Canadian First Nations march to demand ban on uranium exploration in Quebec
A group of young members of the James Bay Cree Nation began an 800-kilometre trek from Mistissini to Montreal Sunday to demand a ban on uranium development in northern Quebec.
They plan to arrive in Montreal on Dec. 15, the final day of hearings on uranium development by Quebec’s environmental watchdog, the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE).
The march underlines the Crees’ opposition to uranium exploration and mining, which they say would invade their territory, pollute the environment and threaten their traditional way of life.
"Our message is clear: we have said NO to uranium mining and exploration in Eeyou Istchee," said in a statement leader Joshua Iserhoff, who launched an invitation to other marchers to join the walk at any point along the route to Montreal, via Chibougamau, the Saguenay-Lac-St-Jean region and Quebec City.
The suspension of uranium mining in the province came in effect in April last year, making Quebec the third Canadian jurisdiction, after Nova Scotia and British Columbia, to halt exploration and development of these kinds of mines.
Miners flee Quebec
Mining investments in Quebec have steadily dropped in the last few years, plunging about 37% in 2013 from a record the year before. The jurisdiction has also fallen in the famous index of mining destinations put together every year by the Fraser Institute, an independent think-tank: From being the No.1 desired place to invest in mining from 2007 to 2010, it barely reached the 11th place out of 96 jurisdictions last year.
Experts think the uranium moratorium sped up the fall and companies with interest in the area are a testimony of that. Strateco (TSE:RSC), based in Boucherville, has been waiting for years for a certificate of authorization from Quebec’s environment department to begin exploration work at its Matoush site in the Otish Mountains, about 275 kilometres north of Chibougamau.
The junior has began legal action against the provincial government and announced an impairment charge of $87 million in its accounts due to its inability to proceed with the project’s underground exploration program.
In November Quebec refused to authorize the Matoush underground exploration phase. Stretco said it had invested over $123 million to date in the project, the most advanced of about 20 proposed uranium mining projects in northern Quebec.
The firm’s stock plunged by more than 60% last year after the government halted exploration. Stretco’s projects were part of former Liberal premier Jean Charest’s plan to develop Canada’s north.
Environmental groups have tabled 1,500 briefs opposing uranium development before the BAPE and launched an online campaign.