Ontario announces working group to tackle years-long dispute over mining permits

The Ontario government, facing pressure from native people in Ontario, has created a working group to examine the controversial permitting process for new mining operations in the province.

The report, which was ordered by Premier Doug Ford, had originally been due in June.

The working group will be overseen by Geoffrey King, the parliamentary secretary to the mines minister, who said in a statement that the government would take the findings of the group and make a “significant decision” on Thursday.

“Fostering a safer, stronger, and more inclusive environment for Ontario communities remains our top priority,” he said.

The mining permits for the Chippewas of the Thames are highly prized in the mining industry. They are known as Class 4, which permits operations at depths of 400 feet and up. The area is a basin of considerable copper, zinc and silver deposits, but residents in the area say there is plenty of room for more mining.

In a statement, the Ottawa-based environmental group ForestEthics said the Chippewas’ issue with the permitting process is that they live in an ecosystem with constantly fluctuating conditions and risk being permanently lost. The group said the Chippewas’ mining permit application is currently before the environmental regulator.

“Prior to the decimation of Ontario’s Great Lakes, mineralized basin environments were highly valued in relation to poverty reduction,” ForestEthics said. “Seventy years of mining history in Ontario has already seen this unneeded resource destroyed and Canada, and the world, is suffering a profound and permanent setback to its environmental legacy.”

That damage includes the creation of nearly 40 mines that were abandoned over the decades and mostly responsible for toxic, chemicals-laden tailings and massive fish kill events. The Great Lakes’ water supply is also threatened by nutrients and industrial pollution generated by mines. Canada’s mines minister, Amarjeet Sohi, in May signed off on all 36,000 permits from previous governments, which will make it difficult to reverse them.

Local residents said a new government-appointed working group will only represent a brief “reboot” of the permit application process for existing operations. That suggests that the permits used in the Chippewas’ permit application were of poor quality.

“Anyone who has played at all would have seen that it was not even close to the 1,000 square kilometres of mining licenses issued by the previous government. It was very poorly prepared,” Greg Belanger, an operations manager with the Tarpon, said in an interview with the Ottawa Citizen.

Belanger said the area was overexploited and the Chippewas no longer have a thriving fishery.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the permit was issued using maps that were incomplete or incompletely compiled by “spine-chilling” forestry department workers who never followed official procedures or provided the correct information for consultation.

One major operator in the area said the government included wrong areas that included the area where they have a new mine.

“It’s absurd and malicious,” Charles Duket, owner of Duket Mining, told the Citizen. “A proper mine design can get an application approved before three hectares of frontage of forest. They changed it in the middle of the game.”

Michael Carroll, a mining consultant for and former mine inspector, told the Citizen that he has never seen so many mistakes in a single application.

“The fact that this has gone on for so long is a testament to the historic bad faith and trifling of the crown and Ministry of the Environment,” he said.

The Chippewas of the Thames conducted a lawsuit against the province in 2017, saying the initial permit for the area was not in keeping with the principles of good environmental science. According to Natural Resources Canada, the Chippewas are seeking $22 million in damages.

On Tuesday, after a parliamentary committee recommended a ban on new uranium mines in Ontario, the Ontario government said it would create a moratorium on new uranium mining, uranium exploration and extraction operations, with the exception of exisiting uranium mines where all development activities are in good standing. The ban will last for two years.

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