By: David Chambers, Ph.D., P. Geop. This report assesses the tailings dam designs at four mines in B.C. in light of the recommendations of the Mount Polley Expert Panel to examine whether regulatory agencies are applying best available technology to reduce the risk of catastrophic tailings dam failures, and where they aren’t, if changes could be made to do so.

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Protect Water

Quebec Residents Threaten Lawsuit Over Malartic Open Pit Mine

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Malartic, QC

Earlier this week, local residents affected by the giant Canadian Malartic’s open pit gold mine voted unanimously in favour to move ahead with a class action lawsuit over the impacts the mine has on their property, health, well-being, and overall quality of life.

Montreal-based lawyer, Michel Bélanger, will take the case. Bélanger is a well-known environmental and class action lawyer who has won multiple high-profile cases in Quebec. These include a recent class action suit against tobacco companies, the Ciment St-Laurent case in the early 2000s, the Saguenay dam breach and subsequent flood in the mid-1990s, and, more recently, stopping Transcanada’s project to build a terminal in the heart of fragile beluga habitat.

Bélanger stated that he has rarely seen a case “as clear cut” as the Canadian Malartic open pit mine in terms of documented impacts on local residents.

In operation since 2011, Agnico Eagle and Yamana Gold own the mine, which is not only the largest gold mine in Canada, but the only open pit mine of this size located in an urban area. It blasts and extracts over 150,000 tons of rocks and processes 55,000 tons of ore daily. It disposes of corresponding volumes of mine waste in a nearby tailings facility.

In 2015, Quebec health authorities published two reports highlighting that impacts on this community of 3,500 were greater than anticipated at the outset. In the latest health survey published in September 2015, more than a third of respondents claimed to be significantly affected by the mine operations and wish to leave the town. In neighborhoods closest to the mine (less than 1km), the proportion of people significantly affected is as high as 75% (see full data here).

Dust emissions, ground tremors, air blasts, and noise are the main sources of impacts on local residents. These include stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, and social distress, to name a few, which are also contributing factors to a deterioration of physical health. Some segments of the population experience these impacts more severely or are at greater risk (e.g. people with higher sensitivity to air pollution, noise, or stress; seniors or people already affected with chronic illnesses; infants and children; etc.).

Despite claiming to use best available practices and technologies, the operator is incapable of meeting regulated levels of dust emissions, ground movements, air blasts, and noise. The open pit mine holds the record in the province across all industries, with 171 environmental infractions and over 2000 non-compliances since construction started in 2008 (see attached documents to this blog for more details). But lack of enforcement and pitiful fines in the Quebec Ministry of Environment have failed to compel the company to comply to regulations.

Over 200 households and 5 public institutions had to be relocated prior to digging the initial 2.5km open pit (500 million tons of ore and waste rocks). In 2012-2013, the company agreed to relocate an additional 49 households after local residents complained to be too severely impacted by the mine. Now, the company is seeking a permit to double the size of the mine (3.5km open pit, over 1.0 billion tons of ore and waste rocks). This would mean displacing the main local highway and affecting other neighborhoods. It is possible that the company has further plans to expand that have yet to be revealed.  

Local residents affected by the existing mine and expansion plans want to be relocated and/or compensated for the damages suffered. They also oppose any future mine expansion without further legal and financial guarantees. Residents have formed a committee and nominated their representatives. Together, they represent about 700 households (over 1,000 people, or about a third of the town) in neighborhoods closest to the mine.

Last Fall, they initiated discussions in good faith with the company, but talks failed recently when they realized the company was, in fact, not ready to commit to offering a resettlement and compensation package to a large proportion of those impacted by the mine. Facing a wall, local residents feel there is no more options, but to consider legal actions. A claim for class action is currently in preparation and should be filed in Court by April.

How close is too close?

The Malartic case raise a series of significant questions: Why was mining allowed in the first place in this town? And more so without a formal resettlement and compensation agreement in place beforehand…? What minimal distance, or buffer zone, should be required between a mine and people? Why are we requiring buffer zones up to 1.5km for certain industries, such as wind mill for power generation in Ontario and some European countries, but not for mining?

Clearly, both provincial and federal legislations in Canada are failing to establish needed guidance on this crucial issue.

As of December 2015, the mine had over 8 million ounces of proven and probable gold reserves, for an approximate value of 12 billion US dollars at current market price.


MiningWach Canada and its partner Coalitoin Quebec Meilleure Mine are supporting Malartic community members struggling to defend their rights and well-being - Thank you for your support: donate now 

Malartic Blast
Malartic blasts
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Canadian Malartic Mine, Quebec

Community Centred Health Research and Impacts of Mining on Women in Labrador West (Wabush/Labrador City)

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Labrador City, NL

In 2004, MiningWatch Canada partnered with two women’s groups in the remote mining communities of Wabush and Labrador City (together known as Lab West) to consider the health implications of living in a mining town for community women. The Labrador West Status of Women Council and the Femmes francophones de l’Ouest du Labrador were interested in a community-centred participatory approach to better understand, document and communicate the health concerns of women in Labrador West. MiningWatch Canada was interested in the project because it has been our experience in working with communities affected by mining that it is often women who express health concerns and are motivated to address them.

