British Columbia’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. Questions facing British Columbia’s mining sector shed light on what’s to come as the province works to match its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

British Columbia’s provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. Questions facing British Columbia’s mining sector shed light on what’s to come as the province works to match its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

B.C. mining laws raise questions as province looks to implement UN declaration

UNDRIP requires governments to get consent before taking actions that affect Indigenous Peoples

The relationships between Indigenous nations and British Columbia’s mining sector are set to change as the province works to match its laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Mining Minister Bruce Ralston says B.C.’s “formal relations” with Indigenous nations and their participation in the sector are already a “strong asset” for companies and investors considering mineral operations in the province.

“Investors are looking for signs that things are being done right, things are being done fairly,” he told a news conference earlier this month.

However, details of when and how B.C.’s mining laws may change because of the declaration aren’t yet known. It’s expected to take years to fully implement the act adopting its 46 different articles, which was passed in the legislature in November 2019.

In the meantime, companies must chart their own path to comply with the declaration or risk legal uncertainty, said Merle Alexander, a Vancouver-based lawyer whose work focuses on Indigenous nations and resource-based sectors including mining, forestry, oil and gas, and hydropower.

Under B.C.’s Mineral Tenure Act, for example, it costs just $1.75 per hectare to register a mineral claim through an online portal.

“I could go and just randomly choose 50 different territories to stake claims in right now and I would have never even had any engagement with any First Nation, and I’d already have an interest in their land,” Alexander said.

“You get the ability to sort of literally go out there and start, like, digging holes and trenching without really any consultation whatsoever.”

The UN declaration requires governments to obtain free, prior and informed consent before taking actions that affect Indigenous Peoples and territories.

“You’d be pretty hard pressed to argue that this online click of a mouse exploration mining tenure system … is somehow compliant with a free, prior and informed consent process,” said Alexander, who is a member of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation on B.C.’s north coast.

Once companies decide a mineral claim is worth exploring further they usually recognize the importance of engaging with First Nations, he said.

The Supreme Court of Canada has already established the duty to consult, meaning lawmakers must have dialogue with Indigenous governments about proposed decisions that could negatively impact their rights and title.

But Alexander likened the Crown to an absentee parent, often leaving it up to First Nations and companies to figure out consultation processes and agreements before the province approves permits for proposed projects.

“Most companies have advanced to at least realize that they have to sort of pick up the ball where the Crown has left it,” he said in an interview.

“They take the delegated duty to consult and they get into the community and start fulfilling it themselves,” he said, pointing to contractual solutions to legal uncertainty such as benefit agreements with First Nations.

The Crown’s failure in its duty to consult affected First Nations can sink a project, said Alexander, noting that’s what sent Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline back to square one in 2016 before it was shelved permanently by the federal government later that year.

But the duty to consult leaves room for interpretation, he said, while the declaration is a statutory requirement for the province to ensure its laws align with the different articles in the UN Indigenous rights declaration.

Designed to facilitate consent-based agreements between the province and Indigenous nations whenever their rights are affected, B.C.’s act will likely lead to clearer and stronger standards around obtaining consent, he said.

It should create a path to greater certainty — one that’s outside the courts — for industries, such as mining, forestry, and natural gas, he said.

B.C.’s environmental assessment process for mines and other major proposed projects is further along than the mineral tenure and exploration system for compliance with the UN declaration, Alexander noted.

But it’s not in complete compliance, he said, because the 2018 Environmental Assessment Act requires that officials seek to achieve “consensus” with affected nations rather than work toward consent.

Under the act, the government is required to consider a nation’s consent or lack of consent and must publish its reasoning for issuing an environmental assessment certificate for a project if a nation does not consent.

The Mining Association of B.C. issued a statement when B.C.’s declaration act was tabled in legislature, saying it was optimistic that with proper implementation, adoption of the act would “support and advance reconciliation and may lead to greater certainty on the land base.”

B.C. is currently in talks with Indigenous groups about the implementation of the declaration act. The province aimed to release a plan identifying priority areas for legal reform last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic has caused some delay and it now expects to have a draft ready for feedback this spring, Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin said.

READ MORE: New map details potential environmental threats from B.C. mines

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Indigenousmining

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Commercial trucks head south towards the Pacific Highway border crossing Wednesday (April 14, 2021). The union representing Canadian border officers wants its members to be included on the frontline priority list for the COVID-19 vaccine. (Aaron Hinks photo)
CBSA officers’ union calls for vaccine priority in B.C.

Border officers at ports including South Surrey’s Pacific Highway should ‘not be left behind’

Cannabis plants visible under bright lights inside a large facility at Shxwha:y Village on July 6, 2018. The reserve was home to the licensed producer for Indigenous Bloom, which opened up a dispensary on the Kwaw-Kwaw-Apilt reserve. On April 12, 2021, Shxwha:y announced Health Canada approval for a licensed production facility at the village. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Chilliwack’s Shxwha:y First Nation approved for cannabis cultivation and processing facility

It will be the first majority-owned Indigenous on-reserve licensed facility in Western Canada

The Fraser Valley Bandits chose Brandon University’s Anthony Tsegakele in the first round of the 2021 CEBL Draft. (Submitted)
Fraser Valley Bandits reveal 2021 CEBL Draft choices

Abbotsford-based club selects Quebec’s Anthony Tsegakele in first round

Bat Packs are the newest addition to the FVRL Playground, and have everything you need to learn more about bats, and track them in your neighbourhood. (FVRL image)
Bat Packs at Fraser Valley libraries come with echometer to track bats

Packs are the newest part of the FVRL Playground inventory

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Feb. 1, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count jumps to 1,168 Wednesday, nearly 400 in hospital

Now 120 coronavirus patients in intensive care, six more deaths

Moss covered branches are seen in the Avatar Old Growth Forest near Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island, B.C. Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. blockades aimed at protecting old-growth forests reveal First Nation split

Two Pacheedaht chiefs say they’re ‘concerned about the increasing polarization over forestry activities’ in the territory

Everett Cummings in a tribute video posted to dignitymemorial.com.
Mechanic’s death at Fraser Surrey Docks leads to $200K fine for company, union says

Photos of rally outside Surrey court posted on ILWU’s ‘Kill A Worker Go To Jail’ Facebook page

Richmond RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng said, in March, the force received a stand-out number of seven reports of incidents that appeared to have “racial undertones.” (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
‘Racially motivated’ incidents on the rise in B.C’s 4th largest city: police

Three incidents in Richmond are currently being invested as hate crimes, says RCMP Chief Superintendent Will Ng

A still from the video taken of a violent arrest on May 30, 2020 in downtown Kelowna. (File)
Kelowna Mountie charged with assault for caught-on-camera violent arrest

Const. Siggy Pietrzak was filmed punching a suspected impaired driver at least 10 times during an arrest

A screenshot from a Nuu-chah-nulth healing song and performance created in collaboration between Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso. (Screenshot from YouTube)
WATCH: Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation brothers produce COVID-19 healing song

Hjalmer Wenstob and Timmy Masso share dance and inspiration.

Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Health Canada releases guidelines for reducing COVID-19 transmission at home

Improve indoor air quality by opening up your windows and doors, among the encouraged ventilation measures

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Most Read