$900 million lawsuit filed against Rio Tinto's IOC

On Monday in Montreal two Innu First Nations groups filed a lawsuit against the Iron Ore Company of Canada's (IOC) mining operations in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador.

The news comes a few weeks after world No. 2 iron ore producer Rio Tinto said that it was in talks to sell its 58% stake in IOC. The London-based company is hoping that the sale of IOC will raise as much as $2 billion.

Rio Tinto spokesman Illtud Harris responded today to news of the lawsuit via e-mail, claiming that IOC had always received the required government approvals and authorizations. He asserted that "IOC will take all necessary measures to protect its rights and activities."

The lawsuit comes just three days after Reuters published an article entitled, "Canada aboriginal movement poses new threat to miners." You can read the highlights of the Reuters article here.

And here is the full, joint press release of the Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (Uashaunnuat) and Matimekush-Lac John (MLJ) nations:

Montreal, March 20, 2013On March 18 at the Quebec Superior Court in Montreal, the Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (Uashaunnuat) and Matimekush-Lac John (MLJ), whose traditional territory (Nitassinan) covers much of northeastern Quebec and Labrador, filed a motion to obtain an injunction against Iron Ore Company of Canada’s (IOC) mining operations in Quebec and Labrador as well as damages for the harm caused to them by IOC estimated at $900 million. IOC’s majority shareholder is Rio Tinto.

“While Rio Tinto is anxious to uphold its image as a model corporate citizen, boasting of its commitment to aboriginal peoples around the world, the Uashaunnuat and MLJ can attest that, in their own experience, these are nothing but empty words. IOC has undertaken all of its projects without the consent of the Uashaunnuat and MLJ, in violation of our rights. IOC and now Rio Tinto are the companies that have inflicted the most harm on the Uashaunnuat and MLJ and caused the most damage to our Nitassinan” said Vice-Chief Mike McKenzie of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam.

Since the 1950s, IOC has built and operated a mining mega-project within the Nitassinan in and around what are now Schefferville,LabradorCityand Sept-Îles without the prior consent of the Uashaunnuat and MLJ. IOC’s mines and other facilities have ruined the environment of the Uashaunnuat and MLJ, have displaced them from their territory and have prevented them from practicing their traditional activities as well as their traditional way of life. In addition, IOC’s various projects, including a 578-km railway between Schefferville and Sept-Îles owned and operated by their subsidiary QNS&L, have opened up the Uashaunnuat’s and MLJ’s territory to numerous other destructive development projects.

“In spite of the attempts we have made at reconciliation, IOC and Rio Tinto continue to act in an irresponsible and disrespectful manner. While we are not opposed to any and all mining development – we have in fact signed agreements with other mining companies who sought our consent for their projects – mining development, just like any other development, must not violate our rights, must respect our values, traditions and way of life, and must be environmentally sustainable. A balance must be achieved, but regrettably, IOC’s practices are of a bygone era. This must stop,” said Chief Réal McKenzie of Matimekush-Lac John.

Let us not forget that IOC is the most important producer of iron ore in Canada. Since beginning its massive mining operations in Nitassinan in 1954, the company has extracted and profited from the sale of nearly one million tonnes of ore produced at facilities in Schefferville (now closed) and Labrador City. IOC is now looking towards an expansion project that will only result in increased harm to the Uashaunnuat and to MLJ, who have yet to receive any revenue, compensation, indemnity or royalties whatsoever from the company.