Northern Ontario’s First Nations Voice: http://wawataynews.ca/
It has been 10 months since Matawa First Nations filed a judicial review of the Ring of Fire Environmental Assessment process, but the review continues to be delayed by legal procedures.
Judith Rae, Matawa’s legal representative on the case, told Wawatay News that recent legal motions by both Cliffs Resources and the government of Canada have delayed the pre-hearing process in the case.
The latest delays come after Canada took longer than usual to provide information at the beginning of the legal action, said the lawyer with Olthius Kleer Townshed law firm. In November 2011 Rae had estimated that the case would come before the courts in eight to 18 months, a timeline that seems overly optimistic at this point.
“Our initial timeline has been derailed by the motions by Cliffs and Canada, but the judicial review is still ongoing,” Rae said. Matawa filed the judicial review on Nov. 7, 2011, calling on the federal government to implement a Joint Review Panel – the most comprehensive form of environmental assessment (EA) – for the Ring of Fire.
Two Ring of Fire projects – Cliffs’ chromite mine and Noront’s Eagles Nest mine – are currently undergoing comprehensive EAs.
Matawa claims that a comprehensive EA limits the opportunity for First Nation involvement in the process.
One of the tribal council’s major concerns is that under a comprehensive EA, First Nation involvement is restricted to providing written comments, in English, on company plans. Under a Joint Review Panel, on the other hand, hearings would be held by an independent team of assessors, in communities and in traditional languages, providing a place for all members of the First Nation to provide input.
Neskantaga Chief Peter Moonias said that despite the delays with the judicial review, he remains committed to seeing the matter brought before the courts.
“The proper way to consult the First Nations is to have community consultation,” Moonias said. “Involve the community people, in their own language where they can really understand what they’re talking about, and where they can really express their concerns about the land issues and the knowledge that they have on the land itself. Nobody else has that knowledge other than the people that live there.”
Rae explained that the ongoing comprehensive EA involves no independent assessors, no involvement with First Nations and no hearings in communities.
She expects that when Matawa’s judicial review comes before the courts, the judge will agree that the current process is flawed. If that happens, the entire EA process will have to restart, which could delay the Ring of Fire by years.
Meanwhile Ontario has extended the timeline for First Nations to provide comments on Cliffs’ terms of reference for the ongoing chromite mine EA process.
The deadline for public comments was Aug. 26, but Ontario is giving First Nations until Sept. 25 to submit comments.
“It’s been extended to give First Nations additional time to comment,” said Ontario Ministry of Environment spokesperson Kate Jordan. Jordan said the extension came at the request of several First Nations.
The other ongoing Ring of Fire EA, Noront’s EA process for the Eagle’s Nest project, is still on hold. The company had provided a preliminary draft of its terms of reference on July 5, but then put the EA on hold to reassess the project after Ontario agreed to support Cliffs’ north-south access road to the mining area. Noront had originally proposed an east-west transportation corridor, although the company now support’s Cliffs north-south road proposal.