Seymour Street became a line in the sand Saturday as both sides in the proposed Ajax mine debate rallied in force.
An anti-Ajax contingent of more than 200 set up outside proponent KGHM’s offices at noon. Across the street, a gathering of about two dozen mine supporters offered a counterpoint.
Verdell Jessup’s anti-Ajax rally included the voices of doctors, City councillors and concerned residents. Mario Ficarini’s pro-Ajax group was comprised of union members, Thompson Rivers University trades students and those willing to let an environmental assessment run its course.
Language on both sides was strong, and while the anti-side was certainly loud, they weren’t loud enough to drown out Ajax supporters.
Ficarini and company cried “shame” and booed as councillors Donovan Cavers and Tina Lange spoke strongly against Ajax, saying the mine is the biggest and most divisive topic council has faced.
“I have lived in Kamloops since 1966 . . . and I have never felt this level of fear in my community on any topic,” said Lange.
There are tens of thousands of people in Kamloops who are afraid about the environmental and health impacts the mine could have, said Lange.
“Do you think people will possibly consider moving here to start a business, go to school, retire, open a medical practice? Will they not have those same concerns and not move here?” she asked.
Ficarini accused the anti-side of fear mongering, and encouraged people not to pass judgment on Ajax until after the environmental assessment process.
“I feel the pro-side should have their voice spoken too,” he said. “My stance on Ajax is I’m with it as long as it passes the environmental process.”
He laughed when a passerby in a truck accused the pro-side of only being interested in high paying jobs.
Jessup rallied her crowd, saying the protest isn’t against mines, just the Ajax mine because of its close proximity to town.
She used to live near a pulp mill and her mom died of ALS, which can be caused by environmental factors, said Jessup. She’s afraid the mine will affect people’s health.
“I want to breathe clean air,” said Jessup.
Jessup worked jobs that required her to travel away from home and family. She understands why people would want good paying jobs close to home.
“There are other ways that we can create good paying jobs in Kamloops. Let’s sit down and talk,” she said.
Last week, union leader Richard Boyce spoke out against Ajax and word surfaced former Interior Health medical health officer Peter Barss had urged provincial authorities to declare the mine a health hazard.
Ficarini said these are opinions, but reserves final judgement for the environmental assessment.
“Let the process run its course,” he said. “I trust and believe in the government process.”
Erin Wicks studies heavy-duty mechanics at TRU. His voice hoarse from shouting down the anti-Ajax group, he wants a good paying job when he graduates, he said.
He’s convinced government procedures will mitigate any environmental issues created by Ajax, said Wicks.
Anti-Ajax supporter Katie Welch disagrees. If the mine is approved, she and her family will move because her children have allergies that would be amplified by dust from the mine.
“I’m convinced the health affects of the mine are significant,” she said.
The protest was followed by a march through downtown Kamloops.