Anti-corruption legislation for mining industry raises ire of First Nations

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A recently adopted federal law is causing alarm with First Nations who benefit from mining activity on their traditional lands.

The Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act received royal assent December 2014. It will force Canadian mining companies to disclose payments exceeding $100,000 to domestic or foreign governments.

That means companies operating in corruption-plagued, mining-rich countries, like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will now need to divulge payments they make to these governments. But it also means companies operating within Canada will be forced to release details on payments to First Nations governments.

Some worry the legislation is a way for the federal government to decrease funding to First Nations.

“The government wants to claw back some of the money they give First Nations. And this is one of the ways they are going to do it,” said Jack R. Blacksmith, president of the Cree Mineral Exploration Board.

Blacksmith says some Cree communities receive money directly from mining companies, and that those deals are negotiated directly between the communities and mining companies, with the Cree Nation Government only serving as an advisory role.

“Mining companies negotiate directly with the community involved. And the Cree Nation Government is part of the discussion, to help give guidance. But all the benefits go towards the community.”

He also notes that deals are most often voted on within communities, allowing members to analyze the proposed agreements.

Blacksmith observes that mining projects are inherently short-term. Companies come in, mine the resource, and then leave once it is exhausted. He worries that governments will make long-term funding changes to communities based on payments that may only last a few years.

“I don’t know why they developed this law? It is a very funny situation. I think the government is just trying to take away more money from the First Nations,” said Blacksmith.

The legislation will take two years to come into force. And Backsmith says it should be modified.

“I haven’t heard anything on the level of the Cree Nation Government. But it is something they have to look at for the future.”

The Mining Association of Canada (MAC) and several NGOs, which hope to clean up Canada’s poor reputation for unethical and corrupt mining companies, first proposed the measure.

But according to Pierre Gratton, president and CEO of the MAC, both his organization and the NGOs opposed extending the legislation to Canadian First Nations.

“We actually discussed with the NGOs that very issue right at the beginning. And we all agreed that was too complex and would require extensive consultation we don’t have the capacity to do,” said Gratton in an article published in Northern Ontario Business.

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