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Open Pit Mega-mines in Quebec – Size Really Does Matter: Citizens’ coalition says independent assessment and new regulations are urgently needed

(Quebec City)  As Quebec’s Environmental Assessment Office examines the largest open pit mine project ever proposed in Canada, Royal Nickel’s Dumont project in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, a coalition of citizens, doctors, environmental groups and unions is demanding that the Quebec government establish an independent review of the laws and standards for environmental protection, safety, and public health at open pit mega-mines.

In a substantial fifty-page report released today, members of the Coalition Québec meilleure mine demonstrate why they are concerned about the increase in massive low-grade, high-volume open pit mining projects across Quebec. A key part of the concern is the fact that many of these large projects are proposed to be in close proximity to residential areas or other sensitive sites.

“We have the 2.5 kilometre-long mega-pit at Malartic and the proposed 3.5 kilometre-long pit in Sept-Îles but we now have Royal Nickel with its 5 kilometre pit. It would be the largest open pit mine in Canadian history and only 800 metres from people’s homes,” stated Ugo Lapointe, spokesperson for the Coalition. The proposed mine would affect residents in the municipalities of Launey and Trécesson in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue region of Quebec.

Environmental and Health Standards Not Respected

Members of the Coalition are troubled by the absence of a regulatory framework that deals specifically with these large open pit mines. The group is equally worried by the inability of the industry and public sector authorities to ensure compliance with the requirements that do exist.

“Since the authorization of the Malartic open pit in 2009, the company has had 134 citations and 1,289 complaints over its failure to meet environmental and health standards. Neither the company nor the regulators have been able to do what it takes to bring the mine into compliance,” commented Nicole Kirouac, lawyer and resource person for the citizens’ group Comité vigilance de Malartic.

“The current standards aren’t strict enough to protect the health of citizens, but mining companies still aren’t meeting them. The regulators either lack the means to enforce the standards or turn a blind eye to the situation,” noted Louise Gagnon of Regroupement pour la sauvegarde de la grande Baie de Sept-Îles.

“We can no longer tolerate public health and the environment being put at such risk,” added Isabelle Gingras of Canadian Physicians for the Environment.

Authorities shut their eyes to biased environmental studies

In its report the Coalition clearly demonstartes how the Arnaud project in Sept-Iles and the Royal Nickel project in Launey/Trécesson presented models of the projects’ impacts and mitigation measures that are off-base and unreliable. This has not, however, stopped them from getting authorizations under the current regulatory system.

An unacceptable system in urgent need of change

“The regulatory situation in Quebec is completely unacceptable and requires urgent changes to how we evaluate authorize and oversee large open-pit mines – especially those that are close to communities and sensitive areas,” stated Daniel Green of Société pour vaincre la pollution.

The Coalition is not alone in its concern. In three separate reports filed since 2009, Quebec’s Auditor General pointed out substantial weaknesses and gaps in the follow-up and monitoring of mines and other industrial projects. A 2011 report was directed to the Ministry of the Environment while reports in 2009 and 2013 were directed to the Ministry of Natural Resources.

More than 89% of people in mining area favour changes to the regulations for open pit mines

In 2011 regional organizations in Abitibi-Témiscamingue found that 89% of the 1,2000 people surveyed wanted to see changes to the mining regulations with strict conditions for open-pit operations. The groups, which represented 12,000 members in the region and across northern Quebec, called for a public debate on open-pit mining. “While it was important to have this debate in 2011, in 2014 it’s become essential,” concluded Yvan Croteau of Action boréale.

Contacts:

  • Ugo Lapointe, Coalition Québec meilleure mine, 514-708-0134 (English and French)
  • Nicole Kirouac, Comité vigilance de Malartic, 819-354-1911 (French only)
  • Louise Gagnon, Regroupement pour la sauvegarde de la grande Baie de Sept-Îles (French only)
  • Dr. Isabelle Gingras ou Dr. Éric Notebaert, Association canadienne des médecins pour l’environnement, 418-965-6814 ou 514-978-6262 (English and French)
  • Daniel Green, Société pour vaincre la pollution, 514-245-4676 (English and French)