The Yukon NDP is demanding the territorial government consider a multinational mining giant’s human rights and environmental record while determining who gets to dig for gold in the Yukon’s backyard.
That was the NDP MLA Emily Tredger’s line of questioning in the House on April 25 about one of the largest mining companies in the world coming to the territory for the Coffee Gold Mine Project.
The third party house leader told her colleagues during question period that allegations of human rights violations have followed Newmont Goldcorp Corporation “wherever they go.”
“When Indigenous communities in Peru opposed Newmont Goldcorp’s mine site in their country, they received death threats. When one farmer refused to sell her land near the mine site, she was shot outside her home,” Tredger said in her preamble.
But Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources John Streicker said he would stay local by looking to his First Nations and federal government counterparts and examining the company’s track record in Canadian provinces and territories to draw comparisons.
On Feb. 1, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board’s executive committee gave Newmont Goldcorp the green light to construct, operate and close an open-pit gold mine approximately 130 kilometres south of Dawson City, along with a camp for up to 400 workers.
The company proposes mining 67 million tonnes of ore and moving an additional 330 million tonnes of rock waste over the project’s lifespan. Gold will be extracted from the ore through a sodium cyanide heap leach operation, which can spill, as was the case for Victoria Gold Corporation multiples times in 2021.
In the decision document, the executive committee acknowledged the Coffee Gold Mine Project will lead to adverse environmental and socio-economic effects in the Yukon that can be mitigated by certain terms and conditions.
Among the 76 public comments on the YESAB registry, there are remarks on the Newmont Goldcorp’s track record.
In response to Tredger, Streicker said it is important for mining projects to support communities, the environment, and social and governance models – and from his experience, the company has an “excellent relationship” with communities.
“Each and every time that I have met with Newmont and the folks from the Coffee Gold project and we have sat down and talked about the project, my first question has always been about how their work with the communities is going,” he said.
“I think that this is how we should judge the work of this project.”
Premier Sandy Silver reiterated the government is “looking locally here” on how to proceed.
“We believe that the relationship that has been fostered by this company in Canada and in the Yukon absolutely is one worth supporting,” Silver said.
“We are going to make sure that any company that works in Yukon works hand in glove with the First Nations whose traditional territories are affected, but also works through the regulatory process in the context of Yukon.”
During a scrum with reporters outside of the legislative assembly, Streicker explained the Yukon, federal and First Nations governments developed an assessment regime — the Yukon Environment and Socioeconomic Assessment Act — under the Umbrella Final Agreement.
He described it as a “pretty good” act, with some things that need to be fixed with it.
“But I wasn’t thinking about international human rights,” he said. “In all the conversations that I’ve had with First Nations, that’s not been a question which has been raised.”
Streicker said those rules do not just apply to Newmont Goldcorp.
“Any mining company, in fact, any resource company, we talk to them about the importance of working with communities from the start; of getting in place agreements with First Nation governments; making sure to be respectful of Yukon communities. We also talk about environmental issues, etc.,” Streicker said.
“But we don’t, you know, we’re not discussing what is happening outside of the country.”
Newmont has operations in Quebec and Ontario, as well as British Columbia under NDP Premier John Horgan, Streicker said, then asking if that means the Yukon NDP is also against Newmont activities in the neighbouring province to the south.
“I care about international track records and human rights, of course, but I think we should treat them at the place where they should be treated, and I’m pretty sure that’s national.”
It should not be up to each province or territory to deal with questions about human rights in companies that wish to do business in Canada – that should be left up to the tripartite table, he said, although the question has never been raised at that table.
As for the enforcement and regulatory regime in the territory, Streicker said, compliance monitoring inspections take place, along with whistleblower opportunities through the Information and Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsman or the Human Rights Commission.
Streicker has yet to hear of any human rights complaints here on this front.
“I would never do anything unilaterally under that assessment regime, except that I would work with First Nations and the federal government to develop changes to it,” Streicker said.
Tredger does not know how B.C. decided to go ahead with Newmont’s projects.
“The picture isn’t that rosy even when we look as close as B.C. Newmont is having challenges with their relationships with some of the First Nations they work with. They’re the very people they’re supposed to be partnering with. That’s not far away.”
Contact Dana Hatherly at email@example.com