Calls to repeal Ontario’s antiquated mining act.

 

Calls to repeal Ontario's antiquated mining act.

 

By DAINA LAWRENCE

(c) 2008 The Financial Times Limited. All rights reserved

 

In 2001, Marilyn Crawford and her husband retired to their cottage in the Ontario town of Westport to enjoy a quiet life. Two weeks after the move they discovered they were not the only ones interested in the site.

 

"We found out that someone had staked a mining claim on our property," says Mrs Crawford.

 

Her story is not unique: Canada's free-entry mining system allows prospectors and mining companies permission to enter both public and private property to explore so-called mineral claims. Trees can be cut down and holes and trenches dug to seek rock samples without the landowner's permission.

 

The controversy over mining claims – and arguments for reforming the 135-year-old Ontario Mining Act – intensified recently after six residents from the First Nations, or indigenous, community of Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug in northern Ontario were given six-month prison terms for contempt after trying to stop mining exploration on land they say is rightfully theirs.

 

The provinces of Quebec and British Columbia also have similar mining rights regulations, but the case has stoked calls for reform in Ontario.

 

The province's Premier Dalton McGuinty admitted the antiquity of Ontario's mining act last month after a rally in Toronto in protest at the imprisonment, saying: "The mining act, as it is currently written, is not in keeping with our standards and expectations and values that we share today."

 

Michael Gravelle, On-tario's minister of northern development and mines, says the government is in consultation about revamping the legislation. With the price of metals hitting record highs, mining is big business for Ontario and Mr Gravelle says it is a "balance of maintaining the investment . . . (and) to make sure we are properly working with the First Nations so they can benefit as well".

 

Many landowners are aware they hold only the surface rights to their properties, but most do not realise the impact of a mining claim on their land, says Mrs Crawford.

 

The Crawfords were informed about the claim before moving, but say they thought: "Well, that's okay, we didn't want to mine anyway." Eventually the claim on their land was dropped, but it left the property open for future declarations.

 

Mrs Crawford protected her property by obtaining a prospector's licence for CDollars 25.50 (USDollars 25, Euros 16, Pounds 13), and for proof of Ontario residency, she acquired what she calls the "legalised trespassing right".

 

She has staked more than five claims in the past few years, on her own property and for neighbours, simply to protect their land from other claims.

 

The Ontario Prospectors' Association reported last year that recommendations have been given to the ministry to expand the notification of exploration to surface owners from 24 hours to 30 days and to lengthen the list of lands that cannot be claimed to include more properties, such as cemeteries and airports.

 

Larry Innes, executive director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative, a group that consults First Nations, conservationists and industry leaders for conservation and sustainable development in Canada's vast northern pine forests, says it is not the big mining companies that are the problem in staking claims.

 

"We've never had significant issues with the big players because they know they will never get a mine into production without considering the First Nations and other interests."

 

The issue is with the more junior companies and individuals, or "pick-up truck prospectors" as Mr Innes calls them, who stake claims without consideration for the surface right holders.

 

Mrs Crawford agrees that just because a mining claim is staked does not mean miners will be knocking on someone's door the next day, but it is the uncertainty claims create that is the issue.

 

"Whether it's one in 10,000 (mining claims) or not, it impacts on my life . . . and the value of our property because we don't have a right to privacy."