The Yukon government has signed a charter with the owner of the Casino mine project, which it says will help clarify roles and responsibilities during the environmental assessment process.
But the Yukon Conservation Society says the document, the first of its kind in the Yukon, shows a disturbingly close relationship between the government and mining companies.
The Casino project has been under review by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board since January 2014. In February, YESAB announced it was referring the project to the highest level of environmental assessment in the territory, partly over concerns about the proposed tailings pond.
The project charter was signed by deputy minister of Energy, Mines and Resources Stephen Mills and Western Copper & Gold president Paul West-Sells in January, and was tabled in the legislative assembly last week.
The primary purpose of the charter is to identify the roles of the government bodies involved with the assessment process, and to establish points of contact between the government and the mining company, according to the document.
“YG (Yukon government) is committed to working with CMC (Casino Mining Corporation) and others, including Yukon First Nations and Canada, to ensure that the assessment process ... occurs in a timely and efficient manner with respect to the project,” the charter reads.
Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society said the tone of the charter is “very problematic,” because it suggests the government is trying to help Western Copper & Gold to get the Casino project approved.
“This seems like the entire bureaucracy has been shanghaied into facilitating this process to go through YESAB,” he said. “It raises eyebrows.”
He also wondered why the government bothered to sign a charter with the mining company, instead of simply issuing an internal document outlining roles and responsibilities.
But Julie Stinson, acting director of the government’s development assessment branch, said the charter is simply meant to “provide clarity.” She said the government might also sign charters for other large projects in the future.
“For a complex project like this, there’s many players, many departments that the proponent needs to work with,” she said.
West-Sells said the idea for the charter came up last summer, though he said he couldn’t remember whether it was the company’s idea or the government’s.
He said the document is based on similar charters used in other jurisdictions, including British Columbia.
It won’t change the way the government deals with the company, he added.
“It’s just really more of ... a phone list and a contact list,” he said.
The charter lists a number of government officials with specific roles in the assessment, including an oversight committee of deputy ministers chaired by Mills.
The project will also be overseen by a development assessment process manager.
Stinson said most large projects have a manager assigned to them, though this is the first time the role has been laid out in a charter.
“It’s been done since YESAA (the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act) came into effect,” she said.
The charter also says that the Yukon government will work with other decision bodies, including First Nations and federal departments, “with a view to making decision documents conform.”
Rifkind questioned whether that’s an attempt to eliminate any disagreement among different parties.
“Is this getting rid of neutrality within the bureaucracy?” he asked.
But Stinson pointed out that the requirement for decision bodies to consult one another is part of the assessment legislation.
“You don’t have to conform, but you’re supposed to make the effort to first,” she said.
YESAB recently released draft guidelines for the information Casino will need to submit as part of the panel review process. The public can review and make comments on the guidelines until May 19. They can be found at casinomine.panelreview.ca.
Contact Maura Forrest at