The primary goals of this project were to stimulate dialogue with and between community women on the perceived impacts of mining on women’s health in Lab West, to document the findings resulting from these discussions, and to present these findings to the community. We adopted the holistic definition of health that is used by the World Health Organization (WHO), looking at health not merely as the absence of disease, but as the complete social, psychological, spiritual and physical well-being of a person, with a focus on the individual’s own views of their well-being.

In preparation for the “Overburdened” project, MiningWatch Canada commissioned CCSG Associates to conduct a review of epidemiological, toxicological, and community-based literature that examines the effects of mining – both toxicological and social – on women’s health. The review found that little is known about the toxicological effects of common mining-related minerals on women’s health throughout the stages of a woman’s life cycle. Nonetheless, physiological conditions specific to women, such as pregnancy and lactation, and to female physiology in aging, may facilitate the release into the blood stream of metals that are stored in bone, causing health problems.

The Lab West women conducted research on the history of mining in the community and sought to identify historical and current studies that track emissions from the mines and assess environmental impacts and worker and community health. They also gathered information from provincial government officials, union representatives and lung and cancer associations in the province. A technical advisory team was established by MiningWatch Canada. A Community Centered Research workshop with Catherine Coumans produced a questionnaire for health professionals and a community interview questionnaire in both official languages. When community interviews were underway, Susan Moodie of CCSG Associates visited Lab West. She provided training on community monitoring and collected water, soil, vegetation and dust samples. Significantly, the mines were both closed due to a strike at this time. The CCSG report and the final reports of the project were launched at a well-attended community meeting in Lab West on February 15, 2005.

Justice for Manuel Gaspar Rodríguez and Respect for Indigenous Territorial Rights in the Sierra Norte de Puebla, México

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Cuetzalan PUE

Early last week, over thirty organizations and 160 individuals sent a letter to Mexican authorities, the Canadian Embassy in Mexico and the President of Canadian mining company Almaden Minerals expressing concern about the murder of Manuel Gaspar Rodríguez and threats of criminalization and violence against Indigenous communities in the Sierra Norte de Puebla who are fighting mining and hydroelectric projects. Before his murder, Manuel Gaspar was one of eight people facing charges pressed by the national electrical utility company (CFE) for participating in the blockade of a major new transmission line. He was also on the implementation committee for the Holistic Land Use Plan of Cuetzalán, which was created eight years ago in order to protect the area from large-scale extractive projects. 

The Sierra Norte de Puebla is a predominantly Maseual-Nahuat and Tutunaku-Totonaco Indigenous region located immediately north of the city of Puebla, Mexico. These communities are facing the growing threat of extractive projects given the extensive concessions the Mexican state has granted in their territories. Ten hydroelectric projects are planned for the three main river watersheds of the region - the Apulco, Zempoala and Ajajalpan. Oil and gas concessions are present in fifteen municipalities of the area. More than 160,000 hectares of this territory are now under mining concessions with large-scale gold mining projects owned by Mexico's Frisco company and Canada's Vancouver-based Almaden Minerals

The full letter in English is available here and in Spanish here

Regional forum about mining in Ixtacamaxtitlán, Sierra Norte de Puebla (2014)

New Report Points To Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses in Eritrea as Canadian Company Goes To Supreme Court Over Allegations of Forced Labour

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It was sheer coincidence, but more than a tinge of irony coloured yesterday's news that the Supreme Court of Canada will hear Nevsun Resources' appeal of a court ruling that accusations against it regarding the use of forced labour at its Bisha mine in Eritrea should be heard in British Columbia, not Eritrea, just as a new report revealed evidence of the Eritrean regime's use of forced labour and exposed transnational mining companies' contributions to supporting the regime.

A group of Eritrean refugees allege that as military conscripts, they were forced to work for an Eritrean military contractor at Nevsun's Bisha gold-copper mine, in violation of international laws against forced labour, slavery, and torture, and that Nevsun was complicit in their treatment. The allegations have not been tested in court. So far, Canadian courts have rejected Nevsun's arguments that the case should be heard in Eritrea, not in B.C. where it is based. In November 2017, the B.C. Court of Appeal upheld lower court's ruling that there was a real risk of corruption and unfairness in the Eritrean legal system, while acknowledging the considerable practical difficulties of hearing the claims in British Columbia.

