By GINA MORRIS
Kamloops Moms for Clean Air
THE MINING INDUSTRY in British Columbia claims to adhere to world-leading practices, so how is it that the Ajax mining company could even propose to develop a massive open-pit copper and gold mine so close to the community of Kamloops? And why is a Knutsford couple facing the prospect of unwanted mining exploration activities on their property with no legal way to prevent it?
The answer is simple: British Columbia’s mining laws are stuck in the gold rush era. The mineral and placer staking map of the region show that there are a lot of tenures within the boundaries of the municipality of Kamloops and even in Kamloops Lake.
As it was in the gold rush days of the mid-1800s, the Mineral Tenure Act still allows prospectors to stake claims, explore and take samples without consultation or consent on First Nations’ territories and on private land – like that owned by the Knutsford couple.
British Columbia’s history is inextricably tied to mining yet we still operate with a “free miner’s certificate” established in the 1859 Gold Fields Act. This set out the right of free entry to most lands in the province.
Today, mining activity is still given priority over virtually all other land uses in B.C.
It’s not surprising that this law is often the source of mining conflicts. While other provinces have updated their mineral tenure laws to reflect rights of First Nations, land-use plans, protection of watersheds and municipal drinking water, B.C. mining claim laws have seen little reform. As such, we are part of a network that has developed a set of briefs and recommendations urging the government to bring B.C.’s mining laws into the 21st century.
With the recent passing of Bill 41 – The Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People Act, there is renewed hope that the Mineral Tenure Act will be modernized. No exploration activities should be approved without the free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) of affected Indigenous peoples.
Land or watershed plans can identify those areas that may be appropriate for mining and provide greater certainty to industry. The Mineral Tenure Act must ensure that these plans hold true for sub-surface activities as well. There’s a great opportunity to do so with the province committing to modernizing land use plans and enabling watershed plans.
Other jurisdictions, such as Quebec, deny claims in areas where land use plans forbid mining. In addition, municipal and regional governments in Quebec can also request that the province designate no-go zones for mining for “public interest purposes.”
This can include municipal drinking water sources and community green space. The city of Kamloops proposed a 10 kilometres buffer zone around the community to mining. This could be achieved if B.C. emulated this part of Quebec’s law.
Mining practices from 160 years ago which continue to threaten the health of our air and watersheds, are no longer acceptable. It took a lot of energy and effort by the community to conduct studies and fight back against the Ajax mine, as did the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation who conducted their own Environmental Assessment and rejected the project under their own governance system.
The truth is, no community and no mining company should ever be put in the impossible position of a proximity where mining activity would be in conflict with municipal land use decisions and historically and culturally significant indigenous lands. There should be laws, or changes to existing laws like the Mineral Tenure Act, that would prevent this kind of proximity from happening ever again. Being for changes to mining laws is about being for (not against) mining that is done in a responsible way.
Far too little has been done to align B.C.’s mining regulations with internationally acceptable standards that would safeguard the environment, protect private property rights, shield B.C. taxpayers from future clean-up costs and uphold the rights of First Nations.
Much of the source of the problem can be traced back to the Mineral Tenure Act that is not in line with today’s values. There are places where mining is acceptable, but we need to ensure that consent at the prospecting stage is mandatory. There’s too much staked, and too much at stake otherwise.
To view the mineral claims maps, go to: https://reformbcmining.ca/maps
Gina Morris is spokesperson for Kamloops Moms For Clean Air.