MONTRÉAL – In the wake of a the Québec Auditor General’s highly critical report on the (mis)management of Quebec’s mines, the Coalition “Pour que le Québec ait meilleure mine!” has released a study that demonstrates the urgent need for a fundamental reform of the outdated and obsolete Québec Mining Act. Coming together for a press conference this morning in Montréal, the lawyers and experts that wrote the report are unanimous: “If we want a mining sector in Quebec that all Quebeckers can be proud of, a sector where the rights of citizens and the environment are not kept back stage but are front and centre –now is the time for a serious overhaul of the Mining Act, and this is what we have proposed with this report.”
William Amos, principal co-author of the report and staff lawyer with Ecojustice and the University of Ottawa’s Environmental Law Clinic, commented that “Protecting Quebeckers from being stuck paying the bill for environmental rehabilitation of contaminated mines, removing the precedence of mining rights over citizen and community rights, and giving Quebeckers the powers to ensure sustainable regional development are at the heart of our proposals.”
Removing mining’s precedence over other rights
Nicole Kirouac, retired lawyer and advisor to the community group “Comité de vigilance de Malartic” pointed to one of the greatest faults of the current law. “ It’s a based on a foundation from another age. For example. In this day and age it is inconceivable that mining companies do not have to obtain the explicit prior consent of landowners or municipalities that could be affected by mining projects. They can actually show up on your land and just start working! The current act is in direct conflict with the principles and values of other Quebec laws such as the Civil Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Mr. Amos also insisted that eliminating the precedence of mining rights is necessary in order to complete Québec’s protected areas network. On a number of occasions additions to the network have been stymied by conflicting mineral rights, despite the ecological and cultural values of the candidate protected areas. “Sustainable and equitable management of Québec’s resources also requires municipalities and regional governments be given the authority to protect any part of their jurisdiction from mineral development for reasons of public interest.
Applying the Polluter Pays Principle
Christian Simard of Nature Québec noted that from his perspective Quebeckers are still not protected from the environmental, health and economic risks of contaminated mine sites becoming abandoned. “Since 1990, the public has paid more than $40-million for rehabilitation of abandoned mines, and we will need to spend another $300-million over the next ten years to clean up the remaining 345 sites.” Last April, the Auditor General denounced the Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife’s system of financial securities, which he judged totally inadequate to ensure the protection of Québec taxpayers. To address this problem, the report recommends a financial guarantee reflecting 100% of estimated costs of rehabilitation with at least 50% to be paid prior to the opening of a new mine, and the remainder to be paid within the first three years of operation. The study also recommends the creation of a special 0.5% royalty on gross revenues in order to finance a fund for the rehabilitation of abandoned mine sites.
Obligatory Environmental Impact Assessment for all Mines
Michel Bélanger underscored how little environmental scrutiny mines are subjected to at present. “With an arbitrary threshold of 7000 tonnes a day for metal and asbestos mines, almost no mines in Québec require an a public review of the environmental impacts, that would normally be required by the Environmental Quality Act. Of 24 metal mines operating in Québec, as of 2008, only one underwent an impact assessment. In fact, since 1994, the public registry of the Minister of Sustainable Developmen, the Environment and Parks and the Office of Environmental Consultations reveal that only three mining projects have ever been subject to an impact assessment that included public participation. This situation is problematic for the environment and fails to respect the conditions of the Sustainable Development Act.
Other Important Conclusions
The authors of the study also recommended mandatory back-filling of open pits created by high volume – low concentration operations, as well as a re-definition and categorization of different types of exploration work so that they can be evaluated and regulated based on their degree of social and environmental impact. In order to reflect the values of Quebeckers and to protect their health, the report also recommends a moratorium on the exploration and exploitation of uranium.
Finally, a new mining law must respect the rights and interest of Québec’s Aboriginal communities, which are protected by the Constitution Act of 1982, and which have been re-affirmed in a number of recent court decisions.
Ecojustice, formerly Sierra Legal Defence Fund goes to court to defend the right of Canadians to a healthy environment. As Canada’s largest and foremost non-profit environmental law organization our trusted voice in the courts enables citizens to expose lawbreakers and hold governments accountable, all while setting powerful precedents for clean water, natural spaces, healthy communities and for global warming solutions. Ecojustice is a non-profit charitable organization providing services to community organizations on a pro bono basis, and does not accept subsidies or financial contributions from any level of government.
The Coalition Pour que le Québec ait meilleure mine! was founded in the spring of 2008 and today is made up of more than a dozen organizations, representing many thousands of members across Québec. The coalition’s mandate is to redefine how the Quebec mining sector operates by promoting better social and environmental practices. Coalition members believe that a constructive dialogue with various stakeholders, the government, and affected communities and citizens is essential to this process.
The following organisations are currently members of the Coalition: Action boréale Abitibi-Témiscamingue (ABAT) ▪ Association de protection de l’environnement des Hautes-Laurentides (APEHL) ▪ Coalition de l’ouest du Québec contre l’exploitation de l’uranium (COQEU) ▪ Comité vigilance Malartic (projet minier Osisko) ▪ Conseil central de la Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN) en Abitibi-Témiscamingue et Nord-du-Québec ▪ Écojustice ▪ Forum de l’Institut des sciences de l’environnement de l’UQAM ▪ MiningWatch Canada ▪ Mouvement Vert Mauricie ▪ Nature Québec ▪ Professionnels de la santé pour la survie mondiale ▪ Regroupement pour la surveillance du nucléaire ▪ Réseau québécois des groupes écologistes (RQGE) ▪ Sept-Îles sans uranium ▪ Tous nouveaux membres sont les bienvenus.