Environment: Current Problems

ON


September 28, 2020


Environmental Impacts

Attawapiskat First Nation opposes DeBeers Land Fill site

Attawapiskat First Nation – DeBeers Canada (DBC) is seeking Ontario Government approval for a third landfill waste site to be built and filled up at the Victor Mine Site, located in a vulnerable James Bay wetlands area, and in a place of critical importance to Attawapiskat. The Victor Mine is now in the closure phase, where decommissioning and remediation are supposed to leave the landscape in a clean and safe state. Much of the diamond mine waste that DBC would deposit into such landfill, is reusable and salvageable.

“DeBeers could and should be transporting that waste through the winter road it has maintained for the last many years, to markets and facilities south of us, where it can be treated and reused,” says Attawapiskat Chief David Nakogee. “We’re talking about 100,000 cubic metres of material that could be reused or recycled. DeBeers unilaterally cancelled the contract for the winter road project because they said they don’t need it. Of course, they don’t need it when they have the alternative of turning our lands into their garbage dump instead of building a winter road.”

DBC has applied for 97,000 cubic metres of landfill volume, which is just shy of the 100,000 cubic metres threshold which would trigger a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment. DBC very recently got approval for a demolition landfill of exactly the same size, and now they are asking Ontario to approve a second demolition landfill bringing the total diamond mine project demolition waste volume to almost 200,000 cubic metres. A landfill that big requires a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment,” says environmental consultant to Attawapiskat, Don Richardson. “But if Ontario agrees that DeBeers can split the demolition landfilling into two pieces of about 100,000 cubic metres each, DeBeers can side-step the time and costs involved in planning a big landfill project through a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment.

“DeBeers has profited a lot from the Victor Diamond Mine and will profit even more,” says Chief Nakogee. “These expensive diamonds come from my Nation’s homeland, in our backyard, and yet we continue to live in horrendous conditions where we can’t even drink the water here from the taps. We keep watching the wealth of our Traditional Territory, from the waters and lands to the wildlife, get industrialized. We keep watching others walk off with the profits of that industrialization, leaving us to bear the burden and the waste. When DeBeers has the money to transport, recycle and re-use materials, and to properly monitor the effects of the mine on the lakes and rivers, they must be required to do so.


November 3, 2017


Climate Change

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Envronment must include Indigenous views

Assembly of First Nations – First Nations must be full participants in all meetings of Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) to ensure their voices are heard in environmental and climate change solutions.

“Reconciliation has to include respect for our Elder’s traditional knowledge and our understanding of the lands and waters, the animals and plant life. We have a central role to play in lawmaking in this area, and we have responsibilities to safeguard our traditional territories and our people. We hold valuable knowledge that can help everyone in maintaining a healthy environment for all our children.” The AFN has created the Advisory Committee on Climate Action and the Environment (ACCAE) and is currently establishing a network of climate coordinators across Canada. The Assembly is also working with First Nations Elders on the development of an Indigenous Knowledge policy that would support federal efforts to better respond to the impacts of climate change and other environment issues.

In his presentation to the CCME, the National Chief advanced three points:

  • Establish “regional tables” between First Nations and provinces and territories to ensure First Nation participation within the different regions;
  • First Nations’ law must also be accommodated and recognized, in addition to common law and civil law, when dealing with environment and climate change regulation and management as a way to express and share First Nations’ traditional knowledge and responsibilities to safe guard the lands, wildlife, waters, and resources;
  • First Nations must be involved as key players in the emerging economic industry for clean energy, adaptation, and mitigation.

December 1, 2018


Environmental Impacts

Failure to protect Woodland Cariboo

Government of Canada – “Progress Report on Steps Taken to Protect Critical Habitat for the Woodland Caribou” indicates little progress is being made toward conservation. Meanwhile, provinces continue to issue permits for energy and forestry developments that do not comply with Species At Risk Act (SARA) , placing caribou at even greater risk. (David Suzuki Foundation)

Canada’s Species at Risk Act requires provinces to create plans to ensure at least 65 per cent of caribou habitat is protected and restored to help them survive.

