I am writing to inform everyone that our court dates for the Judicial Review are coming up. On February 7-8th our case will be heard before three judges in Toronto. As many of our members have contributed comments and feedback as part of our intensive internal dialogue on this legal matter, I wanted to confirm that our efforts to defend the rights and interests of EFN members have brought us to court. Whether or not these Ontario Judges find that Ontario has meaningfully consulted prior to issuing their permit, it is important that we stand strong on this case because our rights and livelihoods are at risk. This has been a lengthy process, and we have seen the failure by both Landore and Ontario to live by their commitments to Eabametoong.
First, Landore’s CEO Bill Humphries has publicly stated twice at community meetings (July 2014 prior to the permit being issued, and in June 2016 after MNDM issued the permit) that if there was no community support for this drilling, Landore would not try to advance the project. Following the clear concerns and issues raised again, Mr. Humphries met with Chief Atlookan and our legal counsel and committed to sending a letter from Landore to EFN that the company was going to abandon the project.
However, in October 2016 Landore sent an official letter to EFN notifying us that Landore will continue with the exploration despite the likely impacts to our rights, and that it is “Landore’s opinion that potential impacts to treaty or Aboriginal rights can be mitigated…” Clearly, this is a small mineral exploration firm and they are not experts on our rights, culture, or history. For them to make comments and assumptions about being able to mitigate impacts to our values, rights, and livelihoods is deeply insulting. Furthermore, it demonstrates that Ontario has not meaningfully considered our rights within the consultation process by taking this company’s word that EFN’s rights and interests will not be impacted significantly.
Ontario’s Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (MNDM) has also seriously failed to meet their commitments to EFN, and as we argue, a meaningful standard of consultation according to law. Our case illustrates that MNDM cut the consultation process short, when from December to March 2016 EFN was seeking to have a community meeting with Landore to find out further details about the project. For example, at that point we had no information on where the company intended to drill so we could make more specific comments about rivers, burial sites, fish populations, cabins and cultural values at risk depending where the drilling is proposed (the permitted drilling area is massive, roughly 20 square kms throughout 2 major lakes attached the Albany River). Without much information to go on, we made general comments about how our members value and use the Keezhik and Miminiska Lakes, and have been working to designate these regions as protected areas under our Land Use Planning process with both the MNRF and MNDM. Only after the permits were issued did Landore reveal the targets they were planning for future drilling (at a June 2016 meeting), and that area is within metres of 3 burial sites and would put an important speckled trout spawning area at risk. Our concerns were validated and the community was increasingly frustrated by MNDM’s issuance of the permit.
At the same time as EFN was detailing concerns to Ontario in winter 2016, we were engaged in progressive dialogue with Directors and Deputy Ministers of MNDM regarding EFNs direct relationship and working towards a new type of partnership between Ontario and EFN. Despite item #1 on our workplan being establishing an improved consultation protocol for mineral exploration and other resource projects, the MNDM’s permitting staff decided to issue the Landore permit in the face of EFN’s direct appeals to the Director of the Ring of Fire Secretariat and Minister Gravelle. It was made clear that Ontario’s commitment to one junior mining firm was more important that the years of relationship building and near-partnership with Eabametoong First Nation.
The story only becomes more frustrating and complex as EFN has spent from April 2016 to December 2017 working to identify any out-of-court settlement options that could be possible – both with Landore directly and with the MNDM. All of these efforts have failed. Most recently, we had put together a mediation process as an option that was agreed to by both Landore and Ontario, but Landore pulled out with 2 months to the mediation dates, and MNDM’s legal team was no longer willing to consider all options, including cancelling the permit. Since EFN’s position has been very clear from the beginning, mediation without the potential of cancelling the permit would have been pointless.
I have spared you some of the specific details, but all the documents are still available for review at our Resource Stewardship Department office. We have a strong case, and are well-prepared to continue fighting to protect what is most important to our membership. Despite all of the challenges that come our way, EFN is committed to engaging in these situations in a way that honours and respects the voices of our membership, and works hard toward preventing future risks our our livelihood and rights. The Chief and Council ask for your continued prayers and support as we make our case before the court on February 7-8th in Toronto.