Book excerpt: How the sparks of conflict in Ontario’s Ring of Fire set alight (Northern Miner – April 13, 2023)

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The following is an excerpt from Chapter 10, “From backrooms to bulldozers,” of Ring of Fire: High Stakes Mining in a Lowlands Wilderness, written by Virginia Heffernan and published by ECW Press. This chapter details how a clash between Indigenous rights, Ontario’s Mining Act and hapless politicians sets the stage for conflict in the mineral-rich region.

Dalton McGuinty was Ontario premier in 2007 when the Ring of Fire was discovered. At the time, the courts were starting to consistently side with First Nations across Canada over the right to be consulted about development on their traditional lands. The province was clumsily playing catch-up.

Ontario’s inability to manage disputes between resource developers and First Nations asserting their legal right to consultation — which often involves coordination among several different ministries — culminated in 2008 when Justice Patrick Smith imprisoned Chief Donny Morris and five other members of the Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) First Nation for contempt of court. Morris and other community members had been fighting for a decade to stop Platinex Resources from drilling for platinum on KI’s traditional lands 600 km north of Thunder Bay, just northwest of the Ring of Fire. Platinex fought back, suing the KI First Nation and the Ontario government for disrupting exploration on claims it had legitimately staked and explored under the Ontario Mining Act.

The case went to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which ruled that the six-month jail sentences meted out by Justice Smith were too harsh. The appeal court reduced them to the ten weeks of time served. Ontario then settled with Platinex, paying $5 million for losses the company incurred.

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