Federal Decision Ignores First Nations and Public Input: Likely to Hinder Development in Ontario’s “Ring of Fire”

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency recently announced that Cliffs’ proposed chromite mine, the first for a remote area of northern Ontario, will undergo a ‘comprehensive study’ environmental review despite the request of two First Nations councils and several non-governmental organizations for a public panel review.

The proposed project is a massive and complex undertaking that includes a mine and new infrastructure for transportation, power, and processing. The Matawa and Mushkegowuk First Nations representing 13 individual communities as well as MiningWatch Canada, Ecojustice, Wildlands League, and the Wildlife Conservation Society have all recommended that the project be evaluated through a joint federal-provincial review panel. Friday’s announcement indicated that this will not be the case and that the project will be reviewed through the less rigorous – and less participatory – comprehensive study process.

Cliffs’ project is the most advanced of several projects being developed in the much-touted “Ring of Fire”. If approved, Cliffs’ project would open the entire region and establish the infrastructure for future developments. Located on the border between the Hudson Bay Lowlands and the boreal forest of the Canadian Shield, the “Ring of Fire” is ecologically sensitive and a valued part of the traditional territories of the Matawa and Mushkegowuk First Nations who have travelled, hunted, and fished throughout the area for millennia. The First Nations expect the federal and provincial governments to honour their obligations to share both the decision making process and any benefits that may come from development in the area.

The decision to undertake a so-called “comprehensive study” instead of a review panel fell to Environment Minister Peter Kent. The decision threatens already-strained relationships with affected First Nations. Comments Ramsey Hart of MiningWatch, “It is infuriating that our government is not meeting its obligations under the constitution, under our Treaties, and under international norms like the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Hart also doubts that the decision will actually speed up development. “It is a mistake to think this kind of approach will streamline project approvals. In all likelihood it will only increase friction and uncertainty by poisoning relationships – and leave the government open to legal challenges.”

Many of the potentially affected First Nations have repeatedly stated that they are not opposed to development but that the review process and ultimate developments must include their active participation as responsible authorities for their territories. A letter from Matawa First Nations written in May and another from Mushkegowuk in July invited Minister Kent as well as then Ontario Minister of the Environment John Wilkinson to discuss a review process for the projects, but went unanswered. 

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Contact: Ramsey Hart, MiningWatch Canada, ramsey(at)miningwatch.ca, (613) 298-4745 mobile, (613) 569-3439 office

Links:
MiningWatch Ring of Fire EA Page
CEAA Registry Page