A minister said the legislation would not effectively give indigenous peoples the power to stop resource development projects on their traditional lands.
The Canadian Press
Dirk MeissnerOctober 23, 2019
7:43 PM EDT
October 24, 2019
9:27 AM EDT
VICTORIA — British Columbia is set to become the first province to introduce human rights legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which would mandate the government to bring provincial laws and policies into harmony with its aims.
The legislation is expected to be introduced on Thursday and is bound to raise questions about the potential impact on the way the province is governed, but Indigenous leaders, academics and members of B.C.’s New Democrat government say it will ensure Indigenous Peoples are full participants in all aspects of the province.
“This is about recognizing human rights applied to Indigenous Peoples and it’s something that governments of all stripes have not done before, despite the fact it’s in the Constitution of Canada,” Scott Fraser, the province’s minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said Wednesday.
He said the legislation is British Columbia’s version of a federal bill that died on the Senate order paper when Parliament adjourned for Monday’s election.
The declaration was adopted by the General Assembly of the UN in 2007 after 20 years of debate, although Canada was originally one of four countries that voted against it. Among other things, the declaration says Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination, which means they can determine their political status and pursue economic, social and cultural development.
This is about recognizing human rights applied to Indigenous Peoples and it's something that governments of all stripes have not done before, despite the fact it's in the Constitution of Canada
The NDP has made reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and the implementation of the declaration a top priority since it formed a government in 2017. The mandate letter for each member of Premier John Horgan’s cabinet says ministers are responsible for bringing the principles of the declaration into action in B.C.
“I’ve been all over the place meeting with industry, meeting with stakeholders, meeting with government, meeting with NGO’s, meeting with labour,” said Fraser. “What we’re talking about is working with First Nations in a different way, from the beginning of projects. Not working together and ignoring that rights exist almost guarantees disagreement.”
He said the legislation will not effectively give Indigenous Peoples the power to stop resource development projects on their traditional lands.
“There’s no veto in the 46 articles in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and there’s none contemplated with the legislation,” Fraser said.
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in several cases in B.C. that Indigenous Peoples must be consulted about development projects on their lands. Several First Nations continue to challenge the federal government’s expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline project from northern Alberta to B.C.’s coast.
Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit, one of B.C.’s largest Indigenous organizations, said the legislation will redefine, reset and restructure historical relations between B.C. and Aboriginal Peoples.
“It’s a milestone in Indigenous, state relations,” he said.
John also rejected concerns that the legislation would grant Indigenous Peoples a veto on resource development.
“It’s a go-to thing for those who want to run (it) down and keep the status quo in place,” he said.
Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, a law professor at the University of British Columbia, said the issue of free, prior and informed consent is not new because courts have ruled on numerous occasions that governments and resource developers must consult with Indigenous groups about projects on their lands.
Turpel-Lafond, who provided legal advice to Indigenous groups that helped develop the B.C. legislation, said governments can still approve projects despite opposition but the process must involve consultation with Indigenous Peoples.
“If you want to develop a new mine, for instance, you’ve got to work with First Nations,” she said. “The key to this legislation is a new pathway. What B.C. is going to have is a way of doing business that’s going to conform to what’s required, by what’s already in our law. But we’re going to make it clear across the board.”
Turpel-Lafond, a former Saskatchewan judge, said the legislation looks to a more equal future.
“I do think that in the history of B.C. this will be a turning point,” she said. “It’s a major shift. I think we’ll lead Canada and possibly lead the world.”
Prof. Jean Paul Restoule, chairman of the department of Indigenous education at the University of Victoria, said the legislation is long overdue, considering the relationship between Indigenous Peoples and governments has been decidedly one sided.
“The whole declaration is really about recognizing the full human rights and collective rights of Indigenous people,” he said. “To me the UN declaration represents Indigenous community hopes and aspirations across the whole globe.”
DERRICK PENNER, Vancouver Sun
Updated: October 24, 2019
"Most simply put, it’s about coming together as governments, as people seeking to find common ground,” said Terry Teegee, Regional Chief for the Assembly of First Nations in B.C.
B.C. made history Thursday as the first province in Canada to introduce legislation aimed at adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which left local First Nations and industry hopeful for an improvement to the status quo.
