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Dr.Nicole Bruinsma, a tribute

Nicole Bruinsma

Nicole Bruinsma was a mother, family physician and community activist, who believed in the power of an individual and a community. I do a lot, she once said, because I can. Nicole made, and is still making, an important difference in Canadian lives.

After she was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, Nicole saw a film about the possible link between pesticides in our environment - like the ones sprayed on thousands of lawns across Canada each spring - and the lump doctors had found in her right breast. "These things are designed to kill life, and therefore they must have an effect on living tissue, of which we are made, right?" she said. "I fervently believe that it makes sense."

In 1998, she began a campaign to have cosmetic pesticides banned in her own backyard of Chelsea, Quebec and then across the country. She was not blind to the impact her own story had. "The fact that I had breast cancer gave it the really personal element that made people stop and think," she said.

Chelsea was not the first place in Canada to look at banning pesticides. The community of Hudson, Que., where Nicole spent her childhood, passed a bylaw in 1991. It was challenged by lawn pesticide companies, but upheld by Quebec's superior court in 1993. More than 40 other municipalities in Quebec had passed pesticide by-laws. Nicole convinced Chelsea muncipal council to pass a bylaw restricting the use of pesticides similar to the Hudson bylaw in December 1998.

Nicole did more. She inspired several Chelsea residents to look closely at the impact their lifestyle choices have upon the environment and to consider what they could do to make their community a better place, both for them and for their children and future generations. Together with other residents of Chelsea, she formed ACRE (Action Chelsea for Respect of the Environment), a grass roots organization devoted to promoting and protecting the ecological integrity of Chelsea.

In 1999, Nicole took her campaign for stricter pesticide regulation from the local to the national stage, appearing before the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development. One of her key points was that molecules found in some pesticides can disrupt the hormones of living creatures. Hormone disruptors can cause cancer, she pointed out.

The Standing Committee recommended a ban on the cosmetic use of pesticides. Several cities across Canada, including Halifax, have either passed, or are considering bylaws restricting the use of pesticides. The Hudson bylaw was upheld by the Supreme Court of Canada.

By then, however, Nicole`s cancer had returned. She spent the rest of her life battling cancer with the help of her husband Scott, and giving to her daughters love, strength, joy and ceaseless wonder in the beauty of the universe.

She left us too soon. She left family, friends, colleagues and neighbours grief sticken by their loss. But she also left them, and her community better for her efforts.

Nicole`s impact continues. In 2002, moved by her story, and influenced by her argument, a Loblaw executive announced that the grocery giant will discontinue sales of chemical weed and insect killers in its 440 garden centres by the spring of 2003. It will carry organic alternatives to its current pest-control products instead.

Nicole, we know, would have approved. We also know she expects us to carry on caring for each other, and for the world in which we live.