Miner threatens ‘war’ against water board

Whitehorse resident Mike Laforet hoped to provoke a response from the Yukon Water Board when he wrote a feisty letter on Dec. 29, accusing its staff of being "aggravating 'make-work' bureaucrats.

Whitehorse resident Mike Laforet hoped to provoke a response from the Yukon Water Board when he wrote a feisty letter on Dec. 29, accusing its staff of being “aggravating ‘make-work’ bureaucrats.”

But he didn’t expect to be reported to the RCMP.

“You’re going to be afraid of a couple old men with walkers who want to talk to you about the history of the Yukon? Does that scare you?” said Laforet when asked about it this week.

But that’s not quite how Laforet put it when he committed his thoughts to paper.

“If it is your wish to declare war on our industry and to try to continue to try to ‘nit-pick’ us out of business, so be it,” wrote Laforet, who acts as an agent for several miners. “Let us go to war, and we’ll wage it in the court of public opinion.”

In the letter he said placer miners would campaign to have the water board’s budget cut in half and they’d photograph water board staff.

“Once your anonymity has vanished, so will these excesses,” he wrote.

Now he says that part of his campaign, at least, has been scrapped.

“We discarded that idea because it’s not practical,” he said. “It’s winter time, with dark coming and going, and people wearing parkas and hoods. We discarded the idea. Now we’re going to make appointments and send a couple old guys with walkers to their office to talk to them about placer mining.”

Laforet sent copies of the letter to Senator Dan Lang, MP Ryan Leef, Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski, the media and others.

The Yukon Water Board passed Laforet’s letter on to the RCMP, said acting manager Neil Salvin.

“It’s not a complaint so much as letting them know so they can start a file, in case anything happened,” he said. “Anybody using language like that makes us concerned about staff security. And people should feel safe at work. So we can’t ignore it, but hopefully it’s just something he did in anger and he won’t follow through with any actual actions.”

RCMP spokesman Sgt. Don Rogers confirmed the detachment received the letter.

“We investigate all complaints to determine whether there’s any criminality,” he said. “If there isn’t any obvious criminality … we’ll suggest that they deal with it in an alternative fashion.”

Laforet said he was writing on behalf of “the entire Yukon placer mining community, our suppliers and our supporters.” But he conceded in an interview he’s “a voice crying in the wilderness.”

The Klondike Placer Miners’ Association, which also received a copy of the letter, could not be reached for comment.

Laforet told the News that inspectors have become overzealous in their inspections. He wrote the letter after an application by one of his elderly clients was deemed incomplete.

“Is it absolutely critical to environmental protection to demand the brand name of absorbent pads used to wipe up minor spills?” he asked in his letter.

But the application contained “a lot of gaps in information,” said Salvin. “He’s got to catch up with the times a bit.”

Salvin said the water board recently simplified its application forms. “We’re actually making things easier for the placer miners,” he said. “We’ve recognized that it was confusing.”

Like others in the industry, Laforet is also upset that the water board is able to halt a mining project that’s already been cleared by the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.

“It’s like having a hockey game with two different referees and two different sets of rules,” he said. “They’re stopping honest people from making a living.

“In the old days, I would have called them gutless candy asses. But I don’t think you can use those words today. They’re just hiding behind their paperwork and their anonymity, and they’re trying to run placer miners out of business. It’s not right.”

Contact John Thompson at johnt@yukon-news.com