Wed, June 17, 2008 Link To Herald The Halifax Herald Limited

Lawyer: Raitt should back C.B.ersí restitution claims

By STEPHEN MAHER Ottawa Bureau

Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt blames her brotherís death from lung cancer on industrial pollution in Cape Breton, but the federal government is fighting other cancer patients who claim pollution has made them sick.

Ms. Raittís repeated comments show that the federal policy of denying a link doesnít make sense, says Raymond Wagner, a Halifax lawyer who represents hundreds of Cape Bretoners whose families have been touched by cancer.

In January, Ms. Raitt told The Chronicle Herald that her brotherís death inspired her to earn a masterís degree in chemistry. "My brother Colin . . . he worked in the coke ovens in Whitney Pier," she said. "Thatís what my masterís is in, PCBs and dioxins, because those were the cancer-causing agents that, in my opinion, caused his lung cancer and he died at 36." She acknowledged that he smoked, but she said she blamed his death on chemicals. "Iím going to go with PCBs."

In the fall, she made a similar statement to the Toronto Star.

If Ms. Raitt really believes that, she should urge her government to stop fighting her fellow Cape Bretoners who are suing for compensation, said Mr. Wagner. "Her declaration seems to be contradictory to the adversarial position established by the federal Crown," he said. "Itís exactly what weíve been saying all along, and itís exactly what the federal government has been denying."

Mr. Wagner represents 400 Cape Bretoners who believe their cancer, or the cancer suffered by someone in their families, was caused by the tar ponds and related industrial pollution in Sydney. In order to proceed with a class-action lawsuit, which would allow Mr. Wagner to represent cancer victims whom he hasnít signed up, he needs his case to be certified by the courts, a process he says the federal government has been "obstructing" for more than five years.

Ms. Raittís statements should lead the federal government to reconsider its position, he said. "You have somebody who knows the science, who is in a public position, is making a declaration (about) her own brother, whom she knows died of cancer," he said. "I think that she should be going down to talk to the prime minister about this, and tell them exactly what she thinks."

The death of Ms. Raittís brother came to greater public attention when she mentioned him last week in her televised tearful apology for calling the medical isotope crisis "sexy," on a recording obtained by The Chronicle Herald. Ms. Raitt had no comment on Tuesday about her public statements about the cause of her brotherís cancer. "Because this involves potential legal action, the minister does not have any comment to offer," said spokesman Steve Outhouse in an email.

The federal government maintains that it is impossible to show a link between individual cancer cases and industrial pollution in Cape Breton. The federal Justice Department did not respond on Tuesday to requests for comment or details about the lawsuit.

Sydney-Victoria MP Mark Eyking said Tuesday that itís unwise for a cabinet minister to speak as Ms. Raitt has done. "She has to be very careful about where sheís going because sheís a member of cabinet," he said. "Whatever she does or says, sheís speaking on behalf of Canadians."

( smaher@herald.ca)