Chiefs call for joint review panel [in Ring of Fire] – by Carol Mulligan (Sudbury Star – March 22, 2013)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

Chiefs of First Nations whose territories fall within the Ring of Fire say they aren’t the people slowing an environmental assessment of the area.

It is Cliffs Natural Resources and the government of Canada, they say. Cliffs, because it asked for a review that isn’t as thorough as the one the chiefs called for, and the federal government for agreeing with that.

Nine chiefs are hailing as a victory this week a federal court order that will allow submission of the affadavits of three expert witnesses the chiefs intend to call in a judicial review.

Cliffs and the federal government had wanted to strike the affadavits of Justina Ray, Robert Gibson and Neil Hutchinson, arguing they were “acting improperly as advocates.” Cliffs is in the early stages of developing its Black Thor deposit in the Ring of Fire, 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay.

That project is undergoing a co-ordinated environmental assessment under the Canadian Environment Assessment Act and the Ontario Environmental Assessment Act, and the chiefs have no quarrel with a joint assessment.

What they object to is the federal government has approved a comprehensive study — a title they say is a misnomer because it is essentially a “paper” review of the impact of Cliffs’ mining project on their territories.

In a comprehensive review, people make written submissions and they are reviewed, but people don’t have the opportunity to speak to those conducting the assessment.

The chiefs, and some environmental groups, are calling for a joint review panel, which would conduct a full and thorough environmental assessment with public hearings where interested parties could speak and make presentations.

The difference of opinion between the chiefs and Cliffs and the federal government over how the assessment should be conducted is the subject of the judicial review.

Federal court judge Prothonotary Aronovitch ruled this week in a matter related to that review, to allow the First Nations’ three experts to give evidence at the judicial review when it is held.

After reviewing the experts’ affadavits, the judge said they related to the scope of the federal government’s duty to consent with First Nations by discussing potential impacts of a mining project.

Aronovitch also laid out steps to be completed by July 8 so the judicial review may be scheduled as soon as practicable after that.

Sonny Gagnon is chief of Aroland First Nation, one of nine first nations who took on Cliffs and the government to have its experts testify.

“We were ready from Day 1,” said Gagnon of proceeding with a full environmental assessment. “I’ve always said we weren’t the ones that were causing the delays. It was Cliffs and Canada.”

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