The legislation, introduced by Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Scott Fraser, mandates that government bring its laws and policies into harmony with the aims of the declaration, often referred to by its acronym, UNDRIP.
On the order paper as Bill 41, the legislation doesn’t set out a timeline for completion, but Fraser said it “is about ending discrimination and conflict in our province, and instead ensuring more economic justice and fairness.”
“Let’s make history,” he told the legislature Thursday, in front of an audience that included leaders from the First Nations Leadership Council.
There will be those who find any change difficult “because they’ve grown accustomed to the status quo,” said Indigenous leader Bob Chamberlin, but they shouldn’t fear UNDRIP’s principle of Aboriginal consent and shared decision-making for resource development.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
“Right now, we essentially have one-size-fits-all consultation, which doesn’t work,” said Chamberlin, a former first vice-president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and recent unsuccessful NDP candidate on Vancouver Island in the federal election. “If it worked, we wouldn’t be in the courts (with) everything being dragged out.”
UNDRIP requires governments to obtain “free and informed consent” from Indigenous groups before approving any project affecting their lands or resources, but Fraser said that doesn’t equate to a veto over development.
B.C. Premier John Horgan echoed Fraser, stating that neither the legislation nor the UN declaration itself includes language that would grant a veto over resource projects. For industry, the proof of success on that point will have to come from implementation, said Greg D’Avignon, CEO of the Business Council of B.C.
“Whenever you bring something new in, there is always a difference in perception and interpretation of what it is and what it isn’t, D’Avignon said. “Government has been clear today that this is not a veto and that they retain their right for decision-making and we will hold them to that obligation.”
Indigenous leaders addressed the concern in speeches to the legislature.
“Some people will oppose this law because of their fears about what an era of mutual consent means,” said Terry Teegee, regional chief for the Assembly of First Nations in B.C., adding that making history “is not for the faint of heart.”
“I want to say strongly and clearly here: This declaration law is not about providing any government with veto rights,” Teegee said.
Consent is about a process to achieve agreement, he said, which “is the future.”
“Most simply put, it’s about coming together as governments, as people seeking to find common ground,” Teegee said.
And if that is implemented well, B.C.’s mining industry is cautiously hopeful that such decision-making will “enable greater certainty and predictability on the land base,” according to Michael Goehring, CEO of the Mining Association of B.C.
Goehring said his association’s members have long been “advancing economic reconciliation” through agreements and partnerships with First Nations that reflect UNDRIP’s principles. So the industry welcomes a chance to provide input to government and Indigenous leaders on the plan and implementation of the legislation.
“The truth is, the status quo has not engendered confidence in British Columbia’s economic future, nor has it served British Columbians or B.C.’s Indigenous communities,” Goehring said. “So we approach this bill with cautious optimism.”
Fraser said the legislation was drafted after consultation with a wide range of groups and organizations, including Indigenous, business and government leaders. The declaration contains 46 articles, including that Indigenous Peoples have the right to self-determination, which means they can determine their political status and pursue economic, social and cultural development.
Another article calls for an independent process to be established to recognize and adjudicate Indigenous Peoples’ rights pertaining to their lands and resources granting them the right to redress or compensation for traditional lands that have been taken, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent. It’s unclear what this will practically look like in B.C., which has almost no treaty settlements with its over 200 First Nations. Horgan said the past is littered with broken promises to Indigenous Peoples, but the law can bring a new future.
“This bill is important because Indigenous rights are human rights,” he said. “We all want to live in a province where the standard of living for Indigenous Peoples is the same as every other community in the province.”
Chamberlin said the province, First Nations and B.C.’s salmon-farming industry used a shared-decision-making process for a deal over salmon farming in the Broughton Archipelago that could be a model for Bill 41’s implementation.
“People are going to say this is time-consuming and expensive,” Chamberlin said. “Well, I think going to court is time-consuming and expensive, and leads to no certainty whatsoever. It doesn’t advance reconciliation, it just hardens the lines, and I think after 150-odd years in Canada we’ve had enough hard lines.”
-With files from The Canadian Press
Posted by Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska | Oct 11, 2019
Tribal representatives from across Southeast Alaska, British Columbia and Washington state are sounding the alarm over threats posed to wild salmon across state and national borders.