At the same time, UK-based Eritrea Focus published a new report, "Mining and Repression in Eritrea: Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses" as a submission to the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea. The report notes that in addition to accusations of forced labour dating back a decade, transnational mining companies – with Nevsun in the forefront – provide important income and financial support for the repressive Eritrean regime with little to no transparency and accountability on either side. The report notes that "Nevsun has “consistently cited confidentiality non-disclosure agreements” when questioned about its finances by the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia."

Key facts and recommendations made in the report:

  • Since 1993, Eritrea has been ruled as a one-party state under the dictatorship of President Isaias Afwerki. There is no independent judiciary, civil society or independent media in the country, and the Constitution of Eritrea – ratified in 1997 – has never been fully implemented. As a result, many thousands flee into exile every month.
  • A 2016 UN Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea found that enslavement inside the country “has been committed on an ongoing, widespread and systematic basis since 2002.”
  • At the age of 18, Eritrean citizens are drafted into compulsory indefinite military or national service. The UN Commission of Inquiry report found that most “are subject to forced labour” in public and private companies.
  • Any foreign firm operating in Eritrea is required by law to contract public construction companies. The US State Department reported in 2015 that the country’s “mandatory national service programme,” and tendency to “place persons performing national service in commercial enterprises, may leave businesses open to charges of relying on conscripts as forced labour.” These concerns were echoed in 2016 and 2017.
  • The 2016 UN Commission of Inquiry report stated that the mining industry was “one of the most successful economic sectors in Eritrea” and that proceeds from mining operations jointly owned by the Government and transnational corporations were an “important and undisputed source of revenue.”
  • UN Security Council Resolution 2023 expressed concern that the mining sector was being used as a financial source “to destabilize the Horn of Africa”, and called on Eritrea to “show transparency in its public finances.” This has not been complied with.
  • At least 17 mining and exploration companies – including from Australia, Canada, China, and the United Kingdom – currently operate in Eritrea.
  • Of the approximately 1,500 people working for Nevsun Resources Ltd, which manages the Bisha mine west of Asmara, more than 1,400 are sub-contracted by Segen Construction. Segen, owned by the ruling party, is accused by Human Rights Watch of relying heavily on conscript labour.
  • Nevsun’s 2016 financial statement showed that the company had paid more than $1bn in taxes to the Eritrean state since production began at the Bisha mine in 2011. Nevsun has “consistently cited confidentiality non-disclosure agreements” when questioned about its finances by the UN Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia.
  • A 2013 report by Human Rights Watch into the Eritrean mining sector found “clear evidence that many of Segen’s workers at Bisha...faced terrible conditions, from inadequate food supplies to unsafe housing”. Workers interviewed said that they “lived in fear and were ordered not to complain about their plight.”
  • First hand testimonies collected for this report found evidence of forced labour and torture. National Service conscripts were being subjected to abusive working and living conditions, hazardous working and living conditions, and the withholding of wages.
  • At the time of writing, British investment management company M&G Investments, whose parent company is the insurance and financial services firm Prudential plc, holds almost 29 million shares (9.5%) in Nevsun.
  • J.P. Morgan Asset Management, headquartered in the UK, holds shares in both Nevsun and Danakali, an Australian company engaged in a joint project with Eritrean state-owned mining firm ENAMCO.
  • UK-based Andiamo Exploration currently holds an exploration licence for copper and gold in Eritrea. Major investors include Ortac Resources Ltd., whose own shareholders include the investment arms of Halifax and Barclays banks.
  • Under Section 54 of the UK’s Modern Slavery Act 2015, every organisation operating in the UK with an annual turnover of £36m or more is required to produce a yearly slavery and human trafficking statement, setting out what action they have taken to ensure slavery is not taking place in their supply chains. If a business fails to produce a slavery and human trafficking report for a particular financial year, the Home Secretary may bring a High Court injunction requiring the company to comply. Failure to do so is punishable by an unlimited fine.
  • There is currently no requirement for these reports to be independently audited. There is also no effective monitoring system to record which companies fail in their obligation to report, and no effective enforcement mechanism for compliance.

Recommendations made in this report to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea

  • The first recommendation is that the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea invites the company directors of M&G Investments/Prudential Plc, Ortac Resources Ltd, and JP Morgan UK, along with the relevant officials from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who deal with the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles, to appear before the APPG to address the concerns raised in this report.
  • The second recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to write to M&G Investments/Prudential Plc, JP Morgan UK, Halifax and Barclays, to ask what steps they are taking to produce human rights impact assessments.
  • The third recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to ask the appropriate government departments what steps are being taken, in the light of the evidence of gross human rights violations, to ensure that measures in accordance with UK Anti-bribery legislation, the Modern Slavery Act, and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative are applied to company activities in Eritrea.
  • The fourth recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to issue a statement highlighting the abuses outlined in this report, publicly calling for companies to end their activities in Eritrea until there is a sustained and verifiable improvement in human rights within the country.
  • The fifth recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to write to the relevant ambassadors and High Commissioners of the countries in which companies operating in Eritrea, and their investors, are headquartered, raising the human rights concerns detailed in this report while at the same time remaining actively informed about the developments in Eritrea’s mining sector.
  • The sixth recommendation is for the All-Party Parliamentary Group to write to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Trade, asking what steps have been taken to force the provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2023, and what the outcome of such advice has been.

