MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: Legal challenge to uranium 'collaboration agreement'

Published by MAC on 2013-07-02
Source: Statement, Media Coop

Legal action seeks to annul uranium 'collaboration agreement'

Press release

25 June 2013

PRINCE ALBERT, Sask. - Residents of the northern Saskatchewan community of Pinehouse and supporters from across the country have filed a statement of claim seeking to overturn a controversial deal between municipal officials and the uranium industry. The "collaboration agreement" was signed on December 12, 2012 by uranium giants Cameco and Areva, the Northern Village of Pinehouse, and Kineepik Métis Local #9. The governments of Saskatchewan and Canada, Pinehouse mayor Mike Natomagan, and alleged Kineepik local elected official Vince Natomagan are also named as defendants.

Filed in the Prince Albert Court of Queen's Bench on the morning of June 24, the 42 plaintiffs challenge the legality of the agreement. Community members were only notified of the initiative in November 2012, when they were given a brief summary of terms. The full text of the agreement was only released after it was signed.

"Our rights and freedoms are being suppressed by the spirit of this so-called collaboration agreement, in how it was negotiated," says Dale Smith, a Pinehouse resident and plaintiff in the case. "How would you feel if you lost control of the future for yourselves and your children?"

"What happened here in Pinehouse is a reflection of what is happening throughout Canada," adds Pinehouse resident and plaintiff Jon Smerek. "Industry development has become the train rushing by, leaving us powerless on the sidelines."

Just last month, on May 31, Cameco and Areva signed a similar agreement with the English River First Nation, in spite of strong opposition from the membership.

"Many band members were shocked and appalled that this collaboration agreement was being approved and signed before most people had even heard about it," says English River First Nation member Candyce Paul, also a plaintiff in the case. "We have grave concerns about the impacts these uranium mines are having on our environment, our food chain, and the health of our people now and in the future."

The claim against the Pinehouse agreement asserts that it violates many statutes, including the Canadian Constitution, Treaty rights, the Northern Municipalities Act, and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples - particularly the right to free, prior and informed consent. Plaintiffs are also seeking an independent assessment of the impact of uranium mining on the environment and health of northerners.

Support for this legal action has seen plaintiffs from throughout Saskatchewan and across the country signing on to the claim.

"The implications of these illegal agreements extend far beyond the borders of the communities with whom these corporations are making their backroom deals," says Jim Harding, a retired professor of environmental and justice studies. "If we allow this attack on democratic process to continue unchecked in any one of our communities, what's to stop this from happening in your hometown?"


Media contacts:

Dale Smith, Pinehouse
306 - 884-7718

Candyce Paul, English River First Nation
306 - 288-2079/3157

Legal Action Challenges Uranium Industry Agreement

Saskatchewan residents file statement of claim against Cameco, Areva, three levels of government

by Sandra Cuffe

25 June 2013

PRINCE ALBERT-The Northern Village of Pinehouse and uranium industry giants Cameco and Areva celebrated their December 2012 collaboration agreement, but Pinehouse residents and supporters from throughout Saskatchewan and beyond are taking legal action to have it annulled in court.

On June 24, a statement of claim was filed in provincial court in Prince Albert on behalf of 42 plaintiffs who are challenging the legality of the agreement and the lack of consultation in Pinehouse, a primarily Métis community located 500 kilometres north of Saskatoon.

Along with collaboration agreement signatories Cameco, Areva, the Northern Village of Pinehouse and Kineepik Métis Local #9, Pinehouse mayor Mike Natomagan, Kineepik official Vince Natomagan and the governments of Saskatchewan and Canada are named as defendants. The statement of claim also addresses intimidation by local leaders in Pinehouse and the devastating impacts of the uranium industry in northern Saskatchewan.

"They talk about prosperity and money coming into town, but they have a fixed view of what they would like to see and it seems to exclude everybody else," said Dale Smith, a Pinehouse resident and plaintiff in the case.

The agreement was only brought to local residents last November, despite longstanding negotiations between municipal and company officials and lawyers. Touted as a multi-million dollar deal providing contracts and other support over an extended period, the collaboration agreement includes Pinehouse and Kineepik support for existing, upcoming and future uranium mining projects owned by Cameco and Areva.

Only a Summary of Terms was presented to the community prior to the December 12, 2012 signing. The document originally contained a ‘gag order' clause, which sparked widespread alarm.

"When we wanted the original document-contract-they wouldn't give it to us until after they signed the collaboration agreement. There was absolutely no consultation except for one or two days when they brought it and told the people what they are going to do," Pinehouse resident and plaintiff Fred Pederson told the Media Co-op in an interview in Prince Albert after the statement of claim was filed.

"You don't buy a truck unseen. You don't make a deal for a truck until you see it [and] you know what you're buying," said Pederson. "Because if they say we'll sell you this truck, it's in really good shape, but we're not gonna show it to you until you sign for it, after you sign the agreement, they might send you a real big truck, a nice big truck that's in good shape. But it might just be a little toy truck."

Meetings behind closed doors and a lack of consultation have become a pattern in Pinehouse, says Pederson. Similar concerns have been raised about Pinehouse's participation in the Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) site selection process in its search for a host community for the spent fuel bundles from nuclear reactors in eastern Canada. Pederson and other outspoken opponents of the nuclear industry have also faced intimidation, harassment and threats from the local leadership.

"They're supposed to be trusted, elected leaders. They're supposed to [consult] the town," said Pederson. "My hope is that [the legal action] will hopefully straighten out some of the dishonesty and stuff that has been going on with our leaders in Pinehouse. Because they have been pushing us down, pushing us down, pushing us down."

The atmosphere outside the courthouse, where several plaintiffs had gathered in anticipation of the filing, was one of celebration. Dale Smith was happy that the statement of claim had been filed, but was also hesitant about the reactions and consequences he and others may face in their home community.

"It's a big relief because I kind of sense that one chapter is over and it's been a very interesting experience," said Smith. "Because of the close-knit community that I live in and having to go this far to hold onto my identity as a resident, as a Native person, as a father and a husband and to be accountable to live in a community and having to face taking them to court-both my own Native, my Aboriginal relations, I guess, as well as family members-it's gonna be a life-changing experience at this level, for me."

The increasing involvement of the uranium and nuclear industries directly in community affairs has led to divisions and tensions in the community and even within families, including their own, both Pederson and Smith told the Media Co-op. The Pinehouse plaintiffs fully expect to face consequences in their home community due to their participation in the legal action.

"I can sense a struggle with how to cope with the reality I'm about to face with my own people, my own family," said Smith.

Pederson, an energetic elder in his 70s, is less hesitant. "This shit's gonna hit the fan. And yes, we feel that we're going to be criticized and run down because we're going against it. I have no fear of that," he said.

With the Millennium and Midwest uranium projects on the horizon, the Pinehouse and other collaborations agreements paving the way for unchallenged expansion of the uranium industry in northern Saskatchewan are urgent matters for affected community residents questioning their impacts. Cameco and Areva also signed a collaboration agreement with English River First Nation last month, on May 31, despite widespread opposition from within the community both before and during the signing ceremony.

Dozens of supporters from throughout Saskatchewan and out of province signed onto the statement of claim as plaintiffs.

"The implications of these illegal agreements extend far beyond the borders of the communities with whom these corporations are making their backroom deals," said Jim Harding, a retired professor of environmental and justice studies, according to a June 25 press release. "If we allow this attack on democratic process to continue unchecked in any one of our communities, what's to stop this from happening in your hometown?"

Sandra Cuffe is a freelance journalist currently based in northern Saskatchewan.

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