Canada’s Valuable Fresh Water Is Not for Dumping Toxic Wastes - with Background

OTTAWA – An emerging coalition of conservation, Aboriginal, and social justice organizations is calling on the federal government to immediately stop the practice of allowing mining companies to use Canada’s lakes as dumping grounds for toxic mine wastes.

It is illegal under the Fisheries Act to dump toxic material into fish-bearing waters. However, in 2002, the government amended the Act’s Metal Mining Effluent Regulation (MMER) to allow lakes and other freshwater bodies to be re-classified as “tailings impoundment areas,” thereby allowing mining companies to get around the general prohibition.

Environment Canada announced that, under the MMER, at least 11 mines in Canada are seeking permission to destroy healthy natural water bodies with their mine waste. Eight of these mining projects are being processed in 2008. This is in addition to two lakes that are already being destroyed under Schedule 2 of the regulation.

Aboriginal groups are concerned that the federal government is developing environmental policies and amending regulations in a way that will have a dramatic impact on Aboriginal and treaty rights. Changes to the MMER and additional listings under Schedule 2 are being made on a mine-by-mine basis without meaningful input or consultation with the Aboriginal peoples of Canada. Since the MMER is a federal regulation, these changes will affect Aboriginal peoples across Canada. The groups say there should be national consultation.

“By inviting mining companies to come onto the traditional ancestral homelands of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and consciously allowing them to destroy lakes and waters with toxic tailings, the advisors to the Prime Minister and Cabinet are ignoring the teachings of Aboriginal peoples and the deep respect we have for the land, waters, and living forms,” says Roger Hunka, of the Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council. “It is an insult to Aboriginal peoples. We, like all Canadians, value a healthy environment. Today we’re telling government to stop transgressing against Canadian values; stop using lakes as dump sites for toxic mining wastes.”

As well, government is proposing to add new processing facilities, such as hydrometallurgical plants, which are not currently included in the MMER. “Hydromet” is a largely experimental technology that uses high heat and a variety of chemicals to extract minerals from ores and, in the process, produces a variety of noxious compounds that are not regulated by the MMER. Environment Canada is considering allowing wastes from these plants, such as the one at Sandy Pond in Newfoundland, to be similarly dumped into fish-bearing waters.

The coalition is not trying to stop mining in Canada. It is simply asking that government require mining companies to use existing technologies for managing mine waste, or invest in new technologies and stop using lakes as tailings dumps.

“Prior to 2002, mining companies in Canada were required to protect surface and ground water using existing technologies, even if these were more costly than simply dumping waste into a lake,”says Catherine Coumans of MiningWatch Canada. “It is inexcusable that they should be allowed to destroy lakes in Canada when they know that they would not be allowed to do so in the United States or other developed countries.”

Allowing mining companies to use lakes as waste dump sites amounts to a massive subsidy to the mining industry at the expense of publicly owned fresh water resources; this to an industry that made a net profit of over $80 billion in North America in 2007.

“More and more mining companies are proposing to use lakes as tailings dumps because it is profitable for them,” says John Werring, of the David Suzuki Foundation. “They can save millions of dollars in operating costs by doing this. But is that sufficient reason to destroy our treasured natural resources? We thought that in this day and age, companies would want to be more environmentally responsible, not less so.”

“Coming from a government that has committed to a National Water Strategy, these changes to Schedule 2 are especially counterproductive,” says the Sierra Club Canada’s Celeste Côté.

The coalition agrees that freshwater ecosystems are far more valuable in the long run than any mined resource and should be protected. The coalition believes that dumping toxic wastes into natural water bodies is inherently unsustainable and contradicts the government’s stated commitment to sustainable development, and that Schedule 2 should be repealed in the interest of all Canadians.

“Allowing a lake to be turned into a dump site for a private company is nothing short of privatizing a public resource that is essential to life. Contaminating a water body will have devastating consequences on entire watersheds at a time when the world is dealing with a fresh water crisis,” says Maude Barlow, of the Council of Canadians.



  • Roger Hunka, Dir. Intergovernmental Affairs, Maritime Aboriginal Peoples Council, Truro Heights, NS, 902-895-2982, mapc(at)
  • Dylan Penner, Media Officer, Council of Canadians, Ottawa, 613-233-4487 x 249, dpenner(at)
  • Catherine Coumans, Research Coordinator, MiningWatch Canada, Ottawa, 613-569-3439, catherine(at)
  • John Werring, Salmon Conservation Biologist, David Suzuki Fdn, Vancouver, 604-732-4228, ext. 245, jwerring(at)
  • Celeste Côté, Sierra Club Canada, Ottawa, 613-241-4611 x.233; celestec(at)

Contact info for others signing on to this press release:

  • Maggie Paquet, Citizens’ Stewardship Coalition, Port Alberni, BC, 250-723-8802, maggiepaquet5(at)
  • Brennain Lloyd, Northwatch, North Bay, ON, 705-497-0373, northwatch(at)
  • Bathurst Sustainable Development, Bathurst, NB, 506-548-2106, rosewood(at)
  • Linda Sheppard Whalen, Ph.D., Centre for Longterm Environmental Action in Nf/Ld (CLEAN), St. John’s, NL, 709-722-8159, clean_hq(at)
  • Arlene Kwasniak, University of Calgary, Calgary, akwasnia(at)
  • Jody Lownds, Friends of the Earth, Ottawa, 613-241-0085 ext. 32, jlownds(at)
  • Jean Paul L’Italien, Comité en développement durable du Nord-ouest du Nouveau-Brunswick, Edmundston, 506 735-6012, litalien(at)
  • Amy Crook, BC Program Manager, Centre for Science in Public Participation (CSP2), Victoria, 250-721-3627, acrook(at)
  • Daniel Green, Club Sierra Canada Campagnes au Québec, et co-président Société pour Vaincre la Pollution (SVP), Montreal, 514-844-5477, greentox(at)


MMER & Schedule 2 – A Threat to Lakes and Rivers Throughout Canada

Urgent Action Needed to Protect Lakes and Rivers Slated for Destruction

Environment Canada has announced that 11 lakes and streams are slated to become dump sites for the disposal of environmentally toxic mine waste tailings (see list below). Two lakes have already been destroyed. Eight natural water bodies are being decided on this year. Sandy Pond in Newfoundland is in immediate danger as the period for public comment to Environment Canada ends July 15. Sandy Pond is a 38-hectare headwater lake that has trophy-sized brook trout and is habitat for the already-endangered American eel, a species of concern that has special significance for the Mi’kmaq people.

Getting Around the Protection of Lakes and Rivers:

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.

No Compensation for Lost Ecosystems

Under current legislation and policies, mining companies are required to compensate for the loss of fish habitat that is turned into tailings impoundments. However, DFO’s own experts acknowledge that they do not have the expertise to compensate for the loss of lake ecosystems:

As far as I am aware, there has been no successful compensation undertaken for the loss of a fish-bearing lake. examples of whole lake restoration and compensation to guide developments forecasts irreparable harm.

If DFO approves [whole lake destruction], at that point, then, it is clearly not based on any technical or science-based arguments. (quotes from S.C. Samis, I.K. Birtwell, and N.Y Khan. 2005.)

Lake-dumping is a massive subsidy to the mining industry

Canadian regulatory authorities (EC, DFO) are statutorily obligated to seek alternatives to the destruction of fresh water bodies for industrial purposes. The problem for mining companies is that it costs more to build containment structures than it does to dump wastes into a convenient nearby lake.

The Sandy Pond project, for example, could proceed even if Vale Inco was required to use other methods for handling their waste. The reason they want to use Sandy Pond as a dump site, in our view, is because it is the cheapest option available to them. Using the lake will only cost around $60 million. The most expensive alternative (digging a pit and storing wastes in it) would cost around $490 million. Clearly, cost is an issue for Vale Inco, which reported its net profit for 2007 was a record $11.94 billion, a 50 percent jump in net profit for the world’s second-largest mining company, which earned $8 billion in 2006 (all figures in US dollars).

Mining projects in Canada for which companies have proposed the use of healthy natural water bodies for mine waste disposal. Adapted from Environment Canada (2007) by MiningWatch Canada


Project Name


Province/ Territory

Water Body



Doris North Project

Miramar Mining Corp.


Tail Lake

Assessed under Nunavut Land Claims Agreement; approved


Meadowbank Project

Agnico-Eagle Mines Ltd. (formerly Cumberland Resources)


Northwest arm of Second Portage Lake

Assessed under Nunavut Land Claims Agreement; approved


Long Harbour Commercial Processing Plant

Voisey’s Bay Nickel Company (Vale Inco)(formerly INCO)

Newfoundland and Labrador

Sandy Pond

In provincial Environmental Assessment and federal screening


Ruby Creek

Adanac Molybdenum Corp.

British Columbia

Ruby Creek watershed

In provincial Environmental Assessment and federal screening



Taseko Mines Ltd.

British Columbia

Fish Lake

In provincial Environmental Assessment


Bucko Lake

Crowflight Minerals Inc.


Bucko Lake

In federal Environmental Assessment screening


Yellowknife Gold

Tyhee NWT Corp.

Northwest Territories

Winter Lake

Temporarily suspended by proponent


High Lake

Zinifex Ltd. (formerly Wolfden Resources Inc.)


High Lake

EAs have been initiated under the terms of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement and CEAA


Kutcho Creek

Western Keltic Mines Inc. / Sherwood

British Columbia

Andrea Creek watershed

In provincial Environmental Assessment


Red Chris

Imperial Metals Corp. (formerly bcMetals Corp.)

British Columbia

Quarry Creek and Trail Creek

The CEAA screening was challenged in Federal Court


Mt. Milligan

Terrane Metals Corp.

British Colombia

King Richard Creek

Under CEAA review

Already destroyed under Schedule 2


Duck Pond

Aur Resources/Teck Cominco

Newfoundland and Labrador

Trout Lake



Duck Pond

Aur Resources/Teck Cominco

Newfoundland and Labrador

Gill’s Brook tributary