Reform Mining Legislation
Reform mining legislation
11th July 2007
Many landowners in and near Sharbot Lake are finding themselves on the wrong side of an archaic law that gives prospectors expansive rights to hunt for minerals on other people's land.
A company called Frontenac Resources is hunting for uranium, the nuclear fuel. Several questions are in play at Sharbot Lake: an unresolved aboriginal land claim and locals' concerns about long-term pollution are the most significant.
Working these out is bound to be time-consuming and expensive. But a bigger problem is the collision between the rights of miners in Ontario and those of the people who own land that might have minerals on or under it. The situation is similar in other provinces; in the Outaouais, a company called Aldershot Resources has staked hundreds of square kilometres of mining claims.
The Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines is clear that its purpose is to promote mining in Ontario. The government owns the mining rights on most land that now belongs to the Crown or ever did, and the government grants expansive rights to people with prospectors' licences to hunt for valuable minerals.
This is a fact of the Mining Act, and surface-rights holders can't be excused for not knowing how it affects their property. Still, that doesn't mean the system works the way it should.
Despite the plain meaning of the term "surface rights," people who hold them do not have the right to stop people from using the surface of a piece of land to prospect, claim, drill, and eventually mine on. Mining rights and surface rights have equal legal standing.
In fact, mining rights seem to supersede surface rights. When prospectors start digging around, they don't have to tell surface-rights owners they're doing it. They can cut trees down to use for stakes, dig holes and trenches to get samples and tape sections off -- all without ringing a doorbell or leaving a note.
In what seems to be an effort to placate surface-rights holders, the ministry says only about one claim in 10,000 ultimately leads to a working mine, and usually not until after 10 or 20 years of careful study. From a landowner's view, that could mean 10 or 20 years of workers traipsing over your land and of being unable to sell the surface rights for their ordinary value.
The rules should protect people who are using their surface rights to land for homes, cottages or businesses. Such changes don't have to be onerous but not making them leaves surface-rights holders at risk.
The existing law might have been acceptable when the Crown was first granting land to private citizens, often in vast parcels to people who planned to use it for its resources. It will not do in an age of high prices for desirable rural property, eco-tourism, retirement-project bed-and-breakfasts, and market-gardening. Mining is not always the highest and best use to which land can be put.