Part Five of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario Annual Report 2009/2010 – Modernizing Mining in Ontario

For the entire annual report go to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario website: Redefining Conservation: Annual Report 2009/2010

For an extensive list of articles on this mineral discovery, please go to: Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Discovery

2010 Amendments to the Mining Act

From Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) Issues

In the 1800s, miners used picks and shovels to find and extract minerals. Embarking out into the wilderness of Ontario, prospectors had “free entry” to access any land that contained Crown-owned minerals. They could stake their claims with wooden posts and acquire mineral leases with no need to consider the interests of property owners or the public. This right of free entry was a fundamental feature of Ontario’s first mining laws and was designed to promote mining activity, create wealth in the province and encourage the settlement of the northern lands.

Much has changed in Ontario since the Mining Act (the “Act”) was enacted in 1869. First, there are many more recognized uses for Ontario’s land than mining. Second, early mines were generally small in scale with a relatively small ecological footprint; modern day mining often involves large-scale and mechanized digging, drilling and blasting, with the potential to have significant environmental impacts. Finally, the public has grown more concerned about our natural environment and the impacts of human activities, expecting environmental risks to be mitigated and mining lands restored.

Although the Mining Act and the concept of free entry may have worked in the 19th century, it is clearly at odds with 21st century land uses and values. Free entry assumes that mineral development is appropriate almost everywhere and that it is the “best” use of Crown land in almost all circumstances, giving mining priority over forestry, commercial development, recreation and tourism, the interests of Aboriginal communities, and the conservation of ecologically significant species and landscape features.

Approximately 1.4 per cent of the land in southern Ontario and 0.4 per cent of the land in northern Ontario consist of properties where the land owner holds the surface rights but the Crown holds the mineral rights. These properties are termed surface rights only (SRO) properties. Free entry has allowed staking and exploration on SRO properties without the surface owner’s consent or consultation. Likewise, the Ontario government has provided few tools to ensure that Aboriginal land claims and treaty rights are safeguarded, allowing staking and exploration on traditional Aboriginal and treaty lands without consultation. As might be expected, the free entry system has resulted in conflicts between mining companies, private property owners and Aboriginal communities.

The public and the ECO have repeatedly called on the government to brush the dust off this outdated piece of legislation and make it reflect today’s values and land uses. In our 2006/2007 Annual Report, the ECO recommended that the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry (MNDMF) “reform the Mining Act to reflect land use priorities of Ontarians today, including ecological values.”

5.1 Reforming the Mining Act

Bill 173, the Mining Amendment Act, 2009

In response to calls from stakeholders, the ECO and the public, the government agreed to review and revise the Mining Act. On October 28, 2009, Bill 173 (the Mining Amendment Act, 2009) received Royal Assent, concluding a multi-year process to bring Ontario’s Mining Act into the 21st century.
Amendments to the Mining Act made through Bill 173 include:

• amending the Act’s purpose to encourage mining activities “in a manner consistent with the recognition and affirmation of existing Aboriginal and treaty rights,” including the duty to consult;
• giving the government the authority to pass regulations establishing a “map staking” system by which claims can be staked on a map rather than on the ground;
• requiring prospectors to receive awareness training on amendments to the Act;
• providing for the withdrawal of Crown mineral rights where surface rights are privately held;
• expanding the list of lands where no claims may be staked except with permission of the Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry (the “minister”);
• requiring the filing of exploration plans for lower impact activities and requiring exploration permits for higher impact activities;
• requiring prospectors to notify SRO property owners of claims staked on their land within 60 days;
• incorporating consultation with Aboriginal communities in mining legislation and regulations;
• introducing a dispute resolution process for Aboriginal-related mining issues;
• prohibiting staking or the establishment of a new mine in the “Far North” if there is no community-based land use plan for the area, or if the land use designation is “inconsistent” with mineral exploration and development;
• giving the government the authority to pass regulations allowing claim holders to make payments in lieu of conducting annual assessment work (e.g., bedrock trenching, exploration drilling, geotechnical surveys) to keep a claim in good standing; and
• increasing the maximum fine and length of imprisonment that a judge can impose on a convicted contravenor for offences under the Act.

It is important to note, however, that many amendments to the Mining Act will not come into force until “a day to be named by proclamation of the Lieutenant Governor.”