“We will not surrender our responsibilities as stewards of the land and resources entrusted to us by our creator,” John Ward of the Taku River Tlingit in Atlin, British Columbia said in a statement.
Pacific tribes stretching from Yakutat, Alaska to Bellingham, Washington attended the three-day summit hosted by the Lummi Nation near Ferndale, Washington.
At the conclusion of the three-day summit, the tribal governments jointly pledged they are:
“It’s just death by a thousand cuts,” she told CoastAlaska Thursday. “There’s so many things affecting our salmon, and this has been a focus of SEITC’s work for five years now.”
The tribes’ statement pointed to resource extraction industries, namely Canadian mines on transboundary watersheds that they say threaten fisheries that are primary food sources and the livelihoods of indigenous peoples.
In Alaska, the agency responsible for managing in-state fisheries is the Department of Fish and Game.
“I don’t think we’ve hit an emergency yet,” the agency’s Deputy Commissioner Ben Mulligan told CoastAlaska on Friday.
He says there are chinook runs that are stocks of concern: Chilkat, Unuk and King Salmon rivers.
“We haven’t had an indication that we’re reaching that point where we would say overall in the whole of Southeast that those are stocks of concern,” he said.
But Peterman says at the tribal summit, the consensus was governments in both countries aren’t doing enough to protect wild salmon.
She says Canada’s First Nations, Alaska and Washington state tribes pledged to work closer in the future.
“Our message is we’re going to keep on working on this issue to try and come up with some solutions based on traditional ecological knowledge,”
It was the second summit organized by SEITC.
Sarah Lawrynuik - The Narwhal
Oct 11, 2019 5 min read
As American scientists point fingers squarely at Canadian coal mines for high concentrations of selenium in fish in the transboundary Kootenai River, a new Canadian study finds the contaminant has the power to completely wipe out some lake invertebrates
High concentrations of a potentially toxic element have been found in fish in the Kootenai River of Montana and American scientists are pointing the finger at Canadian coal mines for the contamination.
In late September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a report documenting elevated concentrations of selenium in fish just south of the U.S.-Canada border.
The study found some fish contained selenium concentrations surpassing the U.S. recommended maximum levels. Researchers found similar concentrations of selenium in the eggs of mountain whitefish.
“Selenium loads have been increasing over time in the Elk River, British Columbia, Canada, due to coal mining operations and runoff from associate spoil piles,” the report reads.
The Elk River is a tributary to the Kootenai River in Montana as well as Lake Koocanusa, where the ongoing research is being conducted. Coal mines in the Elk Valley, near Fernie, B.C., have been singled out as the main source of the contaminant.
Teck’s five metallurgical coal mines are all upstream of the transboundary Koocanusa Reservoir. Map: Carol Linnitt / The Narwhal
While selenium is an essential element for survival, overexposure can have devastating effects. In fish, it can lead to facial and spinal deformities, or an absence of the plates that overlay and protect the fish’s gills. In humans, it can lead to hair loss, muscle weakness and decreased brain function, among other issues, according to Health Canada.
Canadian scientist finds some invertebrates wiped out by seleniumMeanwhile in Canada, a growing awareness of selenium as a byproduct of mining, paired with numerous unknowns about its impacts in different aquatic environments, led toxicology researcher Stephanie Graves to take a closer look at its impacts.
Graves, a PhD student at the University of Saskatchewan, spent the last two years dumping various doses of selenium into lake enclosures in Ontario to monitor the effects, both at and above the recommended government thresholds.
Graves monitored the effects of selenium on a number of species, from fish to invertebrates, such as this copepod. Photo: Stephanie Graves / Experimental Lakes Area
Her research was done in two lakes reserved for such research at northwestern Ontario’s Experimental Lakes Area — a collection of 58 lakes cut off from nearly all human influence, used by researchers to conduct studies free of other contaminants and influencing factors.
Graves wanted to address two things in her research: how much selenium accumulated in invertebrates like zooplankton and other aquatic insects, as well as larger species such as fathead minnows. She also wanted to know what elevated concentrations did to these species.
