A report and set of maps released today offer a first time overview of the extent to which mining claims staked under an outdated free entry system conflict with Aboriginal rights, private landowners, conservation, wildlife, and other values in Canada's Boreal Forest. The report calls for modernizing the mining law.
Over a half-million sq km of mineral claims are currently staked across Canada's Boreal Forest under a “free entry” tenure system implemented 150 years ago during the Klondike gold rush era. Under the free entry system, mineral rights are acquired automatically without consideration of other land-use priorities or the prior and informed consent of affected Aboriginal people. Ten per cent of Canada's vast Boreal Forest has already been staked for mining.
“We are living in the 21st century with a mining law that dates back to the colonial era. It needs to be reformed,” noted Larry Innes of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, “Social and environmental objectives – such as resolving Aboriginal land claims and ensuring conservation planning before development--should take precedence but under the current system, mineral rights are given first priority.”
The maps released today show potential conflicts over vast regions of Canada, including areas where mineral exploration overlaps with unsettled Aboriginal land claims; mineral claims which encroach on proposed protected areas; and regions where intensive exploration is occurring within threatened woodland caribou habitat. The report offers case studies of British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec to illustrate the rising conflicts fuelled by booming investments in mineral exploration and the outdated free entry mining system.
This report comes out as seven Ontario First Nations leaders serve extended jail sentences for peacefully protesting unwanted mining exploration activities on their traditional land, underscoring the extent of the conflicts.
“Developing world countries have generally done a poor job of protecting indigenous rights from the pressure of mining interests. The world expects a country like Canada to demonstrate enlightened leadership, not to throw First Nations chiefs in jail,” noted Steve Kallick of the International Boreal Conservation Campaign.
A recently released report by the conservative Fraser Institute also recognized ongoing land conflicts between mineral exploration, Aboriginal Rights and environmental concerns as a serious impediment to mining investment.
“In our analysis, reforms are not only necessary, but readily achievable,” concluded Innes. “Moving to a modern system that enables rational planning, accommodates Aboriginal rights, and takes other values into account before decisions are made makes good sense on environmental, social and economic grounds. Such reform will promote a viable climate for investment, ensure protection of critical habitats, and improve opportunities for Aboriginal and Northern communities to benefit from responsible mineral exploration and development.”
The report calls for fundamental legislative and industry reform to resolve current conflicts and prevent future ones. This would include replacing the free-entry system with a permitting system for prospecting and exploration; requiring exploration and mining activities to conform to land use plans; requiring prior and informed consent from affected First Nations; and improving environmental standards for exploration.
The International Boreal Conservation Campaign (IBCC) is dedicated to public education and advocacy on behalf of protection of the world's boreal forests, with a special focus on the Canadian Boreal Forest. We work closely with Canadian and international environmental organizations, corporations and aboriginal First Nations to find common ground around the Canadian Boreal Forest Conservation Framework, a visionary plan to protect and sustain this globally important ecosystem over time.
The Canadian Boreal Initiative (CBI) works with First Nations, governments, conservation organizations, industry leaders and others to link science, policy and conservation solutions across Canada's Boreal Forest. For more information, please visit www.borealcanada.ca.