Young Cancer Victim leads fights against Pesticides

Monday 4 December 2000 - Pesticide fight heads for top court - Lawn-care firms challenging municipal ban on controversial chemicals - MICHELLE LALONDE - The Montreal Gazette 

MARCOS TOWNSEND, GAZETTE / Jean-Dominique Levesque-Rene made headlines six years ago at the age of 11 when he forced the city of Montreal to admit it was using pesticides.  When Jean-Dominique Levesque-Rene first stood up at Montreal city hall five years ago and politely asked if the city used pesticides in public parks, he was only 11 years old and he had cancer.

The mayor reassured the boy that the city did not use chemical pesticides, only to be forced to recant several weeks later.

The city did - and, indeed, still does - routinely use at least 16 different chemical products to control weeds, fungi, insects, rats and other pests on city property.

The boy's question and the mayor's mistake sparked concern about pesticide use in the Montreal area. Over the past decade, similar dramas have been unfolding at city halls and school boards across Canada.

That spark of concern is about to be reignited in Ottawa on Thursday, when the Supreme Court will hear an appeal by two lawn-care companies against a nine-year-old anti-pesticide bylaw in Hudson.

Levesque-Rene, now 17, has become a national spokesman against the cosmetic use of pesticides in cities and suburbs, where no agricultural crops are threatened by pests or weeds.

"I am 100-per-cent sure that pesticides gave me cancer. They made me sick when I was young and they continue to make me sick," said Levesque-Rene, who still lives on Ile Bizard, just off Montreal Island.

"Each spring when people spray, I get stomachaches, I get very tired, I get headaches. I know it's related to that."

It is still not known if Levesque-Rene has beaten his non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, but he said he will not give up the fight for a federal ban on pesticides.

Levesque-Rene suffered through 11 months of chemotherapy, missed two years of primary school and lost a good chunk of his childhood to cancer. He now knows that the common herbicide 2,4-D had been sprayed on the grass surrounding his home every summer from the time he was a toddler.

He also now knows this product had been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in farmers.

With one more year of tests to undergo before his cancer can officially be considered in remission, Levesque-Rene is hopeful that he is cured.

But like thousands of Canadians, he is still plagued by multiple chemical sensitivity, a chronic condition with symptoms that recur in response to low levels of exposure to multiple unrelated chemicals.

That's why he spends as much time as his high-school schedule and his health permit lobbying for local, provincial and federal legislation to reduce pesticide use.

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