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Article by Dave Renaud, PCN Board Member
I’ve been working at the General Motors Autoplex in Oshawa since Sept. 1984. I started as a Technician, otherwise known as a car manufacturing assembler, in the Chassis area. The years passed quickly, and, after a divorce in 1999, I was searching for something more to do.
My union, Canadian Auto Workers, gave me the opportunity to take a four-week paid education leave (PEL) at their Family Education Centre in Port Elgin, Ontario. This program focuses on a number of key themes: the union, the workplace, the economy, politics and human rights.
This course opened my eyes wide on many issues. I was hardest hit by the environmental activism of other CAW Locals. Many speakers talked with us about the environment and our Union’s National Prevent Cancer Campaign. Ken Bondy, in particular, spoke passionately about the work that the CAW Windsor Regional Environment Council was doing to Prevent Environmental Cancer. This had me thinking about the family members I had lost to cancer – my Nanny, Grandpa and my Aunt Adele. Could it be due to environmental exposures that we should have prevented? How many more people will die because we can’t make change quickly enough?
One of the projects I did for the course was on water pollution. We did an interview with a CAW Health Safety Coordinator from the Oshawa Truck Plant. From that interview I realized that our local, the largest in Canada, didn’t have an organized Environment Committee, a Regional Environment Council of area locals, or strong union environmental representation in the plant.
The whole time at PEL was spent trying to learn as much as I could, especially about how I could enroll others to make a difference locally. With the approval of my Local’s union leadership and other like minded activists, we founded the CAW Durham Regional Environment Council (CAW D.R.E.C.) representing 10 CAW Locals in 2000. We held our first elections, and I’ve held the president’s position since then. After about a year, we convinced the leadership to form a Local 222 Standing Environment Committee to actively pursue community outreach. By 2002 I was appointed the CAW Environment Representative for the Oshawa car plant and eventually the Oshawa Autoplex.
My learning curve has been massive and ongoing – I attend and participate in conferences, forums, e-mails list serves and education courses to upgrade my knowledge. Outreach and networking invariably bring you to people along the way who influence the direction you take. Two people in particular were Liz Armstrong, one of the original founders of the Run, Walk and Roll for Cancer Prevention (now the Cancer Prevention Challenge) and Loretta Michaud. Both of these women convinced our organization to participate in the raising funds for Cancer Prevention initiatives. The cool thing about the Cancer Prevention Challenge was that groups could ask for 40% (now 80%) of the funds to go directly towards local cancer prevention initiatives.
CAW D.R.E.C. has participated every year since. Our team, the CAW Durham Region Racers, has raised money to provide many educational opportunities for our community.. Our most recent cancer prevention battle has us engaging and collaborating with several community groups to oppose our Regional Municipality’s Environmental Assessment on the use of incineration for its residual waste.
Our next step is to host screenings of documentaries like Living Downstream, Chemerical, etc. to promote community cancer prevention initiatives at town halls, churches, service groups, schools or wherever requested. These events will include guest speakers, Q&A sessions, and materials that include helpful links and information for participants to use. We also plan to invite related organizations to set up display booths.
There is so much more to why cancer prevention in a part of my life. Prevent Cancer Now (PCN) is such a natural fit for me it’s a way to bring the prevention message to a national stage. So please join us by volunteering or contributing in any way you can to help PCN to prevent cancer now!
President, CAW Durham Regional Environment Council