This report notes that there continue to be gaps in comprehensive protection for boreal caribou critical habitat throughout the boreal caribou range… Most importantly, the development of regionally-specific range plans through meaningful partnership with Indigenous Peoples and broad engagement with multi-stakeholder groups, and their implementation, including through effective laws, regulations and policies, are central to achieving this outcome.
https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/species-risk-public-registry/critical-habitat-reports/woodland-caribou-boreal-population-protected-2019.html


February 3, 2021


Forest Management

First Nations issues with the 2021-2031 Timiskaming Forest Management Plan

Toronto Star – First Nations leaders from Temagami, Matagami, Matachewan, Teme-Augama Anishnabai, Beaverhouse, and Timiskaming cited concerns that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) and Timiskaming Forest Alliance Inc. (TFAI) were not taking seriously their concerns or the long-term health and sustainability of the forest and the use of herbicides.

The First Nations claim that after multiple efforts to work with the MNRF and the TFAI, “it has become clear that legitimate efforts to improve the 2021-2031 Timiskaming Forest Management Plan and ensure that First Nations share in the economic benefits of the forest, were not taken seriously.” They added that “many serious issues remain unresolved.”

“Over many years, the First Nations involved in the Timiskaming Forest have called for the MNRF to take action to include the objectives of Term and Condition 56 within the objectives of the Timiskaming (plan),” the chiefs said in a joint statement to The Speaker.

They reasoned that inclusion of Term and Condition 56 within the forest management plan “would identify and implement ways of achieving more equal participation for our Indigenous communities in the benefits provided through the FMP process.”

If included within the FMP, Chiefs Moore Frappier and Farr said those objectives would include, but are not limited to:

  • Number of job opportunities provided with forest and mill operation in the vicinity to indigenous communities.
  • Volume of wood supplied to wood processing facilities such as sawmills in indigenous communities;
    Number of facilitated indigenous third-party licence negotiations with existing licences where opportunities exist;
  • Number of forest resource licences provided to Aboriginal people where unallocated Crown timber exists close to reserves;
  • Number of programs developed to provide jobs, training and income for Aboriginal people in forest management operations through joint projects with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and;
  • Number of other forest resources addressed that are affected by forest management.
  • In addition to that, the chiefs said the Teme-Augama Anishnabai and Temagami First Nation want to see a reduction in the use of herbicides, and, ultimately, a plan with clear targets to eliminate herbicide use and implement alternatives.

They also want to:

  • revisit the size and nature of clear cuts within the Timiskaming Forest;
  • create a 60-metre buffer on all riparian areas, any exceptions to be negotiated on a case-by-case basis with First Nations;
  • provide for moose protection outside of MEAs;
  • consult with First Nations to ensure inclusion of relevant traditional ecological knowledge;
  • revise procedures to ensure any trapper who may be impacted by harvesting is notified and meaningful accommodations are made;
  • commitment to include, utilize, and track the use of traditional ecological knowledge in Forest Management Plans and Annual Work plans.

September 22, 2020


Forest Management

First Nations lawsuit against Forest Management Plan

Wawa News – This legal action is being advanced by three Ontario First Nations. It focuses on the refusal by the Ontario Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks to order an Environmental Assessment (EA) or impose conditions on the Gordon Cosens Forest Management Plan (FMP). At issue is whether conditions for sustainability are met and consultation with First Nations has been done properly for the 20,000 square km area. The First Nations say the answer to both questions is no.

The matter involves forestry in Treaty No. 9, the area known as “Height of Land Treaty” where all waters flow north to James Bay and Hudson Bay. Chapleau Cree First Nation, Missanabie Cree First Nation and Brunswick House First Nation have called this their homeland since long before Confederacy and the forming of Ontario.
Each First Nation has several Sustainable Forest Licences (SFLs) overlapping their respective territories. For decades, they have attempted to find ways to achieve a more equal and full participation in forestry and forest management – an industry with a far-reaching industrial footprint and worth over $15B. They are seeking to be partners in ensuring that the forests remain healthy in the long-term, and Ontario’s forest industry is sustainable.

On August 31, the First Nations launched a Judicial Review of a May 2020 decision to refuse their request for an EA. It is a significant challenge to Ontario’s recently approved 10-year FMP for the Gordon Cosens Forest Management Unit (FMU). In June 2020, the Ford Government revoked the Declaration Order and amended Environmental Assessment Act Regulation 334 to expressly exempt Crown forest management from EA and eliminate the former Declaration Order conditions. The Ontario EA regime has been further diminished by the July 2020 Omnibus Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020 (see Schedule 6), which makes major amendments to the Environmental Assessment Act.