Implications of the Decision

Certainty for the Mining Industry

To provide certainty of investment to shareholders and prospective financers, mining companies must be reasonably confident that staked claims will be able to proceed to lease, exploration, title and mineral extraction. The amended Mining Act maintains this certainty in a number of ways.

First, the amended Act allows prospectors to continue staking claims without first notifying SRO property owners, Aboriginal communities or other stakeholders. This should reassure most exploration companies that private knowledge about lands of mineral interest will not be shared with competitors. Second, mining companies are assured that mineral rights and tenure that existed on private property in southern Ontario prior to the date Bill 173 was passed into law will be unaffected by the withdrawal provisions in the Act. (In northern Ontario, mineral rights and tenure on private property will be unaffected by the Act’s withdrawal provisions if they existed before the relevant amendment is proclaimed.) Third, the Act attempts to pre-empt conflicts between mining companies and Aboriginal communities by requiring that exploration plans undergo appropriate Aboriginal consultation and by introducing a formal dispute resolution process for Aboriginal-related issues.

While Bill 173 increases certainty in some areas, mineral companies considering doing business in Ontario remain concerned that several important implementation details are yet to be prescribed in regulations. These include:

• the requirements for exploration plans and permits;
• requirements that proponents undertake Aboriginal consultation;
• the definition of “Far North”; and
• the specific components of community-based land use plans.

Until these regulations are passed, much uncertainty remains for industry concerning the impacts of this legislation.

Security for Surface Rights Owners

The amended Act improves the rights of land owners who hold only the surface rights to their properties. Most notably, the amended Act withdraws SRO properties in southern Ontario from prospecting, staking, sale and lease. Moreover, the amendments require proponents to notify SRO property owners of claims staked on their property and MNDMF to consider arrangements made with these land owners when issuing an exploration permit.

The Act, however, creates a double standard in that property owners in northern Ontario who do not hold the mineral rights on their property must apply to the minister to have their lands withdrawn. For these property owners, the security that their land will not be staked and possibly developed is at the discretion of the minister. Moreover, as of July 2010, the section of the Act allowing a property owner in northern Ontario to request a withdrawal had not yet been proclaimed. Because pre-existing claims are unaffected by a withdrawal order, until this provision is proclaimed SRO property owners in northern Ontario are unable to request a withdrawal and mining companies can stake on these properties without worry that their claims will be annulled. Finally, because the Act does not reunite surface and mineral rights, but simply withdraws SRO properties in southern Ontario from staking, the government could potentially reverse this withdrawal in the future and reopen these lands to staking, sale and lease.

Rights of Aboriginal Communities

With the passage of Bill 173, Ontario becomes the first jurisdiction in Canada to expressly recognize Aboriginal and treaty rights in its mining legislation. As a result of provisions in support of the new purpose, Aboriginal communities should have some control over where mining activities can occur and the imposition of any restrictions on exploration activities needed to minimize the impacts on Aboriginal communities.

There is nothing in the amended Act, however, that requires consultations with Aboriginal communities prior to staking claims on Aboriginal or treaty lands or even notification after a claim has been staked. Furthermore, Bill 173 does not require proponents to develop Impact Benefit Agreements or revenue sharing between mining companies and affected Aboriginal communities. And despite the provision requiring consistency with land use plans, the government may permit a new mine opening in the Far North if a project is in “the social and economic interests of Ontario.” Future regulations will spell out important details, including the requirements of Aboriginal consultation, details of the dispute resolution process, and how sites of “Aboriginal cultural significance” will be determined.

Environmental Protection

Provisions in the amended Act might help reduce the environmental impacts of mining activities in several ways:
• community-based land use plans, once developed, could prevent the opening of new mines in certain ecologically or culturally significant areas of the Far North;
• increased penalties for offences against the Act may improve compliance with the Act’s provisions;
• the phased introduction of map staking will help reduce the relatively minor impact of ground staking; and
• a broadening of the list of lands protected from staking will limit the lands on which mining activities can occur.

Moreover, the graduated regulatory scheme for exploration activities may potentially lessen the environmental impacts of mineral exploration. As with so many other components of the Act, the effectiveness of community-based land use plans, exploration plans and exploration permits in protecting the environment will depend on details to be spelled out by future regulations developed under the amended Act.

