A Short History of Environmental Delays

Extreme weather events like this one, so devastating to our southern neighbor, are impacting us right here in Canada. The federal government is currently grappling with how it will respond to a series of incredibly damaging torrential rains on the shores of Lake Ontario, from northern Ontario to the Hudson Bay. And at the heart of the issue lies mining.

First Nations, the Yanakaowwi (Gravy) First Nation in Ontario, are concerned that industry has allowed the destructive effects of mining along the Great Lakes watershed to linger—causing problems that will reverberate for generations to come.

And all of it is happening because of a skewed goal of industry, without regard to the irreplaceable resource at stake. Until a historic 2012 decision, resource development was allowed to advance in the Ojibway territory of the Great Lakes. That isn’t right.

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In that case, the government of Canada, realizing it had made a mistake, went before the Supreme Court of Canada and sought to reverse a decision that had afforded the Yinka-Dene Alliance its jurisdiction. In a 4–3 ruling, the Court sided with the five First Nations that had challenged the decision. In essence, the Court has said that, with regard to environmental and land issues, the feds can keep those actions inside Canadian borders only.

That is why Yinka-Dene Alliance sees mining as one of the biggest threats to the Great Lakes. While many industrial mine closures have occurred in other countries, Canada seems to have ramped up production and exploitation, most notably in the mining communities of Northern Ontario.

Yinka-Dene support first amendments that address three key issues. First, they want a shift in the industry’s overarching objective. They do not accept that the solutions to environmental challenges are only limited to environmental mitigation, prevention and adaptation.

Second, they want the environmental value of mining taken into account. Mining activity along the Great Lakes watershed is altering key soils and sediment flows that are not only a key factor to stop the spread of harmful algal blooms, but are also necessary for the protection of fish in both water and air. Mining activity has also altered the hydrology of the watershed, compromising its resilience in the event of floods, drought and other severe events.

Third, they support an end to mining outside designated areas. This would involve declaring major resources as ecosystem critical areas (ECAs) and more tightly limiting and protecting these areas to ensure people and the environment are protected. However, this approach ignores the commercial value and profit-seeking operations of mining companies. Mining is a multi-billion dollar industry, and mining in critical areas is conducted primarily by private corporations and the income it generates is increasingly inaccessible to First Nations.

Protecting our waterways from the impacts of a warming climate requires that we stop playing by the old rules. Maintaining industrial development on protected lands will only exacerbate the ecological and health risks that continue to affect our Great Lakes.

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