This is a guest post by Karin Kirk, crossposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections...
Hundreds of placer mines, which have never undergone environmental assessments, are operating in the Fraser River watershed with minimal government oversight despite mounting evidence that the operations pollute water and harm salmon, a report by the Fair Mining Collaborative has found.
Placer mining involves digging up gravel adjacent to streams and rivers and washing it to extract the gold or other minerals in the sediment. In addition to mines that use excavation equipment, there are thousands of hand-mining operations, many of which do not have permits, the report found.
The report, commissioned by First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM), calls for a moratorium on claim staking and work permits until the process is reformed and adequate safeguards are put in place, with First Nations given a partnership role in coming up with rules and regulations.
“I go around our territory and see all the destruction in the back country. It’s criminal if you ask me,” Bev Sellars, FNWARM chair and former chief of the Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation, said in an interview.
As snowcover recedes from the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska each spring, thousands of Porcupine Caribou arrive to graze on new plant growth and calve the next generation of this herd that is the ecological and cultural backbone of the region.
Following ancient trails through the Brooks, Ogilvie and Richardson mountain ranges on both sides of the Alaska/Yukon border, the herd's migratory path to this sanctuary is one of the longest of any land mammal.
When Donald Trump held his first news conference this month following his election as U.S. president, observers worldwide decried his shameless attack on the media and his critics.
In an onslaught against the press, Trump labelled CNN “terrible” and “fake news,” lambasted the digital-media powerhouse BuzzFeed as a “failing pile of garbage,” then turned his sights on the BBC, calling the news outlet, “another beauty,” and refusing to answer a reporter’s questions.
Could something similar ever happen in Canada? You bet it could.
In B.C., a slightly abridged version of Trump’s scorched-earth offensive against the media and his critics is already underway, led by BC Hydro, with disquieting consequences for the principles of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
Two rejections by the federal government have not deterred a Vancouver mining company from again heading to court in an effort to quash Ottawa’s decision to turn down a proposal for an open-pit copper and gold mine in an area where the Tsilhqot’in Nation has established aboriginal rights.
Taseko Mines Ltd. is appearing in Federal Court in Vancouver this week to launch a constitutional challenge to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and ask for a judicial review of the federal government’s decision to reject the proposed $1.5-billion New Prosperity Mine, 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
Despite the project gaining provincial approval in 2010, the federal government turned down the proposal in 2010 and 2014, saying there would be severe environmental damage and immitigable adverse effects on Tsilhqot’in culture, heritage and aboriginal rights.
Fast-tracking Site C dam construction before May’s provincial election is an unusual decision driven more by politics than need, according to a Canadian expert in Crown corporations who suggests the relationship between BC Hydro and the Premier’s office may be “too close for comfort.”
Luc Bernier, the former head of the Institute of Public Administration of Canada, said Premier Christy Clark’s vow to push Site C past the “point of no return,” when B.C. has a surplus of electricity and Clark is still searching for a buyer for Site C’s power, leads him to believe that that “there’s too much politics around BC Hydro.”
“What seems unusual to me is the idea of locking up this project before the provincial election,” said Bernier, who holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Public Sector Management at the University of Ottawa.
“If B.C. doesn’t need the electricity for the next decade or so there’s no emergency to build it…The only emergency in this project is the coming election.”
B.C. was recently labelled the “Wild West” in a New York Times article for our lack of financial rules or limits around political donations. While mining companies and their executives regularly fall within the top donors’ list to the B.C. Liberal Party, they have benefited from this notion of the Wild West for well over a century.
In fact, B.C.’s mining laws were created more than 150 years ago during the gold-rush era of the 1850s. These laws were largely created by miners themselves to help guarantee unfettered access to new lands by creating the right of “free entry,” and were part of the strategy to help settle the colony. Today, mining activity is still given priority over virtually all other land uses in B.C.
In fact, the process for staking a claim has only gotten easier. Are you 18 years old, have $25 and access to a computer? Click and you have a claim staked anywhere — on private property, First Nations hunting grounds, key tourism areas, important salmon habitat or wildlife management areas. Mining activities are off-limits only in parks, under buildings and at certain archeological sites. In other words, mining exploration can take place in over 82 per cent of the province.
Connection to the land and ocean has guided the Ahousaht people throughout their history and that bond is now at the root of a new sustainable economic development plan for the First Nation whose territory spans the heart of the Clayoquot Sound UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
Under the first phase of the plan, announced Thursday, there will be no mining or industrial logging in Ahousaht traditional territory and about 80 per cent of almost 171,000 hectares will be set aside as cultural and natural areas “to conserve biological diversity, natural landscapes and wilderness and to provide to Ahousaht continued spiritual, cultural and sustenance use.”
During recent years there has been controversy in Ahousaht territory over a proposed open pit copper mine on Catface Mountain on Flores Island and over old-growth logging, which was halted after Ahousaht hereditary chiefs declared a moratorium in 2015.
The Site C hydro dam in northeastern B.C. may be more than a year into construction, but the federal government still hasn’t determined whether the mega dam infringes on treaty rights — and, according to a Federal Court of Appeal ruling this week, the government isn’t obligated to answer that question.
The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations filed a judicial review in November 2014, arguing the federal government should have determined if the Site C dam infringes on treaty rights prior to issuing permits for the dam, which would flood more than 100 kilometres of river valley.
Seems like a bit of a no-brainer, right? Turns out it’s not.
This week, the Court of Appeal upheld an earlier decision, which stated that the federal cabinet wasn’t required to determine if there was any infringement of treaty rights, which are protected under the Canadian constitution.
“How can they authorize a project of this magnitude and not even turn their minds to whether it’s infringement given the history of this file?” Allisun Rana, legal counsel for the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, told DeSmog Canada.