Increased Ministerial Discretion

The amended Act gives increased powers to the minister to manage mineral exploration and development. For example, the minister has the power to:
• allow staking on land that is otherwise withdrawn;
• accept/reject requests from SRO property owners in northern Ontario to have their land withdrawn from staking;
• impose restrictions on mining claims if portions of the lands are of Aboriginal cultural significance; and
• revoke a licence of occupation if lands are being used for other than mining purposes.

Broad discretionary powers create the opportunity for political considerations and personal values to play a role in important decisions, generating uncertainty for the mineral industry, Aboriginal communities and SRO property owners.

Map Staking

Allowing prospectors to stake claims via map staking will:

• enable prospectors to stake land that was previously inaccessible because of remoteness or difficult terrain;
• allow the more efficient and accurate staking of lands;
• level the playing field where it is too expensive for prospectors with limited finances to operate; and
• eliminate the impact of ground staking on the environment, including on Aboriginal lands and SRO properties.

Permitting map staking, however, may also reduce the local economic activity associated with conventional prospecting, including supply and food services, transportation, hospitality and equipment supply. Moreover, depending on the system developed, map staking will potentially allow highly capitalized companies to stake large tracts of land.

Public Participation & EBR Process

MNDMF undertook consultation on amendments to the Mining Act in three stages using three separate Environmental Registry proposal notices:
1. consultation on proposed amendments to the Act regarding claim staking and mineral exploration on property where mineral rights and surface rights are held separately;
2. consultation on a discussion paper on modernizing the Act; and
3. consultation on Bill 173.

MNDMF received over 1,000 comments via the Environmental Registry on these proposals. In addition to public participation opportunities provided through the Registry, MNDMF also consulted over 1,000 individuals and groups in public and stakeholder meetings and 20 prospector/industry sessions, and consulted approximately 100 First Nations in 40 workshops and sessions.

Commenters on the three proposals included: members of the general public; SRO property owners; municipalities; environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs); conservation authorities; the prospecting industry; the mining industry; lawyer’s associations; agriculture associations; and others. Supporters and opponents of the proposed amendments were equally passionate in their convictions. Some felt that the proposed framework for regulating exploration activities and protecting the rights of Aboriginal communities and private property owners jeopardizes the future success of the mining industry. Others argued that the amendments do not go far enough to ensure environmental protection and effective municipal land use planning.

Other Information

In July 2008, the Premier announced government plans to protect at least 225,000 square kilometres of the Far North Boreal region under the Far North Land Use Planning Initiative. In June 2009, the Minister of Natural Resources tabled Bill 191, the Far North Act, 2010, in the Legislature for First Reading. On the same day, MNR posted a proposal notice on the Environmental Registry (#010-6624) soliciting comments on Bill 191. Bill 191 proposes to deliver on commitments made in the Premier’s July 2008 announcement, and “enable a formal land use planning process with the First Nations in the Far North that will result in community-based land use plans that will designate protected areas and identify areas where sustainable economic development may occur.” Bill 191 received Second Reading on June 3, 2010.

In December 2009, MNDMF posted a policy proposal notice on the Registry (#010-8656) soliciting input on eight key areas that “need to be addressed in order to develop appropriate regulations” under the amended Mining Act. The notice, which provided a generous comment period of 127 days, noted that different sections of the Mining Act will be proclaimed “once the relevant details are developed.” The ECO will review these regulations in future reports.

ECO Comment

Considering the wildly divergent views of stakeholders, the amended Mining Act strikes a reasonable balance between meeting the interests of the mining industry and private property owners. What is missing from this mix, however, is an equivalent reflection of the concerns raised by ENGOs and the public for better measures to minimize the impacts of mining activities on the environment.

While the Act includes some environmental protections related to regulating mine rehabilitation and preventing immediate and dangerous adverse effects caused by mine hazards, these types of protections are largely reactionary and may fail to address an issue until after the damage is done. To ensure that potential environmental impacts and the measures needed to mitigate them are fully considered before they occur, the ECO encourages MNDMF to require that the approval of an exploration permit include the completion of a comprehensive environmental impact assessment. Furthermore, to ensure that public concerns are fully considered, the ECO strongly encourages the government to classify exploration plans and permits as instruments under the Environmental Bill of Rights, 1993 (EBR). This would allow the public to comment on exploration plans and permits via the Environmental Registry and file applications for review and investigation.