For details please see Mining and Repression in Eritrea: Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses.

Eritrea mining
Mining and Repression in Eritrea - Corporate Complicity in Human Rights Abuses

Guatemalan and International Organizations Dismayed Over U.S. Embassy Interference on Tahoe Case

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Guatemala City

On June 11, over fifty Guatemalan and international organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala raising deep concern about Embassy interference and threats of international lawsuits that they believe are putting undue pressure on the country’s Constitutional Court and pose further risk to residents demonstrating against the project. A decision is currently pending from the court concerning the current suspension of Tahoe Resources’ Escobal silver mine. 

Notably, on May 21, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala released a public statement highlighting the importance of natural resource extraction and calling on the Constitutional Court to “issue without delay” the final resolution on Tahoe’s case. In response, the civil society letter to the Embassy states: “Given the overwhelming opposition to mining throughout Guatemala and the pattern of conflict and violence associated with Tahoe’s project in particular, the U.S. Embassy statement is reprehensible. The U.S. Embassy’s effort to interfere with the independence of the Guatemalan judiciary is out of place and puts environmental defenders and indigenous leaders who are legitimately and peacefully opposing mining projects at greater risk of repression.”

The letter raises further alarm over the threat of international arbitration against Guatemala. On May 8, 2018, the Washington-based International Law Institute submitted a brief to the Guatemalan Constitutional Court flagging the risk of international arbitration should the court not permit Tahoe Resources to continue operating its conflict-plagued mine. The brief was filed by Guatemalan lawyers whose firm represents Tahoe Resources’ wholly-owned subsidiary in Guatemala, Minera San Rafael. Shortly after, on May 16, Nevada-based Kappes, Cassiday & Associates (KCA) filed notice of its intent to sue the Guatemalan government under the Dominican Republic–Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR) for at least US$300 million. KCA bases its claim on the ongoing suspension of its Tambor gold mine for lack of prior consultation with affected communities, among other things.

Calling on U.S. officials to refrain from further interference, the civil society letter concludes: “Such interference, through U.S. government lobby and threats of costly international lawsuits against the Guatemalan government, only serve to escalate tensions and cast doubt on judicial independence in Guatemala.”

The recent statement from the U.S. Embassy is just one example in a string of public efforts from U.S. representatives that have sought favour for Tahoe Resources in Guatemala while its mine has been stalled. Tahoe Resources’ lobby efforts in Canada and the U.S., and documented responses to date are outlined in this backgrounder.

Banners in front of Guatemalan Constitutional Court demand US respect for judicial independence; Photo: Lisa Rankin

New ‘Stand for Water’ Tour Kicks Off Today in British Columbia: First Nations, Citizens, Environmental Groups Join in Williams Lake

(Williams Lake) Local, provincial, and national groups join tonight in Williams Lake for the launch of ‘Stand for Water’ tour spearheaded by First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM) in British Columbia.

Integrity Commissioner’s Refusal to Investigate Canadian Embassy Prompts Application to Federal Court of Canada

(Toronto/Ottawa) The family of Mariano Abarca, a highly respected community leader who was murdered in late 2009 after leading peaceful protests over the impacts of a Canadian-owned mine, has applied for judicial review of a decision from the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner.

The Commissioner refused to investigate allegations that the Canadian Embassy in Mexico provided support to Blackfire Exploration, which put Mr. Abarca’s life at greater risk.

Solwara 1 Project Is a Dangerous and Bad Investment

We the maritime communities from the Bismarck and Solomon Seas have been resisting Nautilus Minerals experimental projects since 2008.

Our seas are recognized and protected by our cultural and custom knowledge and as custodians and gatekeepers of this heritage, we recognize that Solwara 1 Project is a dangerous and bad investment.

On the 04th of May it was announced in the Financial Times that Anglo-American, a multi-billion dollar investor, will divest from experimental seabed mining company Nautilus Minerals Ltd.

Alaska Native Leaders and Fishermen Tell First Quantum: Dump Pebble Mine

(Toronto) A delegation representing Alaskan business leaders, Bristol Bay Tribes, commercial fishermen and conservation organizations will appear today at the annual meeting of First Quantum Minerals to give shareholders a message: the Pebble Mine is a bad investment.

“Bristol Bay, and the world’s greatest wild salmon fishery it supports, must be protected,” said Robin Samuelson, Board Chair of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation. “The Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”


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