Tiny invertebrates often don’t receive a lot of attention, but they are an integral piece of the aquatic food web.
“What we found so far is that those organisms can be very sensitive to selenium,” Graves said.
In fact, she found that some of the invertebrates were wiped out, or nearly wiped out at higher concentrations of selenium. Mayflies are often used to demonstrate impacts of pollution, Graves explains, because they are so sensitive — and this was no exception.
“They’re an important food source. So losing [mayflies] could have implications for higher trophic level organisms like fish. And invertebrates in general have very important roles in the ecosystem, in nutrient cycling and the transfer of nutrients to higher trophic levels,” Graves said.
The loss of even some of those organisms is significant, she added.
Grave’s research also found significant losses in a kind of zooplankton — another principal food source for fish.
And if you doubted just how important these seemingly small shifts are, Graves only exposed fish to the selenium-dosed environments for six weeks, and that time was enough to notice decreased growth of the fish.
Even the highest concentrations Graves used in her experiments can be found downstream of mines in Canada, she said. However, her research was very purposefully conducted in a lake, to consider what she calls the “worst case scenario” where those high-concentration flows aren’t diluted before arriving at a low-flow body of water.
“These concentrations aren’t unrealistic,” Graves said.
In one of her papers, published in the journal of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, Graves suggests that recommended federal guidelines for selenium, which is 1 microgram per litre, may not be sufficient to protect all ecosystems — specifically lakes.
In the end, Graves’ research doesn’t bode well for the health of places such as Montana’s Lake Koocanusa.
A group of scientists and conservationists paddle out on to the Koocanusa Reservoir where they are conducting independent water testing. Photo: Jayce Hawkins / The Narwhal
More regulations to comeWhen reached for comment, a spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy said that the provincial government is continuously working with partners in Montana to further selenium research.
“The Province of British Columbia is committed to improving water quality in Lake Koocanusa and its tributary river systems,” the statement read.
The B.C. government said that the consortium is working toward setting a new target for the water system that will be followed by both B.C. and Montana regulators starting in 2020.
Posted by Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska | Sep 25, 2019
The province of British Columbia is taking public input on ways to reform its mining regulations. The ministry says it’s partially in response to the Mount Polley mine disaster.
The tailings dam failure in 2014 was closely watched in Alaska due to fears of a similar breach in one of the region’s many mines in the transboundary watershed.
The Narwhal, an online environmental magazine based in the province’s capital, has reported on criticism of B.C.’s mining sector extensively.
CoastAlaska’s Jacob Resneck spoke with the The Narwhal’s managing editor Carol Linnitt in Victoria, B.C. about the province’s latest pledge to reform.
Jacob Resneck: Are these kind of reforms, the types of things that critics of some of the mining practices in British Columbia have been asking for?
Carol Linnitt: You know, on paper, these recommendations look good. But as is always the case with these kinds of, of policy reviews, the devil’s always in the details. And there’s been a lot of pressure on the province to basically have a more independent compliance and enforcement regime for mines. And that’s another thing that they’re talking about doing here. In these proposed amendments.
Of course, they’re not giving any specifics. It’s just, you know, this is a bullet point list of three things. So we–
JR: Did I hear you correctly, Carol? I had thought this was a summary, that, there’s actually more details than have been offered–
CL: They’ve just said, the ministry is proposing the following amendments; they give like a three-point bullet list. And then they’ve asked people to fill out a survey.
The reform proposals are limited to a brief summary.JR: One of the things that I didn’t see in this summary is the issue of financial assurances. In the state of Alaska, if you want to get a mine permitted, you have to post a bond, just to make sure — in case something catastrophic happens — or the company runs out of money.
CL: You’ve hit the nail on the head; that is, without a doubt the biggest elephant-in-the-room when it comes to mining in British Columbia. And it’s actually a pretty unsexy topic. It’s not necessarily very clear to the public what’s going on when you start talking about unsecured financial cleanup liabilities, it’s like, what are you even talking about? But to drive the point home, for example, there’s a Vancouver-based mining company called Teck Resources, Ltd. They operate in B.C. and they also operate in Alaska.
In Alaska, they have one mine there, and the state government required them to provide the full security of the estimated reclamation costs, which were $562 million. And that same company, which operates numerous mine in B.C. has unsecured reclamation costs of $700 million.