The ECO agrees with MNDMF’s decision to expand the list of land types withdrawn from staking. However, the ministry should have included world heritage sites, conservation areas, the habitat of threatened and endangered species, and natural heritage features, such as provincially significant wetlands and woodlands, in Bill 173’s list of withdrawn lands. Moreover, the ECO believes the government missed an excellent opportunity during the review of the Mining Act to give itself the authority to cancel mining leases. Currently, MNDMF cannot withdraw a claim that proceeds to lease unless it is repealed by a judge of the Ontario Superior Court. In our 2008/2009 Annual Report, the ECO expressed frustration with MNDMF’s inability to cancel mining leases that overlapped with an ecologically important old growth forest. The ECO believes the government should have the ability to protect environmentally significant sites that conflict with mining claims.

Because many important details about exploration plans and permits are yet to be developed in future regulations, it is difficult to know what effect these measures will have on protecting the environment. Likewise, uncertainty for industry, property owners and environmental protection is created by government delays in: drafting the Far North Act; developing community-based land use plans; and proclaiming the Mining Act provision that allows SRO property owners in northern Ontario to apply to have their lands withdrawn.

Moreover, because pre-existing claims are unaffected by community-based land use plans, the government’s failure to roll out the amended Mining Act, its regulations, and the Far North Act as a comprehensive regulatory package creates loopholes that undermine the land use planning the government hopes to create. These delays could result in cases where the government realizes only after the fact that mining claims have been staked on ecologically sensitive lands, at which point it is too late to withdraw the lands. Such a situation would be similar to the headache caused by Ontario’s Living Legacy mining disentanglement that has plagued the government for years (see pages 85-89 of the Supplement to the ECO’s 2006/2007 Annual Report). This troubling scenario could have been pre-empted by heeding the ECO’s past suggestions to proactively identify lands in the Far North with significant ecological values, withdraw such lands from staking, and give the government the authority to cancel leases. To prevent the creation of more disentanglement-like situations, the ECO encourages the government to develop the Mining Act regulations and the Far North Act as promptly as possible, without sacrificing or constraining the public’s right to full and meaningful consultation.

Plans to implement a map staking system raise the troubling prospect that foreign corporations with deep pockets will be able to stake large tracts of Ontario with the “click of a mouse.” Given the seemingly inappropriate use of claim staking to secure hundreds of kilometres of land for a rail corridor (see Using Mining Claims to Plan the Far North), such a system has the potential to seriously undermine land use planning in the province. The current Minister of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry, the Honourable Michael Gravelle, has indicated that ongoing consultation and experience of other jurisdictions will guide MNDMF’s efforts to develop a map staking system that “maintains competitive access to mineral tenure for all explorationists.” The ECO urges MNDMF to also ensure that the developed system does not jeopardize effective land use planning.

MNDMF should be praised for undertaking extensive consultations during the development of Bill 173. The ECO looks forward to continued consultation and use of the Environmental Registry as the ministry develops regulations under the amended Act. The ECO is disappointed, however, that MNDMF’s proposal notice for its discussion paper on modernizing the Act failed to provide an electronic copy – or even the name – of the document the ministry was seeking comment on. Insufficient information in registry postings seriously hinders the public’s ability to comment. Furthermore, the ECO is frustrated that it took MNDMF four months to send the ECO the written comments the ministry had received on Bill 173. Such delays hamper the ECO’s ability to effectively review the ministry’s consideration of public input and meet our responsibility under the EBR to report to the Ontario Legislature.

The Need to Legislate Development and Mineral Exploration in Uranium Zones

5.1.1. Uranium Mining

In April 2009, two applicants requested a review of the need for a new act to legislate uranium exploration, as well as residential and industrial development, in areas with elevated naturally-occurring uranium. Exposure to this radioactive heavy metal is associated with bone, liver and lung cancer, blood diseases and kidney damage.

The applicants asserted that Ontario’s existing legal framework provides no avenues for addressing community concerns about uranium exploration and provides few tools for monitoring and mitigating impacts of uranium exploration on water resources and the environment. Given the additional/unique risks associated with uranium compared to other minerals, the applicants asserted that it is important to have a new act that both protects the environment and requires a public review prior to advanced exploration and development of a uranium mine. The applicants argued the Ontario government should undertake this review to prevent impacts on human health and the environment from uranium exposure.

