The community of Grassy Narrows in northwestern Ontario has another fight on its hands – this time with the Ontario government.
According to a statement of claim filed with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the community is challenging nine mining “exploration permits” that were handed out by the province between 2018 and 2021.
The statement of claim alleges mining companies were handed permits and then trespassed onto the community’s traditional territory.
“Although the applications for the Permits proposed early exploration mining activities on the subject area that have the potential to adversely impact Grassy Narrows’ rights, Ontario did not consult Grassy Narrows on the Permits before proceeding to issue them,” says the statement of claim filed Nov. 15.
Grassy Narrows, located in Treaty 3 territory about 100 km northeast of Kenora, is no stranger to industry and the effects that it can have on members of the community.
Decades ago, mercury poisoning from a pulp and paper mill in Dryden, Ont., made hundreds of community members sick and decimated fish and wildlife stocks.
“The direct and cumulative impacts of industrial activity imposed on Grassy Narrows over time, including the damming of the English River, mercury contamination resulting from upstream pulp and paper manufacturing, clearcut logging, and mining exploration, have been highly detrimental to the environment within the subject area and the Territory in extent, and to Grassy Narrows people, their way of life and ability to exercise their inherent and constitutionally protected rights,” says the community in the statement of claim.
“Grassy Narrows cannot endure any further imposed industry in the subject area as this will further impact Grassy Narrows people’s health and rights.”
Chief Randy Forbister says his community was not consulted, nor did they consent.
“It’s appalling when they are doing this behind our backs for many decades,” said Forbister.
According to the statement of claim, failing to consult is a breach of the constitutional duties owed to the community.
Forbister is in Toronto this week and said after many attempts, he will sit down with Ontario’s Minister of Indigenous Affairs Greg Rickford.
He said he hopes the meeting will put an end to the permits, particularly for the sake of Grassy Narrow’s youth.
“The youth are starting to heal, he said. “But, if they see this happening, that’s going to be devastating to them as well when they are trying to move on.”
According to the statement of claim, the community is asking for the province to make 11 promises including quashing the exploratory permits, “a declaration that Ontario breached the honour of the Crown and the duty to consult and obtain consent” for any future work, and an order that “prevents Ontario from issuing any further mining claims or exploration permits in the subject area of the Territory until such time as the conflict between Ontario law and Grassy Narrows law with respect to land use in the subject area has been resolved to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.”
Minister Greg Rickford’s office said they could not comment on the lawsuit as the situation is before the courts.