Canadian mining companies already have a pretty tarnished reputation abroad in countries such as Guatemala, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo — and now, with a helping hand from the Canadian government, they are hitting closer to home. Using an obscure subsection under mining regulations, the Canadian federal government is about to reclassify sixteen lakes across Canada as toxic dump sites for mining operations.
The list of lakes (see after the jump) include prime fishing lakes, fish habitats and spawning grounds from British Columbia to Newfoundland. The stealthy bureaucratic move has environmentalists accusing the government of giving a handout to mining companies, at great cost to the environment and to public health.
Though the Canadian Fisheries Act prohibits the dumping of toxic substances into fish habitats, federal officials are increasingly using the Schedule Two subsection to reclassify lakes and even rivers as "tailings impoundment areas" — letting mining corporations off the hook from building costly containment ponds for toxic materials.
Mining companies: lakes are "best option"
But according to a spokesperson for the Mining Association of Canada, lakes are the best candidates for tailings containment.
"In some cases, particularly in Canada, with this kind of topography and this number of natural lakes and depressions and ponds in the end it's really the safest option for human health and for the environment," said Elizabeth Gardiner, vice-president for technical affairs.
But environmental groups and locals who live around the affected lakes disagree, claiming that this government-supported fuzzy logic could set a dangerous precendent.
Chad Griffiths, a local environmentalist living near the targeted lake of Sandy Pond, Newfoundland, remarked: "It's easy enough to consider just one lake as just one lake, as a needed sacrifice, right? But it's not one lake It's a trend. It's an open season on Canadian water."
"What Canadians need to know is that this year, from March 2008 to March of 2009, eight lakes are going to be subject to being put on Schedule Two, which is just about every mine that is going ahead this year is looking around, looking for the nearest lake to dump its waste into," cautioned Catherine Coumans of the environmental group Mining Watch.
Canadian government fast-tracking mine without public consultation
In the case of the Red Chris mine in B.C., a Federal Court judge already ruled last fall that the federal government acted illegally by attempting to skip a full public environmental review, stating that the effort "has all the characteristics of a capricious and arbitrary decision which was taken for an improper purpose."
Unfortunately, that ruling was overturned in the Appeals Court, allowing the government to reclassify lakes as toxic waste dumps without consulting the public.
"It's totally bizarre for the federal government to come here and say that this Y-shaped valley up here is no longer a fish habitat, it's no longer sacred headwaters, it's just a waste dump site," said Jim Bourquin of the Cassiar Watch Society, about Kluela Lake - "one of the best trout fishing lakes in northern B.C." - just downstream from the Red Chris mine.
However, Imperial Metals exploration manager Steve Robertson asserts that the mine "is a project that can bring a lot of good jobs, long-term jobs, well-paying jobs to a community that desperately needs it."
But locals such as 76-year-old James Dennis, an elder of the Tahltan community, see another long-term prospect. "Once they do the mine, they're going to leave, and we're the people who are going to live with that. Not me, but my grandchildren, the small little kids like this. That's who's going to live with the pollution."
List of Affected Lakes:
Four lakes in Newfoundland are already being used as dumps. Only one of the 16 - Kemess North in B.C. - has been rejected, with eight to be decided in the coming year.
* Kemess North - Duncan Lake - REJECTED
* Kutcho Creek - Andrea Creek
* Ruby Creek - Ruby Creek watershed
* Prosperity - Fish Lake
* Red Chris
* Mount Milligan
* Bucko Lake
Newfoundland and Labrador:
* Duck Pond Mine - Trout Pond and Gill's Brook
* Carol Mine - Wabush Lake
* Wabush Mine - Flora Lake
* Long Harbour - Sandy Pond
* Winter Lake
* Doris North Project - Tail Lake
* Meadowbank - Second Portage Lake
* High Lake