Chiefs critical of mine monitoring changes

Yukon First Nation chiefs are doubtful that protecting the environment is a priority for the Yukon government.

Yukon First Nation chiefs are doubtful that protecting the environment is a priority for the Yukon government.

Now that the territory has transferred responsibility for water inspections on mine sites from the Department of Environment to Energy, Mines and Resources, “Yukon First Nations do not have faith that these responsibilities will be carried out,” the chiefs said in a letter to the premier on Friday.

The territory announced the official transfer of responsibilities in August, but Energy, Mines and Resources had already taken over water monitoring at Capstone’s Minto Mine in June 2007. Water inspections at placer mine sites in the territory have been with Energy, Mines and Resources since 1988.

The territory’s New Democrats have been outspoken about their concerns with the responsibility shuffle, describing the arrangement as the proverbial fox guarding the henhouse.

To make their point, the Opposition points to how the territory’s water board called out Capstone for continuing work without proper water licensing.

Water inspectors with Energy, Mines and Resources were aware of the company’s wrongdoing, but they didn’t hand out fines or stop operations because they didn’t believe the environment was at risk.

Yukon chiefs say the department that promotes mining shouldn’t be making those sorts of calls.

“We must know that the fulfillment of mine inspections and enforcement under the Waters Act are a priority and not superseded by concerns about the impacts on a mine or for a mine proponent,” the chiefs’ letter said.

It was written by Ruth Massie, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, and signed by seven of the 11 member First Nations.

“Yukon First Nations and their citizens and other Yukoners must have faith that the Yukon government will carry out its environmental oversight responsibilities in good faith.”

The chiefs’ letter warned that if First Nations cannot have faith in the regulatory system, they may not be willing to support mine development in their traditional territories.

But the territory has no plans of changing how mine monitoring is conducted, the territory told the News in an email on Tuesday.

The chiefs have asked for the territory to work with First Nations to bolster confidence in mine monitoring. The government responded that it has confidence “in the professional abilities and skills of its employees in all departments.”

Putting all mine inspections under one roof helps remove redundancies between quartz-mining inspections and water-licence inspections, the email said.

“It will enable government to increase the efficiency of monitoring and inspection programs, allowing for more inspections in more places.”

Capstone asserts the regulation breach was caused by a misunderstanding. The mine had received approval, under its quartz mining licence, to start work in a new area of the mine site, the company notes.

But Energy, Mines and Resources says it told the company it also needed approval from the water board to begin new work.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at