Given the potential for environmental and health impacts, some Canadian jurisdictions have applied restrictions, guidelines or a moratorium on uranium exploration. Several Ontario municipalities and organizations (e.g., the David Suzuki Foundation, Amnesty International and the United Church of Canada) have requested that the Government of Ontario suspend uranium prospecting, exploration and mining in eastern Ontario until the associated health, environmental and economic issues are resolved.

In June 2009, MNDMF, the Ministry of the Environment (MOE), the Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) all denied this application for review, stating that a number of acts, regulations and instruments already provide for human health and environmental protection.

Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) Comment

The ECO agrees with MNR’s and MMAH’s decisions to deny this application for review since most of the concerns raised by the applicants are largely the direct responsibility of MNDMF and MOE.

The ECO also concurs with MNDMF not undertaking this application. While the applicants raised valid concerns about the potential for uranium exploration and mining to cause environmental harm, the ECO expects that MNDMF would have considered these issues during its drafting and consulting on amendments to the Mining Act. Moreover, while the ECO agrees that the effects of uranium exposure are of concern and need to be mitigated, the ECO believes this should be addressed through a fully protective Mining Act, rather than a uranium-specific regulatory framework.

As indicated in the ECO’s review of the Mining Amendment Act, 2009, to ensure that potential environmental impacts and the measures needed to mitigate them are fully considered before they occur, the ECO encourages MNDMF to require that the approval of an exploration permit include the completion of a comprehensive environmental impact assessment. In addition, to ensure that the unique aspects of uranium are considered and that appropriate uranium-specific environmental safeguards are included in exploration permits, the ECO encourages MNDMF and MOE to cooperatively develop guidelines for mineral exploration in uranium zones and post these guidelines on the Environmental Registry for public comment.

Although the ECO also agrees with MOE’s decision not to review this application, the ECO believes that MOE failed to respond to each of the applicants’ concerns in sufficient detail. In particular, the ECO is disappointed that MOE did not address the applicants’ questions about the adequacy of Ontario’s Drinking Water Quality Standards for uranium. MOE’s failure to acknowledge the applicants’ concern and explain the basis for Ontario’s standards does little to assure the applicants that these standards are scientifically sound.

5.1.2. Ring of Fire: Illegal Construction of Mining-related Projects

The Ring of Fire is a roughly 5,120 square kilometre crescent-shaped area of Ontario’s boreal forest that has been subject to intense claim staking, prospecting and exploration ever since copper and zinc were discovered in the area in the late 1990s. After a flurry of exploration activity, the area is now known also to contain nickel, gold, diamonds and potentially the single largest source of chromite in North America. Interest in chromite is extremely high as it is used to make stainless steel. Chromite is also a strategic mineral used in the production of missile components and armour plating. A U.S. mining company reportedly intends to invest approximately $800 million (US) to develop a large open pit mine to extract high-grade chromite near McFauld’s Lake in the Ring of Fire. In March 2010, the Premier noted that this find is the “most promising mining opportunity in Canada in a century.”

In September 2009, a company submitted an application to MNR seeking approval to construct a mining camp and permanent airstrip 18 km west of McFauld’s Lake. The proponent sought permission to develop 81 hectares of Crown land to build an 1,830-metre airstrip, four helicopter pads, a fuelling area, storage facilities and staff accommodations. The key approvals process for this proposed project is the Class Environmental Assessment (Class EA) for MNR Resource Stewardship and Facility Development Projects. Under this approvals process, the proposal was evaluated as a “category B” project in which there is the “potential for low to medium negative environmental effects, and/or public or agency concern.”

Several days after the Class EA process began, MNR staff flew over the site to inspect it. To their surprise, the proponent had already cleared the forest and constructed the mining work camp and airstrip, which appeared to be in active use. MNR halted the Class EA process and issued a warrant under the Public Lands Act to stop the unauthorized occupation and use of Crown land. MNR then began investigating whether any other laws had been broken.

MNR allowed this Class EA process to be re-started in mid-October 2009. In its revised application, the proponent stated that it had autonomously decided to begin construction of the airstrip because of delays in the initiation of the Class EA process. The proponent noted that in making this decision, it had considered the project’s impact on the environment to be no different or greater than that created by exploration activities and the development of mining camps and access trails in the area.