“Our efforts to engage with Ontario have not worked, and the current approach to forestry in Ontario is resulting in the death of the boreal forest by a thousand cuts,” said Chief St. Denis (Brunswick House First Nation). “Ontario’s must work hand in hand with us to stop the damage and create a new approach. Removing the Declaration Order and EA protections during a pandemic is wrong. We need a proactive government that will collaborate with us until we all see change and more sustainable forestry practices on the land where we live.”


March 26, 2021


Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

The AFN, based on direction from the Chiefs-in-Assembly, intervened in this case, as well as court cases in Saskatchewan, Ontario and Alberta, arguing the Government of Canada has a direct legal obligation to recognize Aboriginal and Treaty rights in any legislative efforts to address climate change.


March 25, 2021


Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Supreme Court finds that the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act 2018 is constitutional.


March 25, 2021


Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Westaway Law Group – The majority judges noted that climate change “has had particularly serious effects on Indigenous peoples, threatening the ability of Indigenous communities in Canada to sustain themselves and maintain their traditional ways of life.” [para 11] They also acknowledged that, “the effects of climate change are and will continue to be experienced across Canada, with heightened impacts in the Canadian Arctic, coastal regions and Indigenous territories.” [para 12] These are important acknowledgements on the part of the Court, and no doubt had some impact on their assessment that the matters addressed in the GGPPA are matters of national concern.

Although the Court did not specifically make reference to s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, as noted, the result is consistent with the evidence and arguments put forward on behalf of First Nation interveners.


October 20, 2020


Climate Change

Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act

Toronto Star – The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) reserved judgement on whether the federal government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act 2018 (GGPPA) is constitutional following hearings on September 22 and 23 with the United Chiefs and Councils of Mnidoo Mnising (UCCMM), along with the Anishinabek Nation (AN), granted intervener status.

The GGPPA sets minimum standards for carbon pricing on provinces that have not implemented an equivalent provincial program. The provinces argued that they should have control of greenhouse gas (GHG) policies while environmental advocates and other interveners asked the court to recognize the necessity of a national response to climate change.

“The UCCMM intervened in this case because climate change disproportionately affects First Nation communities, our traditional way of life and our ability to assert and exercise jurisdiction in relation to environmental issues that directly impact their lands and their people,” said Patsy Corbiere, UCCMM Tribal Chair. “As stewards of the largest freshwater island in the world we are ensuring that the courts take into account the Anishinabek perspective when determining if climate change is a matter of national concern. As the quality and quantity of our natural resources and medicines continue to diminish with the effects of climate change, it is vital that our voices be heard and our rights be respected.”

In the current appeal to SCC, the AN and UCCMM urged the court to “adopt an approach to the issues in this case which allows jurisdictional space for all levels of government: federal, provincial and Indigenous, in regulation of critical environmental matters.” Patricia Lawrence from Westaway Law Group, appearing on behalf of the AN and UCCMM, argued that “First Nations should not be left without effective redress as a result of federal-provincial jurisdictional disputes.

The Crown must be held accountable for the protection and preservation of the aboriginal and treaty rights recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. If the provinces are unable to effectively protect these rights, the federal government must be permitted to step in and enact legislation,” said Chief Corbiere.


July 14, 2016


Environmental Impacts

Mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows

Toronto Star – Ontario’s former environment minister called for a clean-up of mercury contaminating Grassy Narrows First Nation, historical cabinet memos obtained by the Star show. But nothing was done by the government of the day to clean up the polluted river and lakes, and more than 30 years later the fish that feed the community are still contaminated.

The March 30, 1984, recommendation to cabinet from then-Environment Minister Andrew Brandt said the government should endorse a $2-3 million remediation plan to “cover the mercury sediments” in the nearby Clay Lake on the English-Wabigoon River, but hold off on the more disruptive and costly option of dredging the river system pending further study.

