Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Calls for Major Overhaul of Mining Act

(Ottawa) Ontario should amend the Mining Act to provide for consultation with First Nations when granting mining claims and leases and stop treating public lands as freely open to mineral exploration, according to Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner, Gordon Miller.

“This century-old system continues to rely on principles that do not reflect modern land use planning nor does it adequately safeguard environmental values,” Miller states in his Annual Report for 2006-2007, released today.

The Report slams Ontario for its failure to protect the environment from the cumulative impacts of mineral exploration and development, and for its failure to respect the Constitutionally protected rights of First Nations in the Ontario Mining Act.

In December 2006, MiningWatch Canada and Wildlands League, represented by Sierra Legal Defence Fund (now Ecojustice), requested a review of the need for legislative, regulatory and policy reform related to the assessment of the environmental impacts of proposed mining projects under the Mining Act and the provincial Environmental Assessment Act (EAA).

Miller finds that “The applicants raised many valid concerns in their application… The existing regulatory structure treats public land as freely open to mineral exploration. The consideration of other interests, such as the protection of ecological values, is only dealt with in the later stages of the approvals process.”

The report continues, “The ECO believes that this system is reactionary and fails to determine upfront where mineral development may be inappropriate. Instead, it assumes that mineral development is appropriate almost everywhere and that it is the “best” use of Crown land in almost all circumstances.

“The ECO believes that Ontario’s Mining Act and its assumption of free entry for mineral development impedes comprehensive land use planning.”

The ECO also supports the claim by Aboriginal organizations that the Mining Act is illegal, and contravenes their Constitutional rights for meaningful consultation before development takes place on their traditional territory.

Referring to the Platinex case in northern Ontario, Miller says, “the Ontario government should amend the Mining Act to include specific criteria that reflect MNDM’s constitutional duty to consult the First Nations when granting mining claims and leases that may impact their rights.”

The Report calls for a public and transparent review of the Mining Act, saying, “[t]he ECO believes that reforms of the Mining Act and its associated legal mechanisms are needed.”

For more information contact: Joan Kuyek, MiningWatch Canada, tel. (613) 569-3439