Because lakes and rivers are fish habitat, they are protected by the Fisheries Act. This Act is Canada’s oldest environmental legislation and prohibits the release of “deleterious substances” into fish-bearing waters and the alteration or destruction of fish habitat. However, in 2002, Schedule 2 was added to the Metal Mining Effluent Regulation. Schedule 2 essentially allows for re-classifying any natural water body that gets listed on it as a “tailings impoundment area.” Once a lake or river gets listed, it is no longer considered a natural water body and no longer protected by the Fisheries Act. A mining company can use then it as a dumping ground for millions of tonnes of tailings and waste rock.
The precedent was set when, in 2006, two lakes near Buchans, Newfoundland were approved for destruction. These lakes used to contain Atlantic salmon (after over $1 million of public funds used for restoration) and brook trout, and were also home to otters. Since then, the requests from the international mining industry, including Canadian companies, to use natural water bodies in Canada for their toxic waste disposal have increased at an alarming rate. The list of 11 threatened lakes that Environment Canada has provided us with only represents the water bodies that face destruction within the next couple of years. Other mining companies have expressed interest, but details are not yet being released by Environment Canada.