Carol Linnitt is managing editor and a co-founder of The Narwhal, a nonprofit online magazine that covers Canada’s ecology.
JR: We can’t talk about transboundary mining without talking about Mount Polley. Now, it’s not technically on a transboundary system. But bring us up to date since its tailings dam collapsed in 2014.
CL: I’m glad you brought Mount Polley up. And I do think that what happened at that mine and and watching how things unfolded in the aftermath has been a bit of a test case for some of these big mines on the border with Alaska.
So yeah, in 2014, a catastrophic collapse of a tailings pond, the equivalent of 10,000 Olympic sized swimming pools of mining waste flooded into Quennell Lake, a source of drinking water. And this spill was so big, it took 12 hours to spill — it’s just incredible. The Mount Polley mine is owned by Imperial Metals, and they’ve come across hard financial times; they’re on the brink of bankruptcy. We’ve reported on what that actually looks like. And the company just actually sold off a 70% stake of one of its major mines on the border with Alaska, the Red Chris Mine to an Australian company called Newcrest mining.
So here this this is the problem with not having those financial securities established before the fact is that companies hit on financial hard times, and then they just abandon these mines and they abandon those, those financial liabilities and cleanup costs reclamation cost to taxpayers and some of these mines, they require permanent water treatment facilities like in perpetuity forever — and those are very expensive.
So looking at the Red Chris Mine on the border with Alaska, the same company built that same mine but on a way larger scale with a way bigger tailings pond. And now they’re indicating to the world that they’re actually not capable of managing that mine and they want out.
So it’s, it’s worrisome and a lot of people, they still want to talk about the Mount Polley mine because it was basically an example of how companies are not responsible for their liability and basically the environmental mess that they’re creating in this massive resource extraction project from the get-go and it shows exactly how they can slip out of other forms of responsibility, including penalties and fines and cleanup responsibilities all throughout the process.
By Matthew Brown | AP
BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. government scientists found high levels of pollution that can be toxic to fish, aquatic insects and the birds that feed on them in a river that flows into Montana and Idaho from a coal mining region of Canada, officials said Monday.
Elevated levels of selenium were found in fish and fish eggs from the Kootenai River downstream of Lake Koocanusa.
The lake straddles the Canada border in northwestern Montana and southern British Columbia, and feeds into the Kootenai before the water flows downstream to Idaho.
Selenium is a naturally occurring mineral that can be released into rivers and streams during surface mining. It was absent from water samples taken from tributaries of the Kootenai downstream of the lake, indicating it’s coming from mining-related sources upstream, Environmental Protection Agency hydrologist Jason Gildea said.
No human health impacts were expected from the levels detected in the Kootenai.
High levels of selenium can kill animals and cause them reproductive problems. Animals that lay eggs are most at risk because the pollution accumulates in eggs.
Kent Karemaker, a spokesman for British Columbia’s mining agency, said he had not seen the pollution study and could not immediately offer a response. Regulators from the province participate in a cross-border monitoring group with their counterparts from Montana.
Concern about pollution from mines in British Columbia has been building for years.
U.S. senators from Alaska, Montana, Idaho and Washington state said in a June letter to British Columbia’s leader that Canadian regulators need to do more to prevent mining waste from fouling downstream U.S. waterways.
In July, representatives of towns and tribes in the region said the pollution threatens the livelihoods of those who depend on fishing and other forms of recreation.
Selenium concentrations in water entering Lake Koocanusa have been increasing for decades, but the pollution had not previously been found at high levels in the Kootenai River.
“We weren’t expecting to find elevated levels” in the river’s fish, Gildea said. “To see this result indicates that something is going on and we’re a little concerned about it.”
Earlier studies showed the pollution in Lake Koocanusa comes coal mining in the Elk Valley of British Columbia.
The latest findings come from a joint study by researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, EPA, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and wildlife agencies in the Montana and Idaho. More than 140 fish were evaluated, and high levels of selenium were found in six mountain whitefish and one redside shiner.
Elevated levels of mercury were found in three fish sampled, but Gildea said that most likely was deposited by air pollution and not mining.
