Canada

Walkerton residents finally tell their story to inquiry

More than a year after the E. coli outbreak in Walkerton, Ont., residents finally told their stories to the judge heading the inquiry into the outbreak.

The public inquiry is close to wrapping up. But the commissioner, Justice Denis O'Connor, wanted to hear from the people affected by the outbreak.

Ed Lernotowvitch described how the E. coli outbreak affected his family. "Last year my family went to a restaurant in Walkerton. Unknown to them, they were at a wrong place at a wrong time. After my three children consumed the water, within days, they were violently ill."

Lernotowvitch says his daughter Natasha still suffers kidney problems.

He came to the inquiry to ask the commission to help secure government funding to set up a kidney treatment centre in Walkerton.

Lernotowvitch says he's distressed that so far nothing has been done. "Taking into account the seriousness of this issue, I am amazed how lightly we are treating this matter. Are not the lives of the people suffering from kidney disorders important?"

The same frustration was echoed by other Walkerton residents including Joe Ryse who is still angry at the way local leaders dealt with the outbreak.

"The greatest distress in the issue of leadership was the public officials' total lack of trust in the people of Walkerton. People knew our water was contaminated, but our leaders did not tell us! The citizens of Walkerton! Rumours abounded! But our leaders did not want the people to panic! Instead, thousands became ill and some people died," he told the commission.

Ryse says he hopes the legacy of the Walkerton outbreak will be that it made people think about the water they drink. He says it's vital that real lessons be learned, so that a similar tragedy never happens again.

That's a message Justice O'Connor has heard many times, in the year the inquiry has been sitting.

O'Connor will write a report on what went wrong in Walkerton. He'll also make recommendations to improve Ontario's drinking water system.

Those reports are expected to be ready by the end of the year.

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