A wall of radioactive sand, 10 metres high, holds back 130 million tonnes of uranium mine tailings. Wind blows the hazardous dust for miles. It will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.
photo: Edward Burtynsky, Uranium Tailings No. 12, Elliott Lake, Ontario 1995
courtesy of Andrée-Anne Dupuis Bourret's blog Le territoire des sens
Why Bob Lovelace is in jail:
A message is being sent to mining companies: Ontario is open for business, says Paul McKay in the Kingston Whig-Standard. Excerpts from his article:
I know Bob Lovelace as a soft-spoken and self-reliant neighbour, devoted father and dedicated Queen's University teacher admired by his students and colleagues. He's the kind of guy who constructs a log house in the woods north of Kingston with his own skill and sweat; builds a box planter at the local swimming spot and keeps it stocked with marigolds and petunias; and provides venison for a potluck supper. He's as innately confrontational as a panda bear.
Yet much of the public knows Bob Lovelace as a nominally militant aboriginal prisoner now serving a six-month jail sentence and facing cumulative personal fines of nearly $400,000 for contempt of court.
His transgression? Refusing to obey a judicial order not to continue his peaceful blockade at a proposed uranium mine site on lands Algonquin First Nations have never ceded title to under any prior treaty or land claim settlement. Yet, as even the mine promoter's lawyer has admitted in court hearings, there is a vanishingly small chance a uranium mine will ever get built at the headwaters of the Mississippi River northwest of Sharbot Lake. Compared to other deposits in Saskatchewan, Australia, South Africa and Asia, the ore is laughably low-grade, and the cost to mine fatally high. So how did it come to this?
In effect, Bob is in jail because he has quietly, but implacably, declined to concede that a provincial court has the ultimate authority to decide what happens on lands his Algonquin forebears have used without ecological abuse for thousands of years.
A key point is that these are not private lands in dispute. The collision has occurred because. for more than a century. Ontario governments have blithely assumed that all provincial lands are solely entrusted to it, and are thus subject to mining laws that allow any prospector or
company, from anywhere, to stake out land and claim any mineral wealth below. Without asking anyone else's permission.
In this case, the provincial Ministry of Natural Resources handed out the permits to a fledgling outfit called Frontenac Ventures, and the company maintains that it can drill for uranium with the law on its side. Without First Nation approval.
On this, the company, a provincial court and the cabinet of Dalton McGuinty tacitly agree. That's why my neighbour is in prison as a kind of conscientious objector, his impoverished First Nation is facing additional cumulative fines of nearly $400,000, and Frontenac Ventures has the sanction to drill for uranium deposits that will never prove profitable.
This makes no sense at all - unless the real issue here is far larger and more deceptive than a puny, potentially speculative mine play that may capitalize on gullible or greedy investors fixated on the spiking world price of uranium, and the venerable flim-flam tactic of selling them sizzle instead of steak.
My bet is that the Ontario government knows - just as well as Canada's major uranium com-panies know - that eastern Ontario is essentially bereft of profitable deposits. Compared to the mammoth, rich, easy-to mine uranium reserves in northern Saskatchewan, which are known as "elephants" in industry parlance, those from Sharbot Lake to Bancroft to Elliot Lake are like scattered mice.
Perversely, because these Ontario deposits would yield far few ounces of uranium per tonne of ore mined, the volume of radioactively contaminated waste rock and other lethal pollutants
would be far greater. So the public pollution risk would be high, and the financial reward small to non-existent for a private company.
The Ontario government is not blind to these facts. Or to the past legacy of uranium mining at Elliot Lake, which left more than 100 million tonnes of dangerous waste tailings for posterity, and desecrated the downstream Serpent River watershed. So what is really going on?
I suspect that the Ontario government is determined to assure the bigger, richer, more experienced mining interests, and international investors, that Ontario is a place where they can come and make serious money by mining not uranium but diamonds, gold, platinum, nickel, copper and zinc - with minimal hindrance. And because most of that potential mineral wealth is in northern Ontario, where most of the population is aboriginal, the right signals need to be sent.
... the lawyer for Frontenac Ventures also represents a different mining company that wants to develop a platinum prospect near Big Trout Lake in northwest Ontario, despite determined First Nation opposition. There, aboriginal leaders are also facing, like Bob Lovelace, potential imprisonment and crippling fines.
To mining companies, the Dalton McGuinty message is: Ontario is wide open for business. To First Nations it is: get on board, or out of the way - or go to jail....
See Full text of Paul McKay's article.
Thanks to Ed Bianchi, Indigenous Rights Program Coordinator, KAIROS: Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives for forwarding this. PaulMcKay is also the author of Electric Empire: The Inside Story of Ontario Hydro (1983); A Citizen's Guide to the Ontario Legislature, (1984); and The Roman Empire (1989) on Elliott Lake mining czar Stephen Roman, who made a killing in Elliot Lake uranium for military and 'peaceful' uses.
See also Canadian Council for Nuclear Responsibility on nuclear hazards, MiningWatch Canada , CCAMU Citizens Uranium Inquiry, Remembering the Children, a March 2008 multi-city tour by Aboriginal and Church leaders to promote the upcoming Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools.