BC jade mining ban could push business to Afghanistan, says gem miner

Northern British Columbia landscape. Credit: werner22brigitte, Needpix

British Columbia has banned any new jade mining in its northwest, citing harm to alpine environments, a move that has one industry player scratching his head.

The province issued an Environment and Land Use Act order last week prohibiting jade mining activities on new tenures, but current tenure holders listed in the order will be able to continue jade mining for five years with enhanced reclamation requirements.

While the ban is not surprising, it is confusing, says Cassiar Jade Contracting president Tony Ritter.

“The way (the government)’s going about it, it’s kind of difficult to understand. It’s very vague,” he told The Northern Miner by phone.

Cassiar has already been barred from mining the green gem since 2020. In May that year, the government began deferring jade mining permits under the Environment and Land Use Act, and kept extending the order after it expired.

Cassiar and Glenpark Enterprises in March filed a civil claim against the province seeking financial damages. Ritter said he’s unable to comment on the lawsuit.

The newly imposed ban does not impact other mining operations in the region, or affect existing or new jade tenures in other areas of the province, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation said in a news release on Friday.

Jade is currently mined in the Dease Lake, Mount Ogden, and Cassiar regions.

The cumulative impact of jade mining in northwestern BC is harming sensitive alpine environments, the ministry said. It added that the practice is also creating regulatory challenges for permitting, compliance and enforcement because many of the activities take place in locations accessible only by helicopter.

The order will ensure that environmental impacts can be addressed, while existing tenure holders listed in the order continue mining for five years with adequate time to wind down operations, the ministry said.

The ministry, which says it has been working with local First Nations with input from industry to address concerns regarding the environmental impacts to sensitive alpine environments from jade mining in the Turnagain region, said the order is needed to protect these areas from further harm and disturbance.

‘Punishing entire industry’

Cassiar Jade has mined the mineral east of Dease Lake for about 20 years. Most of his customers are in Taiwan and China, with some in New Zealand and across North America.

Before May 2020, Ritter said he would mine between 60 and a few hundred tonnes per year of jade.

The ongoing ban has soured Ritter’s customers, whom he said no longer view Canada as a reliable jade source, and have offered him an unlikely potential business partner: the Taliban.

“Afghanistan has jade but they’re having difficulty on the production end,” he said. “My customers invited me to Afghanistan to help develop the industry with the Taliban. I’m supposed to be there right now but there’s a few security issues so we had to postpone our trip.”

The years of inactivity have reduced the value of his company and its jade tenure to “less than zero,” Ritter said.

“It’s now a liability. They de-valued our business.”

The nearby Tahltan Nation has called jade mining “unregulated and unethical.” Ritter said he understands those concerns, adding his company has had good relations with the Tahltan, who supported Cassiar’s reclamation efforts. He feels the government is punishing the industry for the actions of a few bad operators who disregarded environmental regulations.

Ritter’s next step is joining an industry working group on the jade mining changes. He told the government he would only join the group if he didn’t have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, he said.

(With files from Amanda Stutt)