Dr. Thomas F. Morris is President & CEO, Northern Superior Resources which is currently suing the Ontario Government for $110 million.
As the head of a junior exploration company exploring for gold in the Provinces of Ontario and Quebec, I have spent my entire career working in remote areas of the country and partnering with Aboriginal communities to develop social and economic opportunities through our exploration efforts for all to benefit from. There has never been a more exciting time to be part of Ontario’s mining sector, knowing how much untapped potential exists in this Province. Yet it is increasingly frustrating to see that this potential is being put at great risk by the Ontario Government’s mining policies and its unwillingness to effectively engage with Aboriginal communities.
No doubt, many of you have heard that my company, Northern Superior Resources Inc. (NSR) filed a lawsuit against the Government of Ontario to recover millions in damages suffered as a result of the Government’s failure to consult with certain First Nations. The Government of Ontario granted NSR rights to certain mineral claims near Sachigo Lake in Northwestern Ontario in 2005, an area known by the Government to fall within First Nation territory under the James Bay Treaty. NSR’s rights to these claims were renewed by the Government of Ontario on several occasions and continue to stand today.
Under Canadian law, the Government has had for many years now a legal duty to consult with Aboriginal communities as early as possible whenever they might be impacted by the actions of Government, including, for example, where Government grants rights to a mining company to stake and to explore for minerals. Despite this duty, the Government of Ontario did not consult with any Aboriginal community in the area who might be impacted by our work and did nothing to ensure we would be able to exercise the mineral exploration rights NSR had been granted. Ontario simply sat on the sidelines.
NSR’s relationships with First Nations in other areas of Ontario and Quebec have been and continue to be excellent, and we have always enjoyed building and developing these and other relationships. NSR on its own accord engaged and accommodated the local First Nation, successfully negotiating a series of exploration benefits agreements. However, sometime in 2011, at a time when other First Nations across Ontario had increasingly begun to make well publicized and significant demands on industry, the local First Nation changed its tactics culminating in NSR being evicted from the area of the claims in late 2012. Had the Government of Ontario carried out its duty to engage and consult with the local First Nation back in 2005 when it should have, and certainly before NSR was evicted, the situation NSR finds itself in today would not have come about.
This is not the first time something like this has occurred in Ontario. In fact, this is unfortunately a growing trend that puts at risk Ontario’s reputation as a safe place to invest. In the past four years, the Government of Ontario has had to compensate two other mineral exploration companies who faced similar challenges with local First Nations to the tune of several million dollars each and has faced other similar lawsuits.
The Government of Ontario compounded our situation by arbitrarily and possibly in contravention of the Mining Act, withdrawing 23,000km2 of land from future claim staking to avoid further conflict involving another First Nation community in the area, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KIFN). This Government created this “exclusion zone” without consulting either the KIFN or industry or NSR. As a result of this action by the Government, an area approximately four times the size of Prince Edward Island cannot be explored for mineral potential or developed. This “exclusion zone” is in the vicinity of, and in some cases directly adjacent to NSR’s claims and as a result, severely restricts our ability to expand our claim base if warranted, further damaging the value of our existing claims in the area.
The Government’s failures are not limited to the local First Nation that NSR did engage. More recently, both the KIFN and another First Nation, based in Manitoba, have begun to assert that NSR’s claims also fall within their traditional territories, and they each have imposed a moratorium on all mining work. These moratoriums and evictions have been the result of the Government of Ontario’s failures. No mining company can be expected to continue to try to work in such conditions.
NSR has been damaged by the irresponsible lack of engagement by the Ontario Government. The Liberal Government’s position has been that the problem is between NSR and the local First Nation only and that it can somehow be fixed through more meetings facilitated by the Government. Like most junior mining companies we don’t have either the time or the money to wait for the Government to do what it should by law have done years ago. We have repeatedly offered the Government a reasonable settlement and to give them the claims and the benefit of NSR’s work over several years. The Government just says no.
NSR believed that the Province of Ontario was a safe place to invest, in part because it believed that the Government of Ontario would do what it is required by the law to do to ensure that companies like ours can actually exercise the rights granted to us. Unfortunately, NSR is not an isolated case, and this growing trend is putting Ontario’s reputation as a safe region to invest in mining at risk. For years, companies seeking to develop the Ring of Fire have faced incredible hurdles, despite engagement through this Governments’ new Mining Act (too little, too late?) and large investments of tax dollars. How can Ontario possibly expect to attract mining companies to continue investment in Northern Ontario when the environment this Government has fostered is one of unnecessary risk and uncertainty?
Every Ontarian should be concerned about the future of our natural resource economy and the Government’s continued failure to meaningfully engage with Aboriginal communities and foster the conditions for mining companies who provide many benefits to local communities to continue to invest.
Dr. Thomas F. Morris, Ph.D., FGAC, P. Geo., ICD.D.
President & CEO, Northern Superior Resources
For more information, or to read the details in the Statement of Claim, visit Northern Superior Resources’ website: www.nsuperior.com