Nunavut mining companies defend environmental stewardship despite strong criticism

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The environmental impacts of Nunavut’s two largest mining companies are not being properly managed, according to hunters and Inuit organizations, governments and nonprofits.

This is shown by documents on the Nunavut Impact Review Board (NRB) website regarding the activities of Agnico Eagle in Kivalliq and the Mary River mine in Baffinland in the Kivalliq region. Baffin.

Companies mitigate environmental impacts through working groups that include hunters and other Inuit.

These working groups monitor these impacts and recommend adjustments to ongoing mining operations. However, mining companies are not required to follow their advice.

People involved in the groups, which are supposed to work by consensus, have been expressing concerns since at least 2019.

These concerns include a lack of transparency, balance of power and consensus.

Businesses challenge workgroup failures

Gold miners work in the open pit mine at Agnico Eagle’s Meadowbank site near Baker Lake, Nunavut, in 2011. (Canadian Press)

Agnico Eagle and Baffinland both declined CBC interview requests for this story and provided statements via email.

Agnico Eagle says the working groups give everyone the opportunity to deepen the discussion.

“We are proud to have found a platform that gives key members the opportunity to discuss topics related to caribou management and how we can minimize our impact,” said Agnico Eagle spokesperson. , Carl Charest, in an email.

Heather Smiles, head of stakeholder relations at Baffinland, said in an email that the company values ​​all the contributions and questions raised during the working group sessions, and that it “is leading the way in environmental responsibility and Inuit involvement “.

But according to interviews and NIRB documents, many Inuit say they are not being listened to.

Without consensus

At a 2019 hearing on the Meadowbank mine, the Baker Lake Hunters and Trappers Association (HTA) raised concerns about the lack of transparency and equality of the environmental task force.

A year later, Agnico Eagle made significant changes to its caribou management plan for Meadowbank by increasing the threshold for numbers of nearby migrating caribou that would trigger a road closure from 12 to 75 in the spring; and from 110 to 1000 in the fall.

The Baker Lake HTA, the Government of Nunavut, the Kivalliq Inuit Association and Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. all said Agnico Eagle made the decision without consensus.

The Government of Nunavut has said the new thresholds “would make [existing] largely ineffective caribou protection measures.

Agnico Eagle withdrew his plan, which remains unchanged today, Charest confirmed.

“Huge imbalance”

Hilu Tagoona has followed mining regulations near Baker Lake for almost two decades. She helped found the nonprofit Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit in 2009 to educate the public about uranium mining proposals in Nunavut. (Submitted by Hilu Tagoona.)

Hilu Tagoona has followed mining regulations near Baker Lake for almost two decades.

She helped found the nonprofit Nunavummiut Makitagunarningit in 2009 to educate the public about uranium mining proposals in Nunavut.

“The idea was that there would be deliberations, consultations, opportunities for consensus, but that is not what is happening,” she said.

Instead, Inuit and community organizations don’t feel heard because mining companies aren’t obligated to heed the advice and comments of local experts, she said.

There is a “huge imbalance” in the task force process, Tagoona added.

While the industry hires consultants who are dedicated to the process, Inuit hunters and community members of task forces do not have the same expertise, time or resources on their side, he said. she declared.

The Inuit symbolized, according to the president of Mittimatalik HTA

Eric Ootoovak, president of the Miitimatalik Hunters and Trappers Association in Pond Inlet, Nunavut. (Submitted by Eric Ootoovak.)

A report commissioned by the Clyde River Hunters and Trappers Association and the Hamlet echoed Tagoona, calling the Baffinland task forces “dysfunctional and ineffective” and lacking in equality, trust and consensus.

The only community organization on the Baffinland working groups – the Terrestrial Environment Working Group and the Marine Environment Working Group – is the Mittimatalik Hunters and Trappers Association of Pond Inlet.

President Eric Ootoovak told CBC News that local hunters are not being listened to.

“Looks like we’re just a number, a token. We come in and sit there next to everyone,” he said.

Transparency is a major issue as concerns, comments and discussions are not made public, he added.

A “checkbox exercise”, according to the QIA

“Baffinland basically chose what and how to monitor, how often. They do these [monitoring] programs and choose how to analyze the results, ”Ootoovak said.

“They are their own regulator.”

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), Oceans North, the World Wildlife Fund and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans have all raised concerns about the Baffinland task forces.

“It’s a ‘checkbox’ exercise, with no significant opportunity to adapt or change practices based on the results,” the QIA said in a 2019 report.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans has said the task force it sits on is an “imperfect forum” and “does not provide a timely resolution mechanism.”

The World Wide Fund for Nature has urged the CNER to demand that Baffinland implement the advice of the members of the working group.

The NIRB declined an interview request for this story.

New working groups are formed

The proposed expansion of the Mary River mine in Nunavut would result in increased shipping to the Port of Milne. Communities say they still don’t know how this will affect marine mammals. The mine says the impacts can be mitigated. (Submitted by Baffinland)

It’s not just in Nunavut or Canada that mining companies show a lack of respect for the environment and due process, said Hilu Tagoona, board member of Mining Watch, which oversees mining operations around the world.

Canadian mining companies abroad have been found guilty of violating human rights and environmental regulations, she said.

Many Nunavummiut want the development of mines, while ensuring the protection of caribou, narwhal and land, added Tagoona.

“It won’t just be given to us by the industry. We have to make sure that we are constantly monitoring them,” she said.

“These things are not just wants or desires. They are demands and expectations,” Tagoona said.

Agnico Eagle and Baffinland are currently drafting terms of reference for new working groups: Agnico Eagle for the Meliadine mine and Baffinland for phase two of the Mary River project.


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