A long-anticipated report from Quebec’s Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) says that authorizing uranium develop- ment in the province would be inap- propriate in the present context.
Released July 17, the report follows months of public consultations throughout Cree territory and the rest of Quebec. The 626-page document mainly addresses the environmental concerns related to uranium develop- ment that Crees brought to several BAPE hearings.
“In the commission’s view, the Quebec government could decide to suspend uranium mining either tem- porarily or permanently,” said the report. “The participants at the hearings were almost unanimous in their rejec- tion of uranium sector development.”
The report cites the lack of consen- sus surrounding the environmental and health concerns that come with urani- um development as a catalyst for exer- cising caution.
“In Quebec, the exploitation of our natural resources must be done in a responsible manner, and never at the expense of the population’s safety or the quality of our social environments,” Environment Minister David Heurtel said in a statement.
The commission’s lengthy public consultation process visited several Cree communities in 2014. That year, the Cree Nation Government launched a highly publicized campaign against uranium development. A group of Cree youth were the face of the campaign, which culminated in their 800-km walk from Mistissini to Montreal, where Youth Grand Chief Joshua Iserhoff spoke before the com- mission at its final consultation in December.
Now, seven months later, it appears this firm environmental stance has fortified Cree hopes for a uranium-free future.
“The BAPE’s report confirms what the Cree Nation has long maintained: that uranium development poses unique and significant risks for our lands, our environment, our communi- ties and our future generations,” said Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come. “We have said from the start that once Quebecers learn the facts about urani- um, the risks it poses, and the questions that cannot be adequately answered, they would join with us in opposing uranium development.”
Indeed, the Cree Nation was not alone in its opposition to uranium development in Quebec. The one-year inquiry generated the largest number of public submissions ever seen at the BAPE. Ultimately, the report found that rejection of uranium development was almost unanimous in areas where mines could potentially be located. Protests against development have stretched from Eeyou Istchee to Sept- Îles, where a group of 20 doctors vowed to leave the region if uranium mining went forward.
Canada is currently the world’s sec- ond largest uranium producer, yielding about 20% of the world’s primary ura- nium supply. The country’s supply is sourced entirely from northern Saskatchewan, but the industry has been working to gain a foothold in Quebec for the last decade. The province’s main deposits are located on the North Shore of the St. Lawrence River and throughout Cree territory and the James Bay watershed.
When Strateco Resources began to establish plans for uranium develop- ment in the Otish Mountains near Mistissini in 2008, concern began to mount. In 2013, the provincial govern- ment placed a moratorium on develop- ment pending an environmental review. Over the next year, dozens of Eeyou came forward to caution the BAPE that uranium development would endanger the Cree way of life.
“This is something that we take to heart,” said Mistissini Youth Chief Amy Linton in December. “The radioactivity that would affect Mistissini for thou- sands of years would be devastating to our people and all the people of Quebec.”
Strateco Resources filed for bank- ruptcy protection last month and is currently seeking funding to finance a $190-million lawsuit against the Quebec government for effectively shutting down the Matoush project.
Cree leadership is celebrating their BAPE victory, but the favourable report does not guarantee an end to uranium mining in Quebec. The provincial government will form a com- mittee to review the BAPE’s findings and then come to a decision.
Additionally, the BAPE’s report did not entirely discount potential for ura- nium mining down the road.
The commission found that the government could ostensibly open the door to development if three require- ments are met.
First, social acceptability must be present. Second, sus- tained efforts would be required to eliminate current knowledge gaps on the health and environmental impact of uranium mining. Finally, a legal framework would need to be developed to control uranium-mining operations.
The commission found that “realistically… it will take several years to achieve these conditions.” Nonetheless, it appears unlikely that the condition of social acceptability for uranium mining will ever be met in Eeyou Istchee.