As a result of an on-going conflict over mining claims in northern Ontario, the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation launched a landmark lawsuit today challenging the constitutionality of Ontario’s Mining Act. The case will affect thousands of mining claims across the province and could set a precedent for mining activities throughout the country.
The basis for the lawsuit is mining exploration activities being undertaken by junior mining company Platinex Inc. (TSXV:PTX) within the traditional territory of the KI (formerly the Big Trout Lake First Nation). The lawsuit asserts that the company failed to take into account the rights of KI members and will challenge the constitutionality of the Mining Act for giving rise to the conflict. The KI also filed notice that it intends to file a third party claim against the Province of Ontario concerning a $10 billion lawsuit filed by Platinex against the First Nation.
Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug and eight other First Nations called for a halt to all forestry and mining in their ancestral lands in 2005. Eleven conservation groups have also called for a moratorium until comprehensive land use planning is completed in the northern boreal region.
Despite the community-declared moratorium on resource development and the recent Supreme Court of Canada Mikisew ruling, which reinforced the duty to consult and accommodate First Nations prior to resource development, under current Ontario laws Platinex was able to commence exploratory drilling in February 2006.
Shortly after Platinex began drilling activities, KI members staged a peaceful protest and the company abandoned the site. Platinex is now suing the First Nation for $10 billion and is seeking an injunction against the people of KI to prevent them from accessing the mining claim area. Platinex also filed an injunction against the First Nation in order to access mining claims within their traditional territory.
“It is in the interests of all Ontarians to ensure that First Nation concerns be considered and taken into account before industrial development moves forward,” said Sierra Legal lawyer Justin Duncan. “If this lawsuit is successful and the Mining Act is deemed unconstitutional it will have major repercussions for mining legislation throughout the country.”
“Ontario must honour the call for a moratorium on development by First Nations and change its policy on mining development,” said Anna Baggio, Director of Conservation Land Use Planning for CPAWS Wildlands League. “Premier McGuinty promised that a comprehensive land use planning process would be put in place to protect the ecological values of northern Ontario and provide certainty to all users of the land that conflicts will not arise in future.”
“The Ontario Mining Act allows the creation of a third party interest on Aboriginal lands without their consent”, said Joan Kuyek, National Co-coordinator of MiningWatch Canada. “Conflicts between aboriginal communities and industry can be avoided, but the Government of Ontario must take action and lead this process. So far the province has instead created more tension by allowing mining activities to proceed without proper consultation.”