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Canada Takes Crap for Flushing Raw Sewage into the Ocean

As B.C. Prepares for 2010 Olympics, Victoria Continues Sending Sewage to Sea

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Canada flushes some 200 billion liters of raw sewage directly into natural waterways every year, from the St. Lawrence River to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Pacific Ocean. That’s only a fraction of the three trillion liters of sewage Canadians produce annually—about 6 percent, in fact—but it’s still enough to fill more than 40,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

A Dangerous Brew
According to Macleans, Canada’s leading news magazine, the sewage is a mixture of water, human waste, microorganisms, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, excreted pharmaceuticals and, potentially, pathogens such as cholera, typhoid and hepatitis B.

"It is widely recognized that inadequate or no waste water treatment have negative impact on aquatic life, human uses of water, fisheries and human health,” Environment Canada told Macleans. “Therefore it is unacceptable and shortsighted not to maintain and upgrade infrastructure."

Canadian Coastal Cities Dump Raw Sewage in the Ocean
A number of municipalities throughout Canada persist in this practice that the Sierra Legal Defence Fund calls a “national disgrace,” particularly coastal cities where for many years the sewage could be dumped in open water and remain out of sight and out of mind for many people.

Unlike the European Union and the United States, Canada has no national standards for sewage treatment that cities and towns must follow. So while some Canadian cities have top-notch sewage treatment facilities, others have none.

Even Montreal, a seemingly world-class city, pumps 900 billion liters of sewage into the St. Lawrence River. Most of it receives primary treatment, which reduces the number of solids somewhat by means of a settling process, but 3.6 billion liters of that total enters the river as untreated raw sewage.

Victoria Proud of Pollution
According to many environmentalists, however, the worst offender in the Canadian landscape is Victoria, the picturesque provincial capital of British Columbia. Not only does Victoria pump its raw sewage directly into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, an arm of the Pacific Ocean, but city officials also claim they are doing the “right and responsible thing” for their community and the environment. They see no reason to change.

Not all of their constituents agree.

A group of activists called People Opposed to Outfall Pollution (POOP) has taken a lighthearted approach to a serious issue, poking fun at city officials with bathroom humor and using clever guerilla marketing tactics to focus a firestorm of embarrassing international media attention on Victoria’s toilet habits.

Mr. Floatie Creates a Stink Over Raw Sewage
One POOP member, James Skwarok, 35, dresses up as Mr. Floatie, a cheerful, man-sized piece of human excrement. His antics in the cause of ending outfall pollution have generated news stories as far away as South Africa.

To give Mr. Floatie a more prominent platform for his message, and to give city officials even more crap, Skwarok filed as a candidate for mayor of Victoria under the name of his character. As reported in the Toronto Star, however, city officials in Victoria took Skwarok to court to get Mr. Floatie’s name removed from the ballot. Skwarok, who is studying to be a teacher, couldn’t afford the legal fees to fight the lawsuit, which put his campaign in the toilet.

But getting Mr. Floatie off the ballot didn’t get Victoria off the hook or out of the spotlight. The neighboring city of Vancouver, B.C., just across the Strait of Georgia from Victoria, is the site of the 2010 Winter Olympics. As the time for the games approaches, journalists from around the world are likely to focus more and more attention on the bathroom habits and environmental practices of the host province and its capital city.

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