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Proposed Amendments to the Yukon Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act

As a result of the Ross River Dena lawsuit against the Yukon Government with respect to consultation on the granting of rights to miners to conduct work without consulting and accommodating First Nations, the Yukon Court of Appeal has given the Yukon Government until December 27, 2013 to amend its legislation specifically with respect to Class 1 activities. Class 1 activities can include construction of lines, corridors, trenching, clearing for helicopter pads and camps, construction of access roads and use of explosives.

There were four areas of concern identified as part of the proposed amendments and they include, environmental protection and monitoring, consultation with First Nations, security for Class 1 exploration and identification of areas for specific operating conditions.

The objectives for the amendments were to ensure the duty to consult First Nations was met, improved information sharing, enhanced environmental protection and management of multiple resources. In the case of Class 2 to 4 exploration programs, notice to the Chief of Mining Land Use (“CMLU”) is required.

The proposed amendments include notification by the operator prior to the commencement of a Class 1 program so that additional conditions may be placed on the program by the CMLU if there was significant environmental risk.

CMLU would have the authority to do the following:

1. propose mitigation procedures on potential environmental socioeconomic or adverse impacts on treaty rights of First Nations;

2. refuse the program;

3. provide security; and

4. issue a certificate of compliance.

Upon receipt of a notice, the Chief of Mining Land Use would first determine if there was any potential adverse environmental impact to be mitigated and advise potentially affected First Nations. There would be a 25 day notice reply period and then if no notice is received the proponent could undertake its program. There would be a provision with respect to avoiding undue hardship in proceeding with programs. In addition, there would be “identified areas” where additional requirements could be imposed.

The deadline for review process is July 31, 2013 for comments.

The discussion paper is available on the Yukon website at www.emr.gov.yk.ca/mining.

Comments:

A principal concern with this legislation will be the capacity of First Nations to have a good understanding of the program and its impact on their traditional territories and what responses are appropriate.

One concern will be that the 25‑day period is unlikely to be met and therefore proponents should be prepared to file their possible exploration programs as early as possible in order to address time delays.

An further concern is that a program can be refused if the environmental or socioeconomic effects cannot be mitigated or that treaty rights are “asserted” if aboriginal rights cannot be eliminated or accommodated. What procedures will be in place to address this problem?

One potential solution in this proposal is to perhaps bring in a definition like that in Section 10 of the Mines Act in British Columbia which requires notice when there is a mechanical disturbance. This would still allow general prospecting geochemical and geophysical exploration to take place.

Proposed Amendments to the Yukon Quartz Mining Act and Placer Mining Act

The Government of Québec imposes a temporary moratorium on uranium exploration and development

On March 28th, Québec Environment minister Yves-François Blanchet announced that the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) will hold public hearings on the uranium sector in Québec. These hearings are scheduled for the Fall of 2013 and will focus on the environmental and social impacts of exploration and mining of uranium in Québec. The Minister also indicated that no authorization certificates for uranium exploration or mining projects in Québec will be issued until the BAPE’s independent study is completed and its report is issued.

The Minister stressed the importance for the Government to respect the principles relating to the protection of the social environment and the protection of Aboriginal peoples, their societies, their communities and their economy. Aboriginal organizations will therefore be invited to play a significant role in the consultation. The Minister indicated that the BAPE’s study will be conducted in collaboration with the review committees and advisory committees provided for in the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, the Northeastern Québec Agreement and the Environment Quality Act.

The Government’s press release is available here (in French only): http://www.mddefp.gouv.qc.ca/infuseur/communique.asp?no=2383

This article was written by Ann Bigué and Dominique Quirk.

The Government of Québec imposes a temporary moratorium on uranium exploration and development

Canada’s New Environmental Assessment and Aboriginal Consultation Regime: What Miners Need to Know

 This article was prepared by David Hunter, Nalin Sahni and George McKibbon (McKibbon Wakefield Inc.)

The federal government has proposed a complete overhaul of federal environmental assessment in Canada as part of the federal budget. The repeal and re-enactment of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (“CEAA”) and amendments to other federal environmental legislation amounts to the most significant change in federal environmental assessment (“EA”) since the legislation was first created decades ago.

These amendments are clearly aimed at increasing investment in extractive industries by encouraging certainty, reducing regulatory duplication and shortening delays. The implications of these changes are vast and their full impact on the mining industry is not known. This is especially true in Ontario where miners will also have to deal with significant changes in aboriginal consultation under the Mining Act and the Far North Act as well as a new provincial Mining Class Environmental Assessment regime.

This is the second article in our series on the proposed changes to the federal environmental assessment regime and what that means for mining in Ontario. In our first article we provided a general overview of the changes. In this article we will discuss changes related to Aboriginal consultation. Future articles will deal with subjects including public participation, broad changes to the Fisheries Act, and harmonization with provincial environmental assessment processes.

While the proposed amendments to CEAA point to a reduced role for the federal government in assessing the environmental impacts from mines, the same cannot be said for Aboriginal consultation. The new CEAA strongly promotes Aboriginal involvement in the environmental assessment process through increased communication and co-operation and requires that environmental assessments address a range of effects on Aboriginal peoples.

Assessing Impacts on Aboriginal Peoples
CEAA continues to promote communication and cooperation with Aboriginal peoples as one of the enumerated purposes of environmental assessments. However, this purpose is given new force by an expanded list of environmental effects on Aboriginal peoples that must be taken into account.

The current CEAA requires the consideration of the impact of any change on “the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by Aboriginal Peoples.”¹  The proposed amendments to CEAA maintain this obligation but s. 5.1 also requires the consideration any effect in Canada on Aboriginal peoples’:

• health and socio-economic conditions;
• physical and cultural heritage; and
• structures of historical, archaeological, paleontological or architectural significance.

While each of these environmental effects is included in the current version of CEAA, assessment of their impact on Aboriginal peoples was not as explicitly required as under the proposed amendments. Community and Aboriginal traditional knowledge can also be taken into account in assessing environmental impacts. Unlike other classes of environmental effects, impacts on Aboriginal peoples are not limited to federal government land or jurisdiction. These broadly defined categories appear to apply to environmental effects throughout Canada and their precise definition will likely be the subject of litigation.

Interaction with Ontario Statutes
While these environmental effects on Aboriginal peoples must now be taken into account, a bigger question is how these requirements will interact with the new Ontario Aboriginal consultation regime. The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines is in the process of finalizing new regulations under the Mining Act that would require Aboriginal consultation for mining exploration and prospecting. The Far North Act also prohibits mining development in Ontario’s far north until community-based land use plans are developed. The content of many of these land use plans and whether they would satisfy some or all of the environmental assessment and Aboriginal consultation requirements under the new CEAA remains an open question.

Coordination between the federal and provincial governments is essential for the development of Mining in Ontario. At a minimum, this coordination (or harmonization) should include: the sharing and acceptance of information between federal and provincial authorities; allowing federal and provincial regulatory processes to run concurrently; and timely review by governments at both levels. The FMC Mining Group will prepare commentary entirely devoted to how the proposed amendments to CEAA interact with the new requirements in Ontario.

¹  Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, S.C. 1992, c.37 at s.2(1).

Canada’s New Environmental Assessment and Aboriginal Consultation Regime: What Miners Need to Know