Defining a Problem: Canada continues to expand its interpretation of environmental issues
Amnesty International has not only joined the campaign against a Canadian mining proposal. It’s been granted “interested party” status by a federal environmental review panel. So has a nationalist group, the Council of Canadians. The news suggests that Canada has expanded its definition of “environmental” issues even further than the cultural and spiritual matters, and native rights and potential rights, that it has previously considered.
That’s the result of legislation passed last June. At the time environmentalists were critical, saying the new law would weaken the review process for resource proposals. But this announcement from a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review panel seems to suggest otherwise.
The three-member panel was appointed by the CEAA to review the $1.1-billion New Prosperity Gold-Copper Project proposed by Taseko Mines [T.TKO] for south-central British Columbia. On October 12 the panel announced its selection of interested parties from the groups and individuals that applied for the distinction. Although the panel will also hear from the public, “only those persons with interested party status will be permitted to participate in all aspects of the review during the public hearing phase,” the announcement stated.
An international human rights organization and a Canadian nationalist group made the cut. According to the panel they’re directly affected by the project, or have relevant information or expertise. The panel’s announcement stated that “the explicit definition of ‘interested party’ and the requirement for the panel to determine whether a person qualifies as an interested party are new” under last June’s legislation. To define interested parties, “the panel has followed a liberal and generous approach.”
A grammatically garbled statement from Amnesty International seemed to claim expert knowledge of international human rights and international law regarding the environment and indigenous people. The Council of Canadians claimed expertise from “over 25 years of experience working with communities to protect water resources.”
The panel does not, however, verify expertise before assigning interested party status. But “any interested party who presents information as an expert must demonstrate his or her credentials and may be questioned by others who wish to test the information presented,” the panel informed ResourceClips by e-mail.
An e-mail response from the CEAA itself (as opposed to its appointed three-member panel) didn’t answer questions posed by ResourceClips over the phone. The CEAA did reiterate the “four pillars of the government’s plan for responsible resource development: predictable, certain and timely reviews; reduced duplication; strengthened environmental protection and enhanced consultations with aboriginal peoples.”
The federal government rejected a previous Taseko proposal in 2010 after a three-person environmental panel criticized it largely for non-environmental reasons.
Most of the other interested parties selected by the current panel are local groups and individuals. One exception is the Wilderness Committee. In March Taseko launched a libel suit alleging the WC defamed the company on its Web site and Facebook page. In response the WC denied all allegations and charged that the company was attempting a SLAPP suit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) and Charter violation.
On related notes, new Ontario mining regulations that take effect April 1 will require companies to give natives at least 30 days of detailed notice before beginning early-stage drilling on Crown land. Earlier this month the B.C. government disregarded a positive provincial environmental review to reject Pacific Booker Minerals’ [V.BKM] Morrison copper-gold-molybdenum proposal.