On last December 10th, the National Assembly of Québec adopted Bill 70, An Act to amend the Mining Act (“Bill 70”). The adoption of Bill 70 came in the wake of three aborted attempts to modify Quebec’s mining regime in recent years, most recently the government’s failure, last October, to pass Bill 43, which would have enacted a new mining act (“Bill 43”).

Bill 70 was part of an effort to harmonize the interests of the various mining stakeholders, such as the mining industry itself, the municipal sector, environmental advocacy groups, and aboriginal communities, which all submitted their observations and comments on Bill 43 during the Special consultations and public hearings on Bill 43 (the “Consultations”).

This newsletter will address the specific provisions of Bill 70 that relate to Native communities, and the reactions of those communities to Bill 70’s adoption. For an overview of the changes brought in by Bill 70, we invite you to read the bulletin on that topic published by our Mining Law group (available here).

Changes to the mining regime relating to Native communities.

  • Consultation of Native communities

Like the earlier Bill 14, Bill 43 proposed an amendment to the Mining Act designed to reaffirm the minister’s obligation to consult Native communities separately. During the Consultations, the Native communities argued that this amendment was not specific enough in terms of the government’s consultation obligations and, moreover, that it only reiterated the government’s duty to consult the First Nations.

In response to those representations, Bill 70 introduces a new chapter (Chapter I.1) in the Mining Act, which reiterates that the government must consult the Native communities separately if the circumstances so warrant (new section 2.1). New section 2.2 states that taking into account the rights and interests of Native communities is an integral part of reconciling mining activities with other possible uses of the territory. At this stage however, it is difficult to determine how that taking into account will be translated into action. Bill 70 also stipulates that the Minister of Natural Resources (the “Minister”) must draw up, make public and keep up to date a Native community consultation policy specific to the mining sector (new section 2.3).

  • Disclosure of agreements with Native communities

Bill 43 contained an obligation for lessees and grantees to send the agreements entered into with any community, whether municipal or Native, to the Minister. Thus, under Bill 43, those agreements were made public.

The amendments proposed in Bill 43 were vociferously criticized during the Consultations, not only by the Native communities but also by certain members of the industry, and Bill 70 tones them down. Bill 70 now provides that the information contained in an agreement between the holder of a mining lease or a mining concession and a community sent to the government in accordance with the Act will not be made public. The data can only be used for statistical purposes. The whole is subject to the Act respecting Access to documents held by public bodies and the Protection of personal information (new section 215).

  • Expropriation

Like Bill 43, Bill 70 prohibits holders of mining rights and owners of surface mineral substances from expropriating Native cemeteries (new section 235).

  • Monitoring committee

Bill 70 stipulates that all holders of state mining leases must establish a project monitoring committee to foster local community involvement in the project as whole. Although the lessee chooses the committee members, they must include at least one representative of the municipal sector, one representative of the economic sector, one member of the public and, where applicable, one representative of a Native community consulted by the Government with respect to the project (new section 101.0.3).

Native community reaction to the adoption of Bill 70.

In a press release issued last December 10th, the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador(“AFNQL”) promptly publicized its objections to the content of the Mining Act amendments contained in Bill 70, as adopted1.

The AFNQL’s objections focus on two issues:

  • Consultation of Native communities

First, the AFNQL argues that the consultation measures introduced in new Chapter I.1 of the Mining Actwill be meaningless, because Quebec will still have no control whatsoever over the exploration work with this legislation.”

The AFNQL finds the amendments brought by Bill 70 insufficient , as there is no specific requirement for consultation at the exploration work stage, and it argues that the government, based on the “free mining” principles enshrined in the Act, has in practice taken the position of neither consulting nor accommodating the First Nations at the exploration work stage. The reason for the AFNQL’s position is that the Mining Act does not require claim holders to obtain a permit before carrying out that type of work2.  To Native communities, such an approach is inconsistent with the mining sector law reforms initiated by the provinces of Newfoundland, Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia and, moreover, breaches the Crown’s constitutional obligations at the exploration work stage, based on the Court of Appeal of Yukon’s decision in Yukon Ross River Dena Council v. Government of Yukon3.

  • Disclosure of agreements with Native communities

Although the data contained in an agreement will not be made public, the AFNQL still objects to the disclosure of that information to the government. The Grand Council of the Crees has also voiced concerns about that point. The AFNQL’s press release contains the following statement: “Worse still, the new Mining Act even constitutes a major setback in respecting First Nation self-governance, in relation to the status quo of the previous Mining Act. Minister Ouellet insists, in sections 59 and 79, in spite of fierce protests of First Nations in Quebec, on forcing the mining companies to disclose the information contained in the confidential commercial agreements they signed with the First Nations.”