Aboriginal Rights: Canada’s Mining Industry Safety Inquiry

British Columbian First Nations groups, environmentalists, as well as other medical and community leaders have created a coalition in the Canadian province to call on the government to launch an inquiry into the mining initiatives and its effect on Aboriginal heritage sights and wildlife.

Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the University of Victoria Environmental Law Centre, helped rally this coalition. The coalition wants a judicial inquiry done in the public interest, as the government tends to turn from Aboriginal rights in relation to mining. He hopes to influence a discussion on this during the provincial election campaign in May 2017.

The 19 members of the coalition aim to create a reform in mining and save whatever is left of their reserve and resources. Sandborn referenced the gold and copper mining stating: “[the] breach of a copper and gold-mine tailings pond at the Mount Polley site in the Cariboo region of B.C. which, in 2014, released millions of cubic metres of water and slurry into a nearby lake…” Years worth of mining waste was released into Polley lake and flowed into Quesnel Lake, the cleanest deep water lake in the world, thus making it one of the biggest mining disasters in Canadian history.

Although the government gives a green light to the industry, it fails to recognize the outcomes and effects it has on the environment.

An organization that monitors this sector, Mining Watch Canada, states that Mount Polley is one of the main incidents that will be up for discussion.

According to the Globe and Mail, Mining Watch representative Ugo Lapointe states: “B.C. has seen the worst mining spill in Canada’s history – the 2014 Mount Polley mine disaster – which most independent observers have attributed not only to poor technical and corporate practices, but also to poor regulatory insight.”

Mining Watch has also formally recognized the British Columbian mining sector to be “in a profound state of dysfunction,” and in “unsecured environmental liability of contaminated mine site clean-up costs compared to other Canadian jurisdictions.”

British Columbia is home to many sacred Aboriginal sites and is constantly at risk of a disaster. Mining projects have threatened wildlife reserves and have had an impact on environmental and cultural resources, which many tribes have worked so hard to conserve for future generations.

It has also been recognized that many mines operate unmonitored and often provide results that create a domino effect amongst other sectors and physical areas of the province.

The coalition is hoping that the government can establish a royal commission led by a superior court judge to secure the land and heritage sights from future mining disasters.

Neelam Champaneri