Ontario’s “Ring of Fire” is a disputed deposit of minerals within Treaty 9 territory of Northern Ontario. Prior to the escalation of the COVID-19 pandemic, on Feb. 11, 2020, Jonathan Wilkinson, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, announced that a regional assessment of potential mining operations for the Ring of Fire will be undertaken.
A key aspect of the regional assessment will be to “work with the Province of Ontario, Indigenous groups, federal authorities, non-government organizations and the public to determine the appropriate activities, outcomes and boundaries of the regional assessment,” according to the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada, which posted the announcement on its website.
On top of the exacerbated risk that First Nations in Northern Ontario face from the spread of COVID-19, the ability of communities that may endure direct, devastating negative impacts from development near Ontario’s Ring of Fire to engage in future planning processes may now be further constrained.
A lack of transparency from the Impact Assessment Agency (the “agency”) about ongoing planning for the Ring of Fire regional assessment, compounded by diluted media attention while journalists focus instead on pandemic matters, undermines the agency’s responsibility to meaningfully engage with First Nations about decision-making surrounding proposed projects within the Ring of Fire.
Mandated stay-at-home orders and physical distancing to “flatten the curve” of the spread of COVID-19 have led to new ways of including public consultation as part of the decision-making process for proposed projects across Canada.