What had prompted the former environment minister’s advice was a scientific report by the 1983 Canada-Ontario Steering Committee on the English-Wabigoon River System. The report said the mercury had contaminated sediments in the surrounding rivers and lakes and that the fish would be contaminated for generations if the mercury wasn’t cleaned up. (Today, one meal of Walleye from Clay Lake contains up to 150 times the safe dose of mercury recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)

The committee recommended, among other things, to place clean sediment in the water so that it settles on the bottom of Clay Lake to stabilize the mercury-contaminated sediment — a method called resuspension — as well as some dredging of the river. A small pilot project done for the 1983 report tested the method of resuspension in Clay Lake and found it reduced mercury levels in fish “by ten times.”

“The provincial government should not appear reluctant to take action on the report’s recommendations,” wrote a senior environment ministry staffer in a briefing note circulated within the department in the spring of 1984”.


August 10, 2020


Environmental Impacts

Omnibus Bill 197 violates Environmental Bill of Rights

The Timmins Daily Press – Mushkegowuk Council is calling on the province to honour the treaty it signed 115 years ago. Treaty 9 was signed between First Nations leaders and Canadian political figures to establish guidelines around resources and projects on First Nations land. Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon called Bill 197 a “major step back” that “abolishes many of the environmental assessment rules that have been in place for decades.” Solomon explained that a treaty was signed because it recognized the Mushkegowuk/Ininiwuk peoples as a nation, which had its own governance, laws, language, culture, among others. Mushkegowuk’s grand chief said the agreement signed in 1905 was a “‘nation-to-nation sacred treaty,” noting that Canadian courts have deemed the oral promises made were “as much a part of the binding treaty as the words written on the treaty parchment.”

Solomon added that if the province is interested in receiving consent for resource, forestry, mining and other development projects on Indigenous land, it must be done in consultation with First Nations from the beginning. “You will need to show how these projects respect the integrity of our environment. Further, you will need to demonstrate how these projects will benefit the Omushkego/Ininiwuk. That has not changed, despite Bill 197.”
https://www.timminspress.com/news/local-news/mushkegowuk-suggests-changes-to-bill-197-violate-treaty


July 24, 2020


Environmental Impacts

Omnibus Bill 197 violates Environmental Bill of Rights

NationTalk – Bill 197 (COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2019), an omnibus bill introduced on July 8 and passed just 13 days later on July 23 with little legislative debate and no Standing Committee consideration, and without public consultation on the changes to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) despite warnings from Ontario’s Auditor General that this violates the Environmental Bill of Rights. The Bill allows for major changes to the EAA while offering few concrete details, leaving important decisions to be implemented through regulations that are not yet known and which will not be subject to legislative approval. Major changes to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) could significantly weaken environmental protections and impact Inherent, Aboriginal, and Treaty rights, all under the guise of COVID-19 response.

On the same day that Ontario introduced Bill 197, it gave public notice of just 45 days to review and comment on a package of other proposed changes to the EAA and related regulations relating to mining, hydro transmission, municipal environmental assessments, flood and erosion control, waterpower projects, resource stewardship and facility development, transportation, public works, amendments to environmental assessments, land claim settlements, projects within provincial parks and conservation reserves, and two specific major transportation projects. These changes are part of an ongoing effort by this government to overhaul Ontario’s environmental protection regime, in support of its promise to “cut red tape” in support of economic interests.

As a community with a high poverty rate, Fort Albany understands the need for economic opportunity. However, development must be ecologically responsible and culturally sustainable. At a time when the whole world is facing unprecedented climate change and biodiversity loss, development must be supported with more and better environmental protections, not fewer. Any changes to environmental protections are important for us, because the exercise of our Inherent, Aboriginal, and Treaty rights is inherently connected to the wellbeing of the environment. However, the government is unilaterally introducing major changes with the knowledge that our community is under pressure and constraints due to COVID-19, and that we do not have the resources or capacity to meaningfully engage. This is not honourable, and it disrespects our relationship with our territory and our role as a Treaty No. 9 partner.

We call on the Government of Ontario to repeal Bill 197, and to design a more appropriate process for reform of the EAA in full partnership with Indigenous groups, with the principles of robust environmental protection, public participation, and respect for Indigenous rights at its heart.
http://nationtalk.ca/story/statement-on-passage-of-bill-197-and-changes-to-the-environmental-assessment-act