Although the approvals process for this project falls under MNR’s Class EA, the proposed project is directly tied to mineral development and is situated on Crown land staked under the Mining Act. This case, therefore, raises the serious question of what role MNDMF, the lead ministry for the Ontario government’s one-window coordination process for mineral development, is taking to oversee mining-related development in the Ring of Fire.

The purpose of the “One Window” Coordination Process is to provide “an efficient, transparent and timely process for the review, permitting and approval of new mineral development projects.” This one-window policy states that the ministry will screen projects for their “potential regulatory components and complete an assessment of the scope of multi-ministry involvement based upon discussions with the Proponent.” This process is intended to be applied to projects: requiring multiple permits and/or approvals; requiring the involvement of more than one participating ministry; or triggering a requirement for processes under the Environmental Assessment Act. Given that MNR needed to step in and shut down the illegal construction of the airstrip and work camp, it is reasonable to assume that MNDMF did not apply the one-window policy in this case.

This case raises the possibility that other proponents in the Far North also may not have obtained the necessary approvals from the Ontario government. The basis for this concern is further evidenced by MNR shutting down another Ring of Fire airstrip in February 2010 that had been constructed without authorization. In these types of cases, the ECO believes that the Ontario government has no choice but to take legal action in order to underscore the point that proponents must comply with Ontario’s laws.

5.1.3 Ring of Fire: Using Mining Claims to Plan the Far North

In the summer and fall of 2009, an unusual pattern of mining claims were staked in northern Ontario. Two long north-south lines of mining claims (see Figure 1), each stretching hundreds of kilometres, were staked leading from the Ring of Fire (see box on page ##). It has been widely reported that these linear corridors of staked claims will be used to develop a railway line to a future open pit mine that will extract high-grade chromite.

[[Figure 1. Staked mining claims are depicted in dark green. The solid blue square identifies the staked claims in the Ring of Fire. The dashed red circle identifies the area containing two linear corridors of mining claims that were purportedly staked to secure lands for a railway. (Source: MDNMF CLAIMaps. Date: May 17, 2010)]]

The ECO is concerned that the staking of hundreds of kilometres of Crown lands for a rail corridor abuses the intended purpose of mining claims. Unfortunately, the Mining Act is ambiguous on this matter, stating only that lands, surface and mining rights issued under the Act are to be used solely for “mining purposes” and that staked claims are to be used as “mining land” or for another purpose of the “mineral industry.”

Furthermore, the ECO believes that the staking of claims to build a rail corridor circumvents the appropriate approvals process: MNR’s Class Environmental Assessment (Class EA) for MNR Resource Stewardship and Facility Development Projects. Unlike the process of staking mining claims, the Class EA process assesses alternatives and examines impacts of proposed projects with the possibility of rejecting a proposed project due to unnecessary environmental impacts. Obtaining land for a project by staking mining claims essentially predetermines the project’s location and, thereby, nullifies a core purpose of conducting an environmental assessment: to assess site alternatives. Moreover, it ignores the fact that other permits and considerations, such as potential impacts on species at risk, may be necessary before the project’s location is determined.

Under still-to-be proclaimed amendments to the Mining Act, claim staking and the opening of a new mine in the Far North will be prohibited if there is no community-based land use plan for the area, or if the land use designation is “inconsistent” with mineral exploration and development. Because pre-existing mining claims are unaffected by designations in community-based land use plans, the case of the staked rail corridors illustrates that staking could be used to essentially supersede future attempts at Far North land use planning. Using the Mining Act to secure possible rail corridors takes these Crown lands off the table for any possible protection based on their cultural or ecological significance. As such, it would be possible under the auspices of the Mining Act for a proponent with sufficient resources to “plan” or pre-determine many land uses in the Far North before the government and local communities develop land use plans. Moreover, map staking and the allowing of claim holders to pay fees in lieu of on-the-ground assessment work could, depending on the systems developed in regulations, make it even easier for wealthy companies to stake and retain claims that conflict with effective land use planning.

The Environmental Commissioner of Ontario (ECO) recommends that the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines and Forestry consult on safeguards to ensure that electronic map staking is not misused as de facto land use planning in the Far North.