Citizens of Oka Gain Support in Opposition to Niobium Mine

On September 6, 2003, MiningWatch Canada had the privilege of attending a benefit concert organized by the Citizens’ Committee of Oka, the Band Council of Kanesatake, and the UPA (Union of Agricultural Producers) of Deux Montagnes in collaboration with l’Art Bleu from Eau Secours!, a Montreal-based NGO that works for the protection of water. This concert was a tremendous success, and featured well-known Québecois artists: Florent Vollant, Raôul Duguay, Catherine Durand, Patrick Norman, la Corde de Bois and a number of local artists. Hundreds of people attended the concert, despite the company (Niocan)’s attempts to convince people (including the artists) to boycott the event. Coincidentally, Eau Secours!’s website was sabotaged by an unknown person a couple of days before the concert. Tickets for the event were being sold on their website.

This benefit concert was held to raise money for the legal fees to oppose the proposed niobium mine in Oka, Québec. While we were at the concert, we were struck by the tranquility and the beauty of the region. Driving along the country roads, it is evident that agricultural production, the region’s economic engine, is in direct conflict with the mine. Niocan proposes to build the mine in the middle of rolling productive fields, across from more farms and orchards. These farms will not only be adversely affected by the dust and the noise from the mines and the transportation vehicles, but their water will be affected by contamination and a lowering of the water table. Two fish species will likely be wiped out (Niocan is considering the Rousse River a “mixing zone” which will drain into a swamp and end up in the Lac des Deux Montagnes), and there are traces of uranium in the soil. Farmers will lose their livelihoods in exchange for a legacy of pollution.

Although the majority of the community is adamantly opposed to this project, there seem to be a number of bureaucratic and political obstacles facing the people of Oka. The BAPE (Bureau of Public Audiences on the Environment) reviewed Niocan’s proposal only in terms of radioactivity and concluded that although there is a problem, it is not an issue. The federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans has determined that the “case is closed”, even though the destruction of fish habitat should trigger a federal environmental assessment.

The Commission that reviews re-zoning of agricultural lands in Québec also reviewed the decision and decided in favour of the mine; this decision was appealed to the TAQ (Administrative Tribunal of Québec) by the Mohawk Council of Kahnesatake and UPA. The TAQ determined that the project’s negative effects can be “mitigated”.

At present, the UPA (Union of Agricultural Producers) is appealing the TAQ decision and the Citizens Committee is looking at legal options including a civil suit. If the attendance at the benefit concert on September 6 is any indication, Niocan is up against a growing opposition of passionate community members.