints about the leaky roof, mould, and occasional tiles dropping from the ceiling, for perhaps twenty years.  There was plenty of warning that something was wrong, and the lawsuits are going to be absolutely awesome.

Apart from anything else, we need to pay attention to our surroundings; this could have been avoided.

Jeff Goodall.

“Elliot Lake rescue delays unacceptable” – Toronto Sun – June 26th, 2012 here.

“Rescues should never be called off until everything has been tried” – National Post – June 26th, 2012 here.

“Elliot Lake will not forget” – Toronto Sun – June 26th, 2012 here.

“Amid disaster in Elliot Lake, an inexcusable lack of action” – Toronto Star – June 27th, 2012 here.

“No more bodies at Elliot Lake mall, officials believe” – Toronto Sun – June 27th, 2012 here.

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