Ending narrow environmental assessment of large industrial projects

MiningWatch Canada v. Canada (Minister of Fisheries and Oceans)
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Program area – Nature Status: Victory
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The case revolves around the contentious Red Chris mine, an open-pit copper and gold mine in northwestern B.C. The mine is adjacent to an area christened by local First Nations the “Sacred Headwaters” – the birthplace of three major salmon-bearing rivers of the Stikine, Nass and Skeena.

The project’s proponent, Imperial Metals, proposes to destroy fish-bearing streams by damming them and using these natural waters to store toxic mine waste. Not only would the project destroy waterbodies used by local residents for fishing, but it risks contaminating the watershed for hundreds of years with toxic mine waste.

Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and its regulations, metal mines processing more than 3,000 tonnes of ore per day must undergo comprehensive assessments with public participation. Yet the government gave the Red Chris Mine only a screening level assessment, despite the fact it would produce 10 times as much ore. The government also chose to assess only a small fraction of the project, leaving out the actual mine and mill.

What does this victory mean?

In his Federal Court decision, Mr. Justice Luc Martineau condemned the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and Natural Resources Canada for unlawfully evading a comprehensive environmental assessment of the Red Chris Mine, and unlawfully preventing the public from participating in the federal assessment. (MiningWatch Canada v. Canada [Minister of Fisheries and Oceans] 2007 FC 955.)

The decision orders that the Red Chris Mine be denied any federal permits on the basis of the unlawful environmental assessment. Unfortunately, despite its unlawful assessment, the Red Chris Mine was eventually built. Yet, going forward under the new Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012, the government must now assess industrial projects in their entirety.

Key developments

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