John O’Connor is a physician trained in Ireland who, after practicing for more than a decade in Nova Scotia, moved his practice to northern Alberta. Working in Fort McMurray, he also provided care to several more remote Indigenous communities.
Over time, he began noticing an unexpected number of cancers and other health problems among the residents of Fort Chipewyan, a community located next to Lake Athabasca near the mouth of the Athabasca River. Elders there were worried that the upstream oil sands industry was having a negative impact on their health.
O’Connor’s reports of his findings were rebuffed by authorities – beginning what has been a fifteen-year struggle with Health Canada and the Government of Alberta over health rights of this largely Indigenous community and others downstream from the Alberta oil sands.
Currently, O’Connor practises as a hospitalist at the Fort McMurray Hospital, offers care at a homeless drop-in centre, and provides primary care to the Indigenous community of Fort McKay.