Canada

November 18, 2019

Morila gold mine in Mali, West Africa, 2002. Photo: Joan Baxter

This book chapter is the result of a visit to the Morila gold mine in Mali nearly 18 years ago, and is excerpted from my 2010 book, “Dust from our eyes – an unblinkered look at Africa,” published by Wolsak & Wynn in Canada and worldwide by Fahamu Books, which was shortlisted for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize in 2009. I decided to republish it here because I regret to say that based on the extensive research I’ve been doing on the gold mining industry in the past few years, it looks as if not much (if anything) has improved since then. I first wrote this story for the BBC, following a visit to the Morila gold mine when it was operated by South Africa’s AngloGold and Randgold. Today, the Morila gold mine is operated by Canada’s Barrick Gold, and is a “joint venture company held by Barrick (40%), AngloGold Ashanti (40%), and the State of Mali (20%).” The economic disparities, and the environmental, social and political havoc that such gold mines cause, are all contributing factors to the horrendous insecurity that now prevails in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger (where Canadian gold mining companies are so prevalent), causing widespread suffering – and death. If I were writing it today, I would probably entitle it, “Gold: all that glitters causes death and devastation.”

All that glitters … is taken away

… the very term investment badly distorts what’s really going on. Plundering, looting and exploiting the non-renewable resources of Africa is a far more accurate description. Gerald Caplan

In my fifth year in Mali, in late 2002, I finally obtained an invitation to accompany the country’s new minister of mines and a team of Malian journalists on a day trip from Mali’s capital Bamako to Morila, the country’s newest big gold mine.

On the short flight to the mine, I found myself seated beside a South African employee of the South African mining giant Randgold, who told me he and his wife had recently applied for Canadian citizenship and that he now lived in Toronto – when he wasn’t in Mali. He said things were deteriorating in South Africa, “if you know what I mean,” and that he and his wife, as white South Africans, felt their futures were in Canada.

He went on to tell me about the wonders I was about to experience at Morila, especially the man-made lake that was filled with water pumped 40 kilometres from a small river, a tributary to the River Niger. And as for the clubhouse, that was something to behold; he was very proud of it because he helped to design it. He called it the “Sahelian Club Med.” There were pleasure craft and a wharf on the man-made lake, he said, and lovely watered gardens, a fine bar and restaurant, with food, wine and other drinks flown in from South Africa. He said he often drove down from Bamako in his Land Cruiser to spend weekends there.

Continue reading Mali’s Morila gold mine: “not everything glitters”

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on March 5, 2019.

Northern Pulp effluent flows into the Northumberland Strait at a dam called Point D. Photo: Joan Baxter

There is much to wade through in the documents that Northern Pulp submitted to Nova Scotia Environment on February 7, 2019, when it registered its “Replacement Effluent Treatment Facility” for a 50-day, Class 1 environmental assessment (EA).

Citizens who wanted to comment to the government on the proposal, as was their right, needed to slog through 1,586 pages in 17 registration documents, and they needed to do it quickly. The public was given only one month to comment. Environment Minister Margaret Miller had until March 29 to decide on the project. [Minister Miller’s decision is detailed here.]

Not surprisingly, the EA submission starts on a very encouraging note. In the Executive Summary, Dillon Consulting, which developed the project documents on behalf of Northern Pulp, provides a table indicating the “significance of project-related residual environmental effects” on 18 items, everything from the atmosphere to marine fish and fish habitat at every stage of the project, during construction, operation and maintenance, or because of accidents or malfunctions.

Every single one of them is assessed as NS, or “No Significant Residual Environmental Effect Predicted.”

Every. Single. One.

This could mean either of two things.

Continue reading Northern Pulp’s environmental documents – missing mercury, a pulp mill that never was, and oodles of contradictions

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This article was originally published in the Halifax Examiner on February 21, 2019.

“We care,” says Northern Pulp on the website it has created to spread the word that it “cares about forestry families of Nova Scotia.”

The site is a vehicle for the company’s letter-writing campaign to get people in the forestry sector to contact Premier Stephen McNeil, their MLA, MP, or even Canadian Senators to ask for an extension to the legislated deadline of January 31, 2020 for the closure of Boat Harbour as a stabilizing lagoon for effluent from the Northern Pulp / Paper Excellence mill in Pictou County.

Effluent from the Northern Pulp mill flows out of a pipeline. Photo: Joan Baxter

The form letter on the site requests the extension “to allow Northern Pulp and Paper Excellence the time required to commission and construct a new, environmentally responsible onsite treatment system.” The letter is signed, “A concerned supporter of Nova Scotia’s forest industry.”

This isn’t the first time Northern Pulp has resorted to composing and sending out form letters to try to garner support for itself and its interests, be it to town councils trying to get them to lend their support to a campaign to get the Boat Harbour closure date changed, or to its employees and former employees to get a (my) book signing cancelled in New Glasgow.

The Northern Pulp “cares” website is just part of the company’s intensive PR and lobbying campaign, which also means rallying its supporters in Canada’s largest private sector union, UNIFOR, to get the pro-mill message out in advertisements on the airwaves and social media.

Continue reading Northern Pulp says it “cares” – but for whom and what?

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on February 7, 2019.

British Columbia taxpayers are on the hook for $40 million to clean up the disaster of Imperial Metals failed tailings pond at Mount Polley. Photo courtesy Cariboo Regional District.

Late last year, Nova Scotia’s Minister of Energy and Mines, Derek Mombourquette, penned an op-ed that his department sent out to the media. As I mentioned in the Halifax Examiner Morning File on January 16, 2019, the opinion piece was entitled “A little piece of Nova Scotia, everywhere,” and it claimed that the province’s mining industry was “something we can all take pride in, especially with the new Mineral Resources Act.” It would encourage “responsible mineral exploration and development” in the province.

“The new act also cuts red tape and saves industry money,” he said.

The minister went on to try to reassure readers that this did not mean the government would relinquish its duty as regulator or hesitate to stand up to industry to make sure things were done right for the citizens of the province and their descendants after the mines closed and the companies walked away from, say, toxic tailings facilities left behind at open pit gold mine sites.

“Companies that develop a mine in Nova Scotia are required to have a plan to restore the site once it closes,” wrote Mombourquette. “They must also set aside funds with the province, also called security, to do this work, even if the company goes out of business. A company’s plan will be reviewed every three years.”

Sounded promising.

Continue reading Like blood from a stone: trying to get information out of the Nova Scotia Department of Energy and Mines

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(This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on January 25, 2019.)

The salmon museum in Sherbrooke, Nova Scotia, is now at the heart of the NOPE campaign to prevent a proposed open pit gold mine from going in near the St. Mