Election-bound Ontario calls for special auditor-general probe into mining permits approved using old maps

The Ontario government has been criticized for approving mining permits using outdated maps and process, after taking shortcuts to hand out new permits for locations that have been previously protected under an agreement between the mining companies and Indigenous communities. On Tuesday, Ontario’s Liberal government was also referred to a special auditor-general’s investigation into how the government approves permits.

The Mining Association of Ontario, an organization that represents the interests of the province’s mining companies, announced in a statement that as a result of the recent revelations, it has called for an investigation by the province’s auditor-general, which it hopes will “establish a clear process to insure that outstanding mining permits are fairly assessed.” The association alleged that the government uses “a last-minute process in an effort to seek out projects in areas where mineral deposits are well known, and issue approvals ahead of other nearby locations that may have required additional work.”

The mining association stated that new permits for mining activity in an area in Lambton County called Gull Lake were approved using maps used in 2015, when the location was long protected by an agreement between the mining companies and a First Nation called the Gull Lake First Nation. While the agreement protected it for 65 years, the agreement expired in February, according to reports from the Victoria Times Colonist. In its letter of intent, the First Nation states that the documents were also prepared using outdated technical information and maps. A letter from member of the Gull Lake First Nation’s Ontario Treaty Commission and CEO, Darrell Lewis, to the deputy minister of natural resources in Ontario said that the maps did not adhere to the government’s guidance regarding of roads and routes. The maps, which had also not been updated since 2009, did not include safe access by Indigenous people to the natural resources.

“It is further confirmed that, by 2017, mining maps for our lands were not prepared by the Ministry of Natural Resources, and that they are inadequate to be used as a basis for any decision regarding designating or granting a mining licence or a mining impact assessment,” Lewis stated in the letter. He also said that the mine was about 600 acres and “planned to use only 2000 acres for mining activity” and that the production of mined material would take about one year. However, this description is different from that which was given by the mining company during the initial permit process.

The removal of the First Nation from the long-term protection agreement did not help in the process. The application was unsuccessful in January because it could not show there was a method to pay the required fees for mining activity, The Vancouver Sun reported. One of the reasons it was not successful was because the company did not own the land it wanted to mine.

While the First Nation was notified and informed that the applications would be sent to a non-Indigenous person to consider, the minister’s decision was not reviewed by an impartial committee, nor was it criticized by anyone other than the OPA, which sent a letter to the minister recommending “the resignation of Mr. Legault” and denouncing his actions as violating “good governance principles.”

Last week, the province’s finance minister, Vic Fedeli, admitted that his department had approved new mining permits but did not explain how. “There was some inappropriate process that took place,” he said.

“We regret that the process led to this situation,” said Barbara Spencer, a spokesperson for the office of the Ontario’s treasurer, Patricia Sorbara. Spencer also said that “the ministry will work with Mr. Lewis on any subsequent steps necessary to obtain feedback on available alternative options” for where Gull Lake will be mined.

Clarification: Language has been updated to clarify that the permits for Gull Lake were approved using outdated maps and that they were also not reviewed by an impartial committee.

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