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

Quebec questioned over financial interests in uranium exploration

Wakefield, Quebec – Environmental groups are demanding answers from Quebec’s Minister of Natural Resources and Wildlife concerning a potential connection between the province’s recent decision to reject a moratorium on uranium exploration in western Quebec and mining claims held in this region by a government-owned corporation.

In a letter submitted to Minister Claude Béchard by Ecojustice (formerly Sierra Legal) and the West Quebec Coalition Against Mining Uranium (WQ-CAMU), the groups raised serious questions about the possible conflict between the exploration activities of Société québécoise d’exploration minière (SOQUEM) and the government’s decision to reject the Municipality of La Pêche’s request for a moratorium on uranium exploration in the municipality.

“We are asking the Minister to explain how the Quebec government’s financial interest in SOQUEM’s exploration claims can be reconciled with the government’s broader duty to protect the environment and regulate mining,” said lawyer Will Amos from the uOttawa-Ecojustice Law Clinic.

SOQUEM is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Société générale de financement du Québec (SGF), an industrial and financial holding corporation of the Québec government with an investment portfolio of nearly $2 billion. SOQUEM’s mission is to undertake exploration, development and mining activities throughout the province of Quebec, often in partnership with the private sector. SOQUEM has previously engaged in uranium exploration work in the Otish Basin and Bear Lake (Mont Laurier) regions of Quebec.

Based on data available from the Ministry’s GESTIM (mining claim) database, SOQUEM owns 37 claims in the Municipality of La Pêche, covering over 2,000 hectares which include designated wildlife habitat areas. The claims were registered in October 2007.

“Was the Quebec government’s decision to reject a moratorium on uranium exploration in western Quebec influenced in any way by its financial interests in SOQUEM’s mining claims?”, asked Michael Patenaude, local cottager and co-ordinator of the West Quebec Coalition Against Mining Uranium.

Ecojustice had previously written Minister Béchard to emphasize the need for a comprehensive review of the province’s Mining Act to ensure: 1) the clear recognition of landowners’ and residents’ rights; and, 2) the enhancement of municipalities’ powers to make land-use planning decisions based on sustainable development principles. To date the province has not responded.

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