Further studies are needed but whether they happen will depend on funding, said Ayn Schmit, an EPA water policy adviser.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
The Canadian Press
Published Sunday, September 22, 2019 3:49PM PDT
VICTORIA - The British Columbia government is asking for public feedback on proposed changes to the Mines Act that it says will improve regulation and oversight of the mining sector.
The Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources says in a news release it's proposing to formally separate authorizations and permitting from enforcement and auditing powers.
It's also suggesting establishing an independent oversight unit with an auditing function and enhancing compliance and enforcement.
The ministry says a $20-million boost in this year's budget allowed it to create a new mines health, safety and enforcement division.
Members of the public can comment on the proposed amendments through an online survey, email or mail before Oct. 25.
Minister Michelle Mungall says her government's No. 1 priority for mining is safety for workers, the environment and communities.
“We've invested $20 million over three years to hire more inspectors on the ground and ensure more frequent inspections,” she says.
“The feedback that we receive from British Columbians will be critical for informing how we improve our mining laws and ensure that mining in B.C. is done right.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 21, 2019.
National News | September 13, 2019 by Laurie Hamelin
**see original article for video and photos
The Mount Polley mining disaster was one of the worst environmental disasters in Canadian history.
Though at fault, five years later the mining company responsible has still not faced any fines or charges.
Bev Sellars, then-chief of Xat’sull First Nation, says she feels helpless to do anything about the tragedy that has impacted her land and people forever.
Sellars recalls the day when 24 million cubic meters of mining waste spewed into waterways within her traditional territory.
“Companies come in, do their damage and are just allowed to walk away,” she said, “and that has to stop.”
Bev Sellars doesn’t believe justice will ever be served for the 2014 Mount Polley mining disaster.
A panel of experts found the company at fault due to an unstable foundation.
Last month marked the five-year anniversary of the tailings pond breach. It also marked the deadline for government to fine the company that operates the gold and copper mine, Imperial Metals.
Sellars said she isn’t holding her breath waiting for justice.
“It’s wrong. It’s so wrong on so many levels,” she said.
‘This isn’t finished’: 5 years after the Mount Polley disaster, still no charges
Sellars tried to file private charges in 2017, just days after the B.C. government announced charges would not be laid.
She claimed the mining company contravened the Environmental Management Act and Mines Act.
But after reviewing her case, the B.C. Prosecution Services did not approve the charges.
“The province of B.C. should have allowed me to go ahead with my private charges against Mount Polley, but they didn’t,” said Sellars.
In July APTN News visited the disaster area below the tailings pond at Hazeltine Creek.
What looks like a valley of destruction at first glance is actually the result of millions of dollars worth of reclamation work paid by Imperial Metals.
The land at Hazeltine Creek just below the Mount Polley tailings pond.
“People from the area who are familiar with the forestry industry and reforestation of cut blocks know that the trees do not grow back overnight, and that full recovery will take some time,” says C.D. ‘Lyn Anglin.
Anglin was Imperial Metals’ chief scientific officer responsible for research and providing guidance for spill response.
“Including all of the environmental and human health impact and risk assessment studies, the ongoing environmental monitoring, and the environmental remediation work completed to date, the company has spent about $70 million on their response to the spill,” she said.
“This does not include the costs of the repair work on the tailings storage facility.”
But Allen Edzerza from the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council says Imperial’s work so far isn’t enough.
“There should have been more done, there should be a long term plan put in place that tracks to see what the impact of the chemicals in the environmental system is and see if it’s affecting the fish and wildlife populations,” said Edzerza.
Allen Edzerza of the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council says Imperial Metals hasn’t done enough to make up for the destruction it has caused to the area.
The same panel of experts that reviewed the Mount Polley breach also found that under current regulations the province can expect two tailings dam failures each decade.
Despite B.C.’s polluter-pays policy, mining companies don’t have to put up full cleaning costs as a deposit.
There’s also no protection against companies going bankrupt.
“What we have seen in the past is large companies, as the mine gets towards the last 10 years of its life, they like to sell out those projects and then take their reclamation deposit and they leave,” Edzerza explained, “and then you have a smaller company now operating these mines.”
In most instances, he continued, those companies don’t have the resources to do full restoration.
