Intervenor: Vol 24. No 3 July - September 1999

MiningWatch Canada: Our Eye On The Industry

Canadian Mining companies and their associations have been in the forefront of pressing for environmental deregulation in Canada over the last few years. Recognized for having one of the most sophisticated public lobbying campaigns (first through "Keep Mining in Canada" and now through their "Mining Works" campaign) the industry has been a force to be reckoned with. Recently, the industry has squeezed further public subsidies out of the BC and Ontario governments and it had a significant behind-the-scenes impact on the Lands for Life process. It is reported that a number of the proposed protected areas on the first map drawn up overlapped existing claims by many of Canada’s largest mining companies. However by the second draft of the map these overlaps had been removed by a re-jigging of the protected areas boundaries leaving existing claims unaffected.

Here at CELA we were actively involved in documenting the erosion of environmental oversight of mining when the initial roll-backs carried out by the Harris government occurred under Bill 26. Our analysis of the Lands for Life proposals included reviewing the Ministry of Mines and Northern Development side-deal where mining companies would be allowed to prospect in new parks and protected areas for high mineral content, and if minerals were found, the park boundaries would change, creating a "floating park."

The provincial government has also allowed a $21 million "treasure hunt" fund to encourage such exploration by mining companies. As the CELA report notes: "The people of Ontario should understand that mining initiatives can wipe out any gains through the Lands for Life proposal. It is about time the government stopped candy-coating what is going on and tell the public that proposal should be called Lands for the Mining Companies.", see related information below.

But here at CELA we have done more than just document the appalling nature of this government’s mining policy. Over the last few years we have been actively developing links with counterparts in Canada, the United States and especially in Latin America. Earlier editions of the Intervenor have reported on our work with Cooperaccion in Peru where a number of Canadian companies are active.

In early 1998, we began collaborating with the Environmental Mining Council of BC to develop a national organization focused on mining. CELA sits on the Board of Directors of this new organization, called MiningWatch Canada/Mines Alerte Canada, which opened its doors in Ottawa this past April. (See MiningWatch Canada below.)

A key component of MWC strategy is to develop a strong working relationship with Aboriginal organizations and First Nations. Earlier this month in Ottawa the Innu Nation and MiningWatch Canada jointly hosted a workshop on the impacts of mining on First Nations. Over 75 aboriginal leaders and technical workers from over 30 communities affected by the mining industry attended the workshop. They came from Yukon, Nunavut, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec and Labrador.

The workshop focussed on community responses to mineral development on aboriginal land, how communities react to existing operations, and how to cope with reclamation and abandoned mines.

Innu elder Munik Rich opened the workshop by explaining how she was born in Voisey’s Bay, an area which Inco Ltd. plans to turn into a giant nickel-copper-cobalt mine in the near future. "This is my land, the land and rivers belong to the Innu," said Munik. "I feel sad about what’s going on in Voisey’s Bay, where I was born and raised … It would be a lie to hear a non-Innu say ‘this is our land,’ the Innu will know it’s a lie."

Innu Nation chief negotiator Daniel Ashini focussed on aboriginal land rights and the struggle to protect them in the face of mineral development in his keynote address to the workshop. "As a people, we have never recognized the jurisdictions that are now so interested in us and our land," said Mr. Ashini. "We have never signed a treaty, nor ceded a single square inch of our land. In the past, losing our land was not a big issue as it was possible for Innu and non-Innu to share the land and its resources. Today we are forced to deal with governments, companies and individuals who are trying to push us aside in a great rush to claim our land as their own for industrial development."

There was wide consensus amongst the workshop participants that the government and mining industry have failed to address aboriginal concerns, and that their current approach to dealing with aboriginal communities facing all aspects of the mineral industry falls well short of what is needed.

Abandoned mines were a major issue with workshop participants. Some communities are having to deal with as many as 15 abandoned mines on their traditional territory. In many communities, these mines leach acidic toxins into lakes and rivers. In some cases, like the Giant Mine in Yellowknife, the tailings have the potential to poison entire eco-systems.

Of key concern was the disruption to community life caused by the demands created by mining companies. One of the participants described the relationship with mining companies as "having a drunk push his way into your home, break up the furniture, bully your family and piss on the rug, and then force you to negotiate the terms on which he will live in your house forever."

The workshop was closed with a speech by former Assembly of First Nations National Chief Ovide Mercredi on the necessity for governments and industry to recognize aboriginal rights.

MiningWatch Canada, in conjunction with aboriginal communities across the country, will address these issues through its work. Plans include a directory of competent technical experts, further networking opportunities for aboriginal activists, public education and publication of resources.

MiningWatch Canada

MiningWatch Canada (MWC) was set up in April 1999. It is a pan-Canadian initiative supported by environmental, social justice, aboriginal and labour organizations from across the country. It addresses the urgent need for a co-ordinated public interest response to the threats to public health, water and air quality, fish and wildlife habitat and community interests posed by irresponsible mineral policies and practices. The aims of MWC are to:

  • ensure that mineral development practices are consistent with the goals of sustainable communities and ecological health;
  • strengthen technical and strategic skills within communities and organizations faced with impacts of mineral development;
  • impose appropriate terms and conditions on mining and in some cases prevent the development of projects that would adversely affect areas of ecological, economic and cultural significance; and
  • improve policies to improve the efficiency and reduce the risks of mineral development.

MiningWatch Canada is a direct response to industry and government failures to provide environmental protection from destructive mining practices and to deliver on their rhetoric. With technical and strategic expertise from across Canada, MWC carries out and/or supports the monitoring, analysis and advocacy necessary to affect the behaviour of industry and public decision-makers.

Ken Traynor is the International Programme coordinator at CELA