On Tuesday, a fierce legal battle was unleashed after the Ontario government approved permits for mining, which had gone unnoticed for many years.
The province came under fire after new amendments to an Act regulating mining were given the go-ahead, despite objections from local First Nations and new information that the updates were not up to date.
“I would note that the Government did not take into account the fact that these changes made these existing approvals irrelevant,” Nathan Cullen, an NDP MPP told National Post TV reporter John Ivison. “We had a minister of the environment in Ontario in 2015 who was in her second cabinet and who had no idea that the amendments were about to take place. And there are over 200 pages of reports, studies and recommendations around why those changes must be made and Ontario ignored those.”
So how did this happen?
The 2013 amendments changed the rules regarding some mining activities that have remained on land held in reserve — land which is guarded by the First Nations living there. The permits in question allow extraction activities such as land reclamation and water reclamation.
“The amendments to the Act relate to natural resources used for energy and mining; recreational uses; agricultural uses; quarry; road, landfill and wastewater; and public utilities such as utilities such as water and electricity,” George Durham, the Canadian head of Procon International, a firm specialized in natural resource law, told Mother Jones.
That new amendment makes it difficult for the government to justify cancelling existing mining permits, since it will be now required to go to review all of the permits issued prior to the new Act, said the Press Board. The province claims it is merely following the recommendations of the bylaws that have already been in place.
The amendments have proved controversial since, seeing as they were passed without adequate study. In 2015, then-minister of the environment, Glen Murray, told the Toronto Star that the amendments were “in response to recommendations of the Manitoba Office of the Assessor General of Environmental Resources.” A spokesperson for Murray later said that the government “never asked Manitoba for review and never received any communications from the auditor general regarding the review.”
Although both the First Nations and the government have said that they are eager to work together, allegations of favoritism and a lack of proper consultation continue to surface. Some critics are voicing concern that the province could use the mining revenue to finance the political independence of First Nations.