The B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council released a report in July urging the government to change its mining laws to protect taxpayers from footing the bill for future accidents.
Edzerza said other mining laws need updating, too, like B.C.s Free Entry Mining System, which he said violates the principle of free, prior and informed consent, which is protected under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“Right now you can stake on-line from anywhere in the world,” said Edzerza.
“You don’t even have to come to British Columbia. You don’t have to know what nation’s territory you are in, you don’t have to know the law,” he continued. “You just need to get this certificate, stake a claim and by law the province has to register it. Once a claim is registered the miner has an interest in that land which could be infringing Aboriginal title and rights.”
To prove how easy it is to stake a claim, in 2017 Sellars did just that on the Former Mining Minister Bill Bennett’s home property.
She was the chair of the group First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining at the time.
“So they come in–the government along with the resource companies–and just extract, extract, extract,” she said. “And so what I did is I went and I staked Bill Bennet’s private property.”
Sellars said it cost her less than $200 to stake the claim.
She said the policy is outdated and has been around since the gold rush.
“It’s still the same — it hasn’t changed and it has to change,” she said.
“People come in and they disregard Indigenous territories. They have no right to claim our land.”
In a statement to APTN News, the B.C. government confirmed it is working on a reclamation security policy. It says it has also begun pre-engagement on a review of the Mineral Tenure Act and will continue to work with Indigenous nations and the First Nations Energy and Mining Council.
Sellars is hopeful, but said she won’t believe it until she’s see it.
“They have no choice but to change things. It’s an absolute requirement.”
By Daniel Schindler and Jonathan Moore
Special to The Times
It’s easy to take wild salmon for granted when we see it prominently featured on restaurant menus and in grocery stores. This wild salmon comes mostly from Alaska because elsewhere over the last century, society has chosen to compromise the core thing wild salmon need to survive: clean, free-flowing rivers. The good news is that we can choose to do things differently in Alaska and British Columbia, where we still have intact habitat with thriving wild salmon populations.
At the World Salmon Forum in Seattle this week, scientists and practitioners will discuss how to sustain and restore remaining wild salmon populations. While these conversations take place, government agencies in the U.S. and Canada are actively advancing some of the world’s largest and riskiest mines despite peer-reviewed science showing that these mines would have permanent adverse impacts on the environment, wild salmon and local people. These permitting decisions must be based on credible risk assessments — not on politics, as they seem to be now.
In the U.S., the Environmental Impact Statement process is the “gold standard” for assessing risks mining developments pose to the quality of the human environment. However, this process is only as good as the science that informs it. This has never been truer than in Alaska’s Bristol Bay — home of the world’s largest wild salmon fishery — where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is overseeing the EIS process for the highly controversial proposed Pebble Mine. The Army Corps recently concluded that the Pebble Mine posed no risks to the rivers of this region, though their draft EIS was so flawed that other federal agencies publicly criticized its inadequacies. The Department of Interior said the draft EIS was so deficient that it “precludes meaningful analysis,” and Alaska’s U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski expressed that “the Corps’ DEIS has failed to meet [her] standard of a robust and rigorous process.” Unless Congress intervenes, the Army Corps says it will make a final permitting decision in early 2020.
Meanwhile, British Columbia is promoting numerous mines in the headwaters of the transboundary Taku, Stikine and Unuk rivers — the region’s top salmon producers — without defensible scientific assessments of cumulative risks, which extend into Southeast Alaska. The political process that oversees mining regulation in B.C. is exemplified by the collapse of the Mount Polley mine’s “state-of-the-art” tailings dam that released 6.6 billion gallons of waste into the Fraser River watershed in 2014. Just six months later, that same company, Imperial Metals, began operations at the massive Red Chris mine on the Stikine River — with the same waste storage design, except exponentially larger. Imperial Metals is also the same company that recently applied for an exploratory mining permit in the headwaters of the Skagit River — critical for the southern resident orcas.
SALMON BEYOND BORDERS is a campaign driven by sport and commercial fishermen, community leaders, tourism and recreation business owners and concerned citizens, in collaboration with Tribes and First Nations, united across the Alaska/British Columbia border to defend and sustain our transboundary rivers, jobs and way of life.
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