Canada’s federal government approves controversial Nunavut gold mine

By Nunatsiaq News - December 13, 2017

Canada’s federal government believes the Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.’s controversial Back River gold mine project should go ahead, Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett said last week in a letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board.

This clears the way for the review board’s issuance of a project certificate to Sabina by Jan. 4, following a teleconference workshop with stakeholders they hope to hold on Thursday, Dec. 14.

A map shows the approximate location of the Back River gold mine project in western Nunavut. (Nunatsiaq News file image)
A map shows the approximate location of the Back River gold mine project in western Nunavut. (Nunatsiaq News file image)

And Monday, Sabina said in a statement that the Nunavut Water Board has started looking at the company’s Type A and Type B water license applications for the Back River project, and that they hope to get those licences by the end of March 2018.

“With a positive minister’s decision now in hand we are pleased to see that the licensing process has commenced, which will enable full development of the Back River project” said Bruce McLeod, Sabina’s president and CEO said.

Following a public hearing in 2016, the review board had originally recommended the Back River gold mine not be approved.

That’s because they found the project’s potential environmental and socio-economic impacts, especially on the region’s fragile caribou population and the Indigenous people who hunt them on both sides of the Nunavut-Northwest Territories boundary, cannot be managed or mitigated.

The review board also questioned the project’s potential impact on freshwater aquatic resources and on marine life.

But Bennett, in January 2017, told the NIRB to take a second look at the project, saying the review board did not provide enough information to support its rejection of the mine.

Following a supplemental public hearing held this past spring in Cambridge Bay, the review board changed its position and recommended approval of the project, subject to stringent term and conditions.

Sabina proposes a collection of open pit and underground mines that will operate for at least 10 years in the western Kitikmeot region.

The company proposes filling, damming or draining various lakes and streams and building a 157-kilometer road from the mine to a seasonal port and tank farm at Bathurst Inlet, which would receive supplies from ocean-going vessels.

The biggest worries, raised by Dene and Métis in the Northwest Territories and environmental groups such as the World Wildlife Fund, were sparked by the project’s potential impact on the Bathurst and Beverly caribou herds.

But Bennett said Sabina has now dealt with those concerns and that the project should go ahead.

“The initial assessment coupled with further review and a supplemental public hearing have yielded significant improvements to the proposed project, including some of the most stringent caribou protection measures ever developed for a mine development in the Arctic,” Bennett said in her letter.