Neil Young blasted the Canadian government’s continued support of the tar sands development in Northern Alberta on Sunday, calling the current leadership a “…very poor imitation of the George Bush administration.”

“Anything you hear from the Canadian government regarding the tar sands, it’s just marketing, it’s not the truth,” said the legendary 68-year-old singer at a press conference in Toronto ahead of his four upcoming concerts to benefit the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Legal Defense, including Sunday’s concert at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Toronto.

“It’s a basic matter of integrity on the part of Canada. Canada is trading integrity for money,” said Young, flanked by representatives of the ACFN, professors, Idle No More organizers and celebrated journalist and teacher David Suzuki. “That’s what’s happening under the current leadership in Canada. It’s lagging behind on the world stage and is an embarrassment to many Canadians.”

Young’s comments and the upcoming “Honour The Treaties” benefit concerts occurring in Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina and Calgary come after Young likened the environmental damage in Fort McMurray to “Hiroshima” and had his music banned from Fort McMurray station Rock 97.9.

Still, Young said he “stands behind” the comments he made and detailed in a passionate manner the reason he organized the benefit concerts.

“As a Canadian I felt like I had a chance to do something by bringing [the concerts] together. I first visited the [Fort McMurray] area a while ago and viewed the tar sands that were available to view from the ground. And what I saw was a devastating environmental catastrophe.”

Young’s concerts will aim to not only raise funds for the ACFN legal defense, but also to raise awareness of the negative environmental impact of the Fort McMurray tar sands and the Canadian government’s unfair treatment of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. The ACFN is a Treaty 8 Denesuline community based in Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, 200 km downstream from current tar sands development.

“We made a deal with the First Nations people and we are breaking the promise,” said Young. “We are killing these people. The blood of these people will be on modern Canada’s hands.”

According to the ACFN, the oil sands underlie approximately 140,000 square kilometres of Alberta-an area about the size of Florida. Oil sands leases cover about 20 per cent of the province’s land area. The ACFN states that over 30 million birds will be lost over the next 20 years due to tar sands development and 206,000 litres of toxic waste are discharged there every day. 80 per cent of the traditional territories of the ACFN and the Mikisew Cree First Nation are rendered inaccessible for periods of the year due to oil sands development.

“Canada has a huge problem with science and how to understand it,” said Young. “Science is the future; it’s the roadmap. Science cannot be ignored and that’s what our leaders are doing. And that’s what I’m doing here. Behind this sad, incredibly tragic story about what Canada is doing to its First Nations people.”

“I hope we can make a difference for our grandchildren, that’s why we’re here,” he said.

Words and photo by Joshua Kloke

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