Posted on January 13, 2010 (updated: January 13, 2010)

Groups challenge massive DeBeers diamond mine in Ontario’s north

On the heels of a controversial decision by the federal government to allow a massive new diamond mine to proceed in the James Bay lowlands with no further assessment, environmental groups today are calling on the Government of Ontario to halt the project until the province completes its own full environmental assessment. The Victor Diamond Mine is a massive open pit mine being proposed by the DeBeers diamond conglomerate in Ontario’s pristine northern boreal region, near Attawapiskat on James Bay.

On behalf of CPAWS-Wildlands League, Sierra Legal Defence Fund filed an application today under Ontario’s Environmental Bill of Rights for a formal review of the government’s lack of comprehensive land use planning in the northern boreal. The groups are asking the Ontario Ministries of Environment, Natural Resources and Northern Development and Mines to assess whether the province has adequate safeguards in place to protect the ecological values of its remaining intact boreal landscape under current development pressures. In the meantime, the groups are calling on the Province to fully assess the Victor Diamond Mine and prevent any new industrial developments in Ontario’s remaining northern wilderness from proceeding.

“Ontario is home to 400,000 square kilometres of northern boreal wilderness — one of the largest remaining intact wilderness areas on the planet,” said Gillian McEachern, Director of Forests Programs for CPAWS-Wildlands League. “The province needs to prove that it has a plan to protect this region’s ecology before giving permission to projects like the De Beers Victor Diamond Mine to proceed. These are fragile ecosystems that took millennia to evolve and creatures like the woodland caribou will be driven to extinction if we don’t plan for their conservation before we start any further large scale development.”

“This project is symptomatic of the grave situation facing our northern boreal region,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Justin Duncan. “The federal environmental assessment simply looked at this project as an open pit mine in isolation. In reality the open pit will generate a profound ecological disturbance affecting more than 2,600 square kilometres of pristine wilderness. The province must now act to ensure that the mine’s impacts are adequately addressed.”

“Diamonds may last forever, but so do their environmental impacts, unless protections are in place before the extraction process,” added McEachern. “In the long run, what we really need are sustainable economic activities for the north, not just short-term mega-projects. The province needs to live up to its often-stated commitment of environmental values by creating a sustainable plan for our northern boreal region.”

The groups’ application is being submitted to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario. The Commissioner will forward the application to the named ministries – Environment, Natural Resources, and Northern Development and Mines, which must conduct a preliminary review of the application’s merits within 60 days.

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