Canada’s Atlantic premiers rip Ontario for using outdated map to grant mining licence

MONTREAL — Newfoundland and Labrador’s premier is blasting the government of Ontario for using a map a local First Nation says is outdated and inaccurate.

“They are trying to establish a new route through our territory, some 600 kilometres away, and they got it right, apparently,” Premier Dwight Ball said at the conclusion of the final day of the annual Atlantic premiers’ conference in Montreal on Sunday.

“Trickery and bad faith is how I’d describe it.”

Ball’s comments come in light of reports by the media in northern Ontario that say the government approved a mining lease using outdated maps and changed boundary lines before moving from St. John’s to the city of Thunder Bay.

A provincial government spokesperson told iPolitics that the process was “thorough and open” and that no less than four minutes were allowed for public comment. The province is fully aware of concerns, she said.

“Where there are errors, Ontario will correct them,” spokesperson Jess Nocera said in an email.

She noted that the permit date coincides with changes in the permit text that are part of a current standard that was updated in 2016 for developing resources in Ontario, such as gravel and sandstone.

The leak has led to outrage among the Peguis First Nation, who say the map is out of date and that their traditional boundary is an accurate description of what they’ve known for years.

“We were as shocked and dismayed as everyone else when we saw the map yesterday … We’re just trying to protect our territory and our way of life,” said Ghislain Picard, chief of the Peguis First Nation.

The Peguis is one of four groups that banded together as the First Nations Athabasca Trail to challenge the government’s plan to mine a mine site that sits on lands identified as an integral part of the Thunder Bay First Nation.

On Friday, a Queen’s Bench judge rejected the First Nations’ attempts to quash the land-use plan for Thunder Bay, siding with the province.

Picard said the First Nations Trail had no indication that the map used by the Ontario government was out of date or inaccurate. He also said the First Nations Trail had raised concerns about the map in the permit approval process, including a request to see the map.

That change was approved by the ministry of natural resources and forestry in June 2016, after which time the province released an update of the land-use plan to coincide with the land-use map update.

In the draft land-use plan, the province made a number of land-use changes to the Thunder Bay area, including the location of mineral deposits and mineral lease and exploration rights areas.

The decision to use the obsolete maps to choose a mining permit even after they were revised in 2016 seems like a shoddy way to measure compliance with Canadian environmental legislation, Picard said.

“We’re giving those resources to a foreign corporation that’s coming from the mining industry in Ontario.”

Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna acknowledged the issue earlier in the day.

“We do need to talk about that, and I know that the issues that have been raised on the Hornsby Island issue, they should be taken up with Ontario,” she said, referencing the seizure of drums of waste water from an Ottawa-area mining site by the provincial government.

McKenna has requested the Ontario government provide her with a full briefing on the issue. She said she’s holding conversations with federal and provincial ministers, as well as indigenous peoples to ensure this issue is addressed in the near future.

“It’s a high priority for me and the government to make sure that those are well-functioning agreements that recognize the treaty rights of indigenous peoples and the rights that they have to develop their own territories,” she said.

— with files from Anne Kingston

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