Mining Activities

miningThe James Bay Territory harbours vast mineral deposits. Mining companies have been exploring these deposits, especially gold, copper and kimberlite, for close to 100 years, sometimes at a feverish pace: in 1980-1981 alone, COMEV reviewed six mine projects (not including the numerous exploration projects, which are not subject to the Section 22 impact assessment and review procedure).

Metal extraction processes generate waste material known as “tailings,” which are disposed of in ponds, or impoundments. Fearing aquatic contamination, in 1990 the JBACE called for environmental assessment of tailings ponds and the development of an effluent monitoring program. In addition, the Committee encouraged the Ministère de l’Environnement to clean up industrial sites in the Quévillon mine area to prevent the release and flow of leachate to the Bell and Nottaway rivers. It also encouraged the Department to continue developing cleanup techniques for contaminated mine sites.

In 1999, the Department consulted the JBACE on a proposed mining directive (Directive 019) setting the environmental standards for mine effluent. The JBACE expressed its preference for a regulation that would apply to all mine operators, rather than a directive that applies to new projects only. The Committee also stressed the need to align the directive with the federal effluent management system.

Beginning in 2002, the JBACE learned of the Crees’ concerns about abandoned mine sites on the shores of Chibougamau and Doré lakes, both traditional fishing sites for the Crees of Oujé-Bougoumou. The JBACE invited the authors of two studies to present their findings in this regard. The researchers concluded that there was no direct link between mining operations and human health problems. However, heavy metal and organochlorine concentrations in freshwater sediment and fish exceeded the allowable limits, thereby warranting rigorous monitoring. One of the authors agreed with the JBACE that fish and wild meat consumption guidelines needed to be adapted to Aboriginal communities that rely on these foods.

In 2004, the JBACE invited Environment Canada to a meeting to explain its Environmental Effects Monitoring (EEM) Program for mining operations. The program requires that monitoring studies be conducted to assess the effects of effluent discharges on fish and benthic fauna. All five mines in the James Bay region filed an EEM study in 2006. Three years later, an Environment Canada representative gave the JBACE a presentation on the results of the EEM studies.

In 2008, a break in the tailings dam at the old Opemiska mine spilled a significant amount of tailings into the Waswanipi River watershed. In the ensuing years, the JBACE called on the Ministère des Ressources naturelles to ensure the Waswanipi Crees were directly informed of the spill’s impacts on fish habitat. In addition, the JBACE recommended that the MRN ensure Cree participation in the monitoring studies and remediation work carried out in the spill area.

In 2009 and 2010, the JBACE submitted comments on the bills (79 and 14) to amend the Mining Act. The Committee made a number of recommendations, including improving the regulatory framework for mineral exploration and creating a public registry of mining activities in James Bay. The registry would contain information on mines, exploration projects, inspection and monitoring reports, and remediation plans.

Since mineral exploration is not on the list of development projects automatically subject to the impact assessment and review procedure, the JBACE tabled a report of recommendations in 2014 concerning the status of exploration projects with regards to the environmental and social impact assessment procedure.

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