MAC: Mines and Communities

Canadian First Nation celebrates mining company's retreat

Published by MAC on 2011-08-01
Source: Statement, Victoria Times Colonist

It's rare for a mining company to bow willingly to the wishes of a Canadian First Nation.

But this is what happened after one community expressed its overwhelming opposition to exploration activities by Cartier Resources in Quebec.

In British Colombia, however, says one commentator, the mining industry is subject to a "ramshackle enforcement regime [that] is not good enough for an industry that can create environmental and financial catastrophes."

Barriere Lake celebrates mining company's retreat!

Press Release

22 July 2011

Barriere Lake Algonquins celebrate mining company's decision to suspend exploration in their territory: Charest's turn to act, community says

Kitiganik, Rapid Lake, Algonquin Territory - The Algonquin First Nation of Barriere Lake is celebrating the recent decision of Cartier Resources Inc. to suspend the Rivière Doré copper mining project in their traditional territory in north-western Quebec, after the community expressed their overwhelming opposition to exploration activities and a potential mine these activities could lead to.

"The community applauds Cartier Resources for respecting our wishes that no mining exploration and drilling proceed. The company is setting an important precedent by not moving ahead without the free, prior and informed consent of the community, a right recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples," said Norman Matchewan, a community spokesperson for Barriere Lake.

President and CEO of Cartier Resources Philippe Cloutier stated in a release that the suspension shows the company's "respect for stakeholders in this area." Cartier's Rivière Doré exploration project is within an area already covered by an agreement signed between Quebec and Canada and the First Nation in 1991. This Trilateral Agreement - a sustainable development plan for 10,000 square kilometres of Barriere Lake's traditional territory - has been praised by the United Nations, but both Quebec and Canada have refused to implement it.

Mining exploration was halted in March, when contract workers complied with requests by community members to leave the exploration site. In May, Barriere Lake's Elders Council issued a letter to the Quebec Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife and the CEO of Cartier Resources pledging that the community would peacefully block any resource extraction like mining on their traditional territory until the Trilateral Agreement is implemented.

Community members then travelled to Montreal to speak at the company's annual general meeting, where they reiterated their opposition to the mine. In June, community members camped out on the exploration site to stop test drilling from proceeding. On the company's request Quebec has now suspended the term of Cartier Resource's 1,052 mineral claims in the territory until July 3rd 2013. No exploration activity can take place on the claims during this time.

"We call on the Quebec government to follow Cartier Resources' lead by withdrawing any mineral claims in the entire area of the Trilateral Agreement until they have implemented the Trilateral Agreement. If Premier Jean Charest is committed to sustainable development and a just relationship with First Nations, this should be his natural next step," said Matchewan.

"Cartier Resources is to be congratulated on its decision to respect the right of the Algonquin to consent to activities in their territory," added Ramsey Hart of MiningWatch Canada. "This, however, was a voluntary decision by the company that points out Quebec's failure to work with the Algonquin and other First Nations such as the Innu and Mohawk to develop a protocol for consultation and consent of mining activities in their territories."

Media contacts:

Norman Matchewan, community spokesperson: 819-215-0741
Michel Thusky, community spokesperson: 819-435-2171
Ramsey Hart, Canada Program Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada: 613-569-3439

Province failing in inspections and enforcement to protect environment

By Calvin Sandbor and Maya Stano*

Victoria Times Colonist

2 July 2011

The current mining boom is sparking controversy across British Columbia. On Vancouver Island, a debate rages over a proposed Fanny Bay coal mine. First Nations have sued to suspend northeast coal exploration that threatens caribou. The plan to drain and kill Fish Lake triggered massive public resistance.

Reasonable people can disagree on the merits of particular mine projects.

But most British Columbians would be shocked to discover just how weak our mine regulatory system has become.

There is an urgent need to reform this environmental protection regime.

A recent Environmental Law Centre study found:

- The legal rules set out in Environmental Assessment certificates are often actually drafted by the mining company, can be vague and unenforceable and are not monitored over the life of the mine.

- The number of government mine inspections in 2008 was only half the number of inspections carried out in 2001.

- The number of provincial staff dedicated to mine reclamation issues has dropped by more than 50 per cent.

- Since 1998, Ministry of Environment staff have been reduced by more than 25 per cent.

- From 2006 until 2010, MOE took only six enforcement actions for coal and metal mine violations. Five of those penalties amounted to less than $600 each.

- The province's chief inspector of mines failed to file the legally required 2009 and 2010 annual reports on enforcement and other issues - and cited lack of staff as a reason.

This ramshackle enforcement regime is not good enough for an industry that can create environmental and financial catastrophes. Acid mine drainage can release toxins for centuries. Taxpayers paid $69 million to clean up the Britannia mine that killed Britannia Creek and affected millions of salmon in the Squamish estuary.

After the Mount Washington mine destroyed the Tsolum River fishery, taxpayers paid $6 million to restore the river. It can get far worse - taxpayers paid $436 million to clean up the Yukon's Faro Mine and $399 million to clean up the Giant Mine in the Northwest Territories.

Yet the system to ensure that companies pay for their own mess is broken. In 2003, the province's auditor general pointed out that financial security being taken under the Mines Act is inadequate to remediate the known mines sites in B.C. where contamination exists.

Some action has been taken since then, but not enough. In 2010, the government's public accounts acknowledged almost $600 million in net liability for B.C. mines. Yet tens of millions of that amount remains unsecured. Some B.C. mines have posted security for less than $5 million - when a water treatment system alone can cost over $25 million.

Lack of security is a problem for such a volatile industry. It leaves taxpayers at risk to pay for massive cleanups - or to not pay, and endure serious environmental damage. Security rules must be revamped to ensure that companies, not taxpayers, clean up their own mess.

In addition, the B.C. regime needs to be reformed to provide compensation for victims of mine pollution. Under the current system, if a mine pollutes and then goes broke, neighbours and others (shellfish growers, fishers, tourism operators) are likely out of luck - and out of pocket.

Government should require the mining industry to fund a program to protect such innocent third parties.

The provincial and federal governments have both endorsed the polluter-pays principle. Now they need to actually implement it.

A mining boom is sweeping the province. But before any more mines are approved, there needs to be comprehensive law reform. We need to ensure that mining provides long-term benefits to communities - and also protects the ecosystems we depend on.

At a minimum, we need to enact laws to provide the highest level of environmental protection; ensure government has enough staff to actually enforce those laws; and ensure that companies - not taxpayers and Mother Nature - pay for the environmental and financial damage caused by a mine.

We must act to protect the wild salmon and trout, eagles and bears. We must act to protect our pristine streams and sparkling lakes. Finally, we must act to protect mine neighbours, the provincial treasury and taxpayers.

*Calvin Sandborn is legal director and Maya Stano a geological engineer and graduating law student at the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre.

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