Quebec Mining Conflicts from East to West, North to South

Jamie Kneen Communications and Outreach Coordinator responsible for: strategic research, social media, and public engagement; our Africa program, environmental assessment, and uranium mining.

The Algonquin Nation’s traditional territory straddles the Quebec-Ontario border extending along Quebec’s western border up the Gatineau and Ottawa River watersheds. The Algonquins have never signed a treaty and are not party to the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, so there are no established protocols for consultation or participation in the review of mineral exploration or development projects in their territory.

• MiningWatch has engaged with three Quebec Algonquin nations currently struggling with mineral exploration projects in their territories. Wolf Lake and Eagle Village have been making efforts to constructively engage Matamec Explorations in negotiations. Unfortunately this junior company’s response to their enquiries has been dismissive. Matamec is hoping to cash in on the much-hyped rare earth elements boom and have identified a deposit they are hoping to develop, but have deferred all discussion of consultation to the Government of Quebec. Wolf Lake and Eagle Village have engaged MiningWatch to assist with communications and education on the issues associated with mining and processing rare earth elements as the company continues to downplay the environmental risks of the project.

• In 1991 the Algonquins of Barrière Lake signed a progressive agreement for management and revenue sharing in their traditional territory, which overlaps considerably with La Verendrye Wildlife Reserve (though a reserve in name, all manner of industrial and recreational uses are permitted). Unfortunately the Quebec and Federal governments have not honoured this agreement and now a mining company has staked claims in the heart of the hunting and fishing area of several Barrière Lake families. Upon learning about an exploration crew operating on the claims of Cartier Resources, community members successfully insisted the workers leave their territory. In a community meeting with MiningWatch, it was clear that many community members are adamantly opposed to mining in their territory. One woman described the need to deal with an exploration company and the potential impacts of mineral development as being like “another heavy pack put on the backs of the people that we now have to carry.”

• Despite having some assurances that their rights will be respected through the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement, the Cree of Mistissini are calling on Quebec to recognize their call for a moratorium on uranium exploration and mining. While the community has resolutely rejected Strateco Resources’ proposed advanced exploration uranium project, the company continues to work in the area and promote its project to investors while understating community opposition to the project. Meanwhile, the government of Quebec has highlighted the project in recent announcements and documents about its ambitious and problematic “Plan Nord”.

• On the other side of the province, along the Labrador border, the Innu Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (ITUM) have been fighting with the Quebec government to respect their rights in the face of a rapid expansion in iron ore projects. After conducting blockades and a media campaign supported by MiningWatch, a negotiated agreement was reached with Labrador Iron Mines in December. However, the Quebec government has not fulfilled its duty to consult and other companies are being even less cooperative. The ITUM has found common cause with many residents in Sept-Iles over their shared opposition to uranium mining on the north shore. Citizens of Sept-Iles developed a very active and creative campaign against a uranium exploration project just outside the town and very close to its drinking water supply. The citizen’s group Sept-Iles Sans Uranium (SISUR) celebrated when exploration company Terra Ventures dropped its plans for the project. Controversy continues though, as an apatite mine is now being developed in the area.

• The Baie de Chaleur region of the Gaspé peninsula has been a recent a focal point for opposition to uranium mining. Citizens opposed to exploration on private and public lands obtained an important victory in which the Ministry of Natural Resources actually asked the company to drop its claims and not pursue a planned exploration program. This was a very unusual step for the largely pro-mining Minister to take.

• West of Montreal, Niocan’s Oka niobium project ceases to go away, despite a decade of protest by both the Mohawk of Kanesetake, the municipality of Oka and local farmers. An environmental review by Quebec in 2005 was very critical of the project and its potential impacts on the area’s natural water system but the government has never out-right rejected the project. Recent signs that Niocan is going to try again to get the project permitted have led to renewed statements of opposition from the Mohawk and Oka residents and farmers.

• In the Eastern Townships the residents of the town of Saint-Camille were surprised to see helicopters with geo-physical surveying equipment hanging beneath them flying over their town last fall. They soon learned that much of the area surrounding the town had been claimed by an exploration company interested in a low-grade gold deposit. Local citizens, including the Mayor and town councillors, did not see an open pit mine as being compatible with their vision of development in the region and developed a campaign to prevent the exploration activity. The citizens made use of a vague and relatively un-tested part of the current mining act that requires exploration companies to achieve an agreement with landowners before undertaking exploration activities on private land (though there are provisions for this to be over-ruled and the property to be expropriated). The citizens of Saint Camille organised a campaign to have a landowners deny access rights to there property with hundreds of property owners sending in letters to the government forbidding access to their land.