Environmental groups urge strong and immediate action on abandoned mines, contaminated sites in wake of new report


(Ottawa/Whitehorse) A report detailing serious problems with toxic legacies — from mining in Canada's three northern territories to the infamous Sydney Tar ponds — is receiving strong support from four environmental groups with an interest in toxic waste and abandoned mine sites. The report was released today by the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development. The Canadian Arctic Resources Committee, MiningWatch Canada, Sierra Club of Canada and Yukon Conservation Society are now calling on the federal government to get its act together on abandoned mines in the north and across Canada.

"Canadians should be appalled at the mismanagement of public resources by the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development," says Joan Kuyek, National Director of MiningWatch Canada. "This department has been facilitating economic development and private investment without regard for the public interest, environmental protection or human health."

"DIAND has taken more than ten years to develop a toothless mine site reclamation policy for the NWT and Nunavut" adds Karen Wristen, Executive Director of the Canadian Arctic Resources Committee. "The department has allowed corporations to simply walk away from major liabilities, leaving taxpayers on the hook."

There are examples of existing and potential problem sites sprinkled all over the North. In Yukon, local people are concerned that they do not have enough say in what happens to the sites. "Yukoners are living with these sites in our backyards," says Christine Cleghorn, Executive Director of the Yukon Conservation Society. "We know the hazards and we believe we should have a voice and a role in the clean ups. This could provide jobs in our communities, and we need to understand reclamation planning and practice and have a role in managing how these sites are cleaned up."

The environmental groups want a commitment to clean up abandoned mines and toxic sites across Canada. That demand is echoed by the Green Budget Coalition, which includes 18 national environmental organizations.

"Canada's policies on toxic waste and abandoned mines are about as progressive as were those in the United States three decades ago. We have no policy and we desperately need one," says Elizabeth May, Executive Director of the Sierra Club of Canada and member of the Green Budget Coalition. "Ad hoc decision making wastes millions of dollars and places human health and the environment at risk. We need a Clean Canada Fund to apply resources consistently within a coherent policy framework."

In anticipation of the Commissioner's report, DIAND hurried the release of the long awaited mine site policies for the NWT and Nunavut. The policies, released in August 2002, are not legally binding, do not cover the exploration phase fo mining, do not cover abandoned mines, and ministerial discretion governs their application to current mines. The policy does not in any way meet the serious needs for prevention and clean up of abandoned mines in northern Canada.

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For more information, contact:

Joan Kuyek
National Coordinator
MiningWatch Canada
(613) 569-3439
Karen Wristen
Executive Director
Canadian Arctic Resources Committee
(613) 292-8037

Christine Cleghorn
Executive Director
Yukon Conservation Society
(867) 668-5678
Elizabeth May
Executive Director
Sierra Club of Canada
(613) 241-4611