MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada uranium update

Published by MAC on 2007-08-03

Canada Uranium update

3rd August 2007

As Cameco faces an image problem, associated with its uranium mining in the Canadian provinces of Saskatchewan and Ontario, another uranium mining company, Frontenac Ventures, is facing opposition to the opening of its mine from the Algonquin First Nations. The Algonquins are "asserting their aboriginal rights in the name of the collective good, the preservation of the land against what they perceive as a dire threat of contamination through uranium exploration and mining." Amending legislation to combine surface and subsurface property rights in Eastern Ontario was recently supported by representatives of all political parties in the area where Frontenac is prospecting.

Cameco's image takes a beating

By Randy Burton, The StarPhoenix

2nd August 2007

Under normal circumstances, these would be the best of times for Cameco Corp.

The uranium giant is just coming off the most profitable quarter in its history, with earnings of $205 million on record revenues of $725 million.

It has been selling uranium at rates that are 61 per cent higher than a year ago and sales volumes have doubled. For 2007, revenue is expected to be up by a whopping 40 per cent over 2006.

All of this tends to blunt the complaints in the stock market that Cameco has been too complacent in an era of unprecedented prices for uranium and a wave of consolidation in the industry.

It should also help to ease concerns about the future of the company as one piece of bad news follows another.

In many ways, the past year can only be described as Cameco's annus horribilis. First it was the flooding at the company's Cigar Lake mine, caused by the failure of sealing metal doors and a shortage of underground pumps.

Then it was revealed that it will take at least a year longer than anticipated to bring the mine back into production. The latest blow to the company's profile came with the abrupt suspension of operations at its Port Hope, Ont., conversion facility following the discovery of soil contaminated with uranium.

The combination of these events has been driving down the price of the company's stock in spite of the balance sheet triumphs.

Cameco now finds itself characterized as "Sleepy Hollow" in the pages of the national Globe and Mail, where it is described as a staid sort of company where complacency is good enough.

Cameco's cautious approach to expansion makes an easy target in an era of rapid-fire deal making, but it ignores the fact that progress in uranium mining tends to be measured in decades rather than months. However, there's no doubt Cameco is operating in a climate of market hostility at the moment.

It was against this backdrop that Cameco president and CEO Jerry Grandey responded to the criticisms in discussing Cameco's financial results and operations with analysts and reporters this week.

While he acknowledges Cameco is suffering through some difficulties, Grandey argues the strength of the company's balance sheet is "a far better indication of the company's potential than recent news."

He also announced the company has launched a series of initiatives aimed at improving the company's oversight and accountability mechanisms.

"We understand that our operational performance must improve, from the top of the organization to the people on the front lines," he said.

Given the importance of Cameco to Saskatchewan, this is all good news. The question is whether it's enough for federal regulators.

Linda Keen, the tough, no-nonsense chief executive of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), has been less than pleased with Cameco's recent performance.

At a meeting with company officials in June, Keen made no bones about where she thinks responsibility lies for the string of setbacks the company has suffered of late.

She bluntly told Cameco officials that the CNSC has lost faith in the company following the flooding of the Cigar Lake mine.

"One of the very serious results of this is a lack of confidence that now the CNSC, the commission and the staff, has in Cameco and in the leadership of Cameco," she said.

Keen was having none of Grandey's argument that there were a number of root causes for the accident.

"Mr. Grandey, with due respect . . . I think there was a root cause of leadership and I think it's leadership that we all accept at the top of organizations for what happens in this," she said.

If you look at the situation from Keen's point of view, it's easy to understand her skepticism. After all, Cameco has also had flooding at its McArthur River mine back in 2003, and appears to have been extremely slow to learn the lessons of that disaster.

Keen also has pressures of her own to deal with. The CNSC has taken over from the old Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB), which she recently suggested was seen as being too close to industry. Thus, she is motivated to ensure the federal regulator is not only independent, but is seen to be independent.

Consequently, Keen is in no mood to cut Cameco any slack with regard to its responsibilities. In a recent speech to the Canadian Nuclear Association, she talked about licencees' need to understand that they also have a "social licence" to fulfil, "where a better understanding of their responsibility for transparency and clarity must be achieved with communities, public interest groups and citizens."

Cameco, of course, is a model corporate citizen within Saskatchewan, and Grandey himself has been more than generous in his contributions to community life.

But the confluence of problems on his watch has presented him with some serious challenges.

It's one thing to have back seat drivers in the investment community pick apart your decisions and whine about shareholder value. It's quite another when the head of the country's nuclear regulator suggests you're not doing your job.

After all, the company's future and the fate of thousands of jobs in the Saskatchewan uranium industry depend on satisfying the national licensing agency.

Cameco has clearly been put on notice that it has to do better.

Uranium drilling fight gets hot

Natives warn of threat to Ottawa's water as company looks to court to end blockade

Suzanne Ma, The Ottawa Citizen

30th July 2007

A month-long standoff between two Algonquin communities in Eastern Ontario and a uranium prospecting company will be moving from a make-shift blockade near Sharbot Lake to a Kingston courtroom today, after the Ardoch Lake and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations were served with a $75-million lawsuit last week.

In late June, the two communities had joined forces to prevent Frontenac Ventures from drilling for uranium core samples on disputed land. Since then, all have been embroiled in what has been, so far, a test of nerves. Each side has accused the other of using intimidation tactics. The Algonquins allege the big-ticket lawsuit is Frontenac's latest "stunt."

The company has staked more than 5,000 hectares and was about to start drilling when the Algonquins and their supporters blocked them from accessing the land. They set up a gated base camp near Sharbot Lake, about 50 kilometres north of Kingston, and put up signs and flags, parked a couple of trailers and pitched tents. A handful of people have remained on-site 24 hours a day since June 28, and a number of volunteers guard the perimeter of the staked land.

The Algonquins say the land belongs to them -- most Ardoch Lake and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations are non-status Indians, meaning they never signed a treaty to extinguish their land rights in exchange for reserves and services -- and they're upset the province didn't consult them before giving Frontenac Ventures permission to explore for uranium.

The Algonquins and their supporters say they're worried that exploration and mining will contaminate their lands and water with radioactive waste. The waterways, they point out, are connected to the Ottawa River and could affect the drinking water in the nation's capital.

Frontenac's lawyer, Neal Smitheman, said he will be seeking an injunction to have the blockade removed while working on getting Frontenac access to its mining claims, which were approved by the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.

"If we don't get something resolved soon, it could put the company out of business," Mr. Smitheman said. "When you do things like this, when you occupy and prevent access to people from doing what they have a lawful right to do, they can have serious ramifications."

Paula Sherman, co-chief of the Ardoch Lake First Nations, said the lawsuit has only strengthened her people's resolve.

"We're not leaving until there's a moratorium on uranium mining," said Ms. Sherman, who has been living in a trailer at the base camp.

"We will never allow them to have entry. It's our land. We have a responsibility to take care of the land for future generations."

The apparent confusion over land ownership comes at a time when several Algonquin communities in Ontario are engaged in land-claim negotiations with the provincial government. Frontenac's staked land is just part of a vast territory in dispute, stretching from Algonquin Park all the way to the front lawn of Parliament Hill.

The Ardoch Lake and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations only recently discovered Frontenac Ventures was on the land when an area resident showed up at an Ardoch Lake council meeting a few months ago.

Frank Morrison, who owns 100 hectares of pristine streams, meadows and trees in North Frontenac, found out last November that his land had been prospected for uranium.

His story was featured in the Citizen earlier this month, where he described coming across scarred trees and stumps bearing metal tags with the Ontario trillium symbol. Mr. Morrison started doing some of his own digging, and found a 139-year-old piece of Ontario legislation that allowed mining prospectors "free entry" to his property. He also learned he didn't own the "mineral rights" to his land, so while he owned the surface of the land, he did not own what was buried beneath. And, he found out who the prospector was: Frontenac Ventures.

"Frank came in and said all of his land had been dug up," Ms. Sherman said.

"We began to check it out and discovered roads had been dug out and trees had been cleared."

Algonquin representatives confirmed with the ministry that a chunk of their land had indeed been staked by Frontenac Ventures. First came disbelief. Then anger. And, as word spread throughout the community, non-natives joined in the fight. This week, Dawn King drove to the base camp from near Perth, bringing food and supplies.

"It's a human issue. It's not a native issue. It will affect us all," said Ms. King after unloading a carload of donations from the community, including toilet paper, homemade salsa, bread, eggs and cheese.

Earl Recoskie, a 56-year-old retiree, moved to the area six months ago, drawn to North Frontenac's beautiful lakes and marshes. He wasn't happy when he found out Frontenac Ventures was planning to dig for uranium. He now visits the blockade every day.

"It's disastrous, as far as I'm concerned," he said, resting under the shade of a tent. "We find out a uranium mine could very well be in our backyard. For our sakes and the First Nations' sakes, we are going to do everything we can to try and stop it."

But while much frustration lies with Frontenac, Mr. Recoskie and Ms. King said they were disappointed with the province's inaction.

"You can say what you want about ... any business. They're going to try to do what they're going to do to make money. But the government has the responsibility to do what's right," Mr. Recoskie said.

That's one thing that the Algonquins and Frontenac Ventures can agree on: that the Ontario government granted permits to the company. They gave the go-ahead without saying a word; not a word to Frontenac about the potential conflicts they could face with the local Algonquins, and not a word to the Algonquins, who only learned of the drilling plans when Mr. Morrison tipped them off.

"We do have an obligation to consult First Nations," allowed Laura Blondeau, press secretary for Rick Bartolucci, minister of northern development and mines. But did the ministry consult the Ardoch Lake and Shabot Obaadjiwan First Nations before Frontenac moved in?

"I cannot confirm this," said Ms. Blondeau, who could only say that the ministry was continuing "to establish better processes" when dealing with such matters. Randy Cota, co-chief of the Ardoch Lake First Nations, said many people in the community are fed up.

"We're used to this, (First Nations) have been burned so many times," he said. "The government asks, 'Why can't you trust us?' When (throughout) all of our Canadian history, can you tell me one time when we ever got a fair shake?"

Mr. Smitheman said the public has been misinformed about Frontenac Ventures' plans. "Frontenac Ventures is really a prospector rather than a mining company," he said. "They are trying to gather samples to see if it's a feasible mining site. They want to drill some holes and get some samples. It's no different for someone to drill a hole for water in that area."

But Mr. Cota said there would be no drilling of any kind on the disputed land.

"It's our homeland, we have no place else in the world for the Algonquin people to call home," he said. "We have a responsibility to the land, to respect her and not abuse her. It's time for us to step up to the plate."

Candidates express broad agreement over mining issues

by Jeff Green, Frontenac News

26th July 2007

The Liberal, Conservative, and NDP candidates for the upcoming provincial election in the Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington riding, participated in a forum sponsored by the Bedford Mining Alert (BMA) on July 21 at the Bedford Hall.

The Green Party, which has yet to select a provincial candidate, sent their federal candidate, Chris Walker.

Prior to the meeting, the Bedford Mining Alert had provided each of the candidates with background information about issues related to prospecting on private lands, and the candidates answered a series of questions from BMA member Justin Connidis

The four candidates all agreed on a major issue that has been championed by the Bedford Mining Alert for years - they favoured the uniting of surface and subsurface rights, at least in Eastern Ontario.

Throughout Ontario, a small percentage of landowners do not own the subsurface rights to their property, and these properties are available for staking by prospectors. Prospectors are exempt from normal trespass laws in pursuing their interests on these lands, and they are allowed to clear brush, cut trees, and do trenching on the properties without the consent of the landowners.

Ian Wilson, the Liberal candidate, pointed to proposed legislation that has just been posted for review, legislation that would see changes to how the Mining Act is implemented in the future. (see "A way forward or half a loaf?") The changes do not include uniting surface and subsurface rights, however. Wilson was willing to go further, "I do support uniting surface and subsurface rights in Eastern Ontario," he said.

Although Randy Hillier said, "Surface and subsurface rights must be united", he also posed the issue against the context of the broader agenda of property rights, which he champions.

Chris Walker, from the Green Party, posed the issue in terms of sustainable growth, seeing the drive to extract resources as a symptom of an economy that is causing a host of environmental problems.

He also pointed out that he has researched the Conservative party policy on the Mining Act, and reported that he was told there are no plans to change the mining act.

"That could change," Randy Hiller responded.

"The key issue is not uniting surface and subsurface rights, which I do support" said Ross Sutherland from the NDP, "it is broader than that. There should also be more controls on exploration on Crown lands, and Natives need to be consulted when their lands are being affected."

Before the discussion concerning surface and sub-surface rights got underway, Frank Morrison and John Kittle made presentations. Frank Morrison told the kind of story that is familiar to Bedford Mining Alert members: that of finding his land disturbed and stakes in the ground, and through research realising that prospectors have extensive rights on his land.

In his case, however, it was not a graphite or wollastonite deposit that is being explored, as is common on Bedford. Morrison lives in North Frontenac Township, and the company that has staked his property is Frontenac Ventures Corporation.

John Kittle spoke specifically about uranium and the consequences of uranium mining and exploration.

The candidates were not asked directly about their response to the uranium exploration in North and Central Frontenac until the tail end of the meeting, when the public had their chance to ask questions.

Norm Guntensperger asked them if they support the activities of the Algonquin protesters who have occupied the site where Frontenac Ventures had been located.

Both Randy Hiller and Ian Wilson said they do not support the Algonquins, and Chris Walker and Ross Sutherland said they did.

However, all four candidates said they support a moratorium on uranium exploration in the case.

Although they oppose the occupation, both Ian Wilson and Randy Hiller said they did not favour a heavy-handed approach to the occupation by police or government officials.

"Confrontation does not serve anyone's interest," Wilson said.

Frontenac Ventures initiates lawsuits against Algonquins at mine site

by Jeff Green, Frontenac News

26th July 2007

Frontenac Ventures Corporation has initiated legal proceedings against the Shabot Obaadjiwaan First Nation, the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, and the leadership of the two communities: Doreen Davis, Paula Sherman, Randy Cota, Bob Lovelace, and Harold Perry.

The Ardoch and Sharbot Lake communities have occupied the Robertsville mine for the past four weeks. Frontenac Ventures has leased space at the mine site as a base camp for exploring a 30,000-acre swath of land for uranium content in the hopes of finding an "economic deposit", in the words of company President George White.

Company lawyer Neil Smitheman said the lawsuit names the First Nations and their leadership because they have been blocking the company from pursuing its business interests. "We need to have this dealt with fast," Smitheman said. Frontenac Ventures is scheduled to complete a deal, described by Gorge White as a "reverse takeover" with Sylvio Ventures of Vancouver on July 31. The deal could lead to the company achieving a listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange later this year. There is no word on how the occupation of the Robertsville mine will affect these dealings.

The suit is scheduled to be heard in Kingston Court on July 30, at which time Frontenac Ventures will be seeking a court injunction to remove the Shabot Obaadjiwaan and Ardoch Algonquins from the Robertsville mine. The federal and provincial governments and the Ontario Provincial Police were served papers as well, although they were not named in the lawsuit.

"They were served," Smitheman said, "because they will be expected to act if there is a court injunction."

Smitheman said that the July 30 court date was the first available date in Kingston.

For their part, the Algonquin leadership refused to acknowledge the legal papers when they were served on Monday July 23.

In other news in this ongoing situation, Minister of Aboriginal Affairs David Ramsay said last week that he will not intervene in the matter, leaving it to the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines to deal with.

An anti-uranium information picket is planned for Saturday, July 28, in the Town of Perth along Highway 7. Cars will be slowed in both directions to allow for information to be passed, but the road will not be closed.

A way forward, or half a loaf?

by Jeff Green, Frontenac News

26th July 2007

As Bedford Mining Alert members grilled provincial politicians on the mining act in the Bedford hall last week, Peter Griesbach sat silently at the back of the room.

It's not that Peter Griesbach is indifferent to the mining act. Since 2002 he has been a member of the Minister's Mining Act Advisory Committee (MMAAC) and is chair of a subcommittee of MMAAC that has prepared an amendment to the mining act. The amendment has just been posted for comment on the government's Environmental Registry.

The amended act would not unite surface and subsurface rights, nor would it allow surface rights owners to purchase the subsurface rights to their property, but it would increase the amount of land that is exempt from staking, and would also require more and fuller notification to surface rights owners before a prospector can enter their property.

Peter Griesbach got involved in mining rights in the same way many other people do - he found that someone had entered his property and cut down trees. He phoned the OPP to report a trespass, and was eventually referred to the Ministry of Northern Development of Mines, who informed him that his property had been staked.

"I never thought that unifying surface and sub-surface was do-able, and it was never on the table as we worked through changes to the sections of the mining act that dealing with staking on private property," Griesbach said.

Although he has been chairing the subcommittee that prepared the proposed amendments to the act, he is the only member of the community that is not either a ministry employee or a representative of mining or prospecting interests.

"This has not been a problem," he said, "because everyone had an interest in establishing rules that would not lead to conflicts in the field. The clearer the rules, the easier it will be for everyone."

Among proposed changes that affect Southern Ontario is the elimination of the physical staking of claims. Claims will be staked through interment mapping, thus eliminating the first instance of potential conflict with landowners. The prospector staking a claim will then have 60 days to notify the surface rights owner. As well, 30 days' notification will be required before a prospector can enter the surface rights owner's property, and the specific work plans will have to be given.

It is also proposed that the prospecting company will be required to repair any damages to surface lands that is caused by their activities.

Lots that are one hectare or less will be exempt from staking, as will a one-hectare ring around a residence on lots that are larger than one hectare.

Certain other kinds of property will be exempt from staking as well, if the amendment goes through, including: subdivisions, residential and cottage lots, railway lands, cropping and other farm operations, municipal lands such as parks, etc., and managed woodlots.

The proposed changes are described at a link from

Get off my land

Editorial by Jeff Green, Frontenac News

26th July 2007

In a telling scene during Fiddler on the Roof, a Cossack Inspector who has taken a liking to Tevye the milkman, comes to tell him that on the following day he will be forced to leave his home, and his village.

As Tevye contemplates his own powerlessness in the face of government forces, he reacts in the only way he knows, "Get off my land," he says, "This is still my land, get off my land."

Peter Jorgensen, the part owner and manager of the Robertsville mine, might understand Tevye's reaction, as might Frank and Gloria Morrison, as do First Nations peoples throughout North America, as does George White of Frontenac Ventures Corporation.

Peter Jorgensen has been told that he faces arrest if he so much as approaches his property; Frank and Gloria Morrison have had their property altered by prospectors; First Nations peoples were herded into reserves or left to drift away from their traditional lands about 200 years ago; and George White cannot access property that he has leased or conduct exploration land on property that he has legally staked, again under threat of arrest.

What we have here is a conjunction of cases where the supposed rights of individuals are coming into conflict with the rights of the collective, and these conflicts are not easily resolved.

Peter Jorgensen is clearly on the losing end thus far. He cannot access a property that he holds a legal deed to.

The Algonquins who are preventing him from accessing the property are not doing so for financial gain. They are asserting their aboriginal rights in the name of the collective good, the preservation of the land against what they perceive as a dire threat of contamination through uranium exploration and mining.

Not only do they have nothing to gain financially from this, they are now facing a $77 million lawsuit for their trouble. But as altruistic as the Algonquins' goals may be, their assertion of collective rights impinge directly on Peter Jorgensen's individual rights.

Many members of the Frontenac and Lanark communities fear for their own well being, the well being of their land and their families, if a uranium mine is built. This fear is akin to the fear expressed by the Algonquins, who say that if the land is gone they are gone as a people.

The provincial government is perhaps more concerned that the lights will go out across the province if uranium mining is curtailed. So, whose interests are more important? Thousands of Eastern Ontarians and a tiny native community, or ten million people who expect the power to flow to their own houses?

The government has the right to expropriate the lands of private individuals for airports or roads, so why not for greenhouse-free power?

In the end we are all like Tevye, and Peter Jorgensen. We might own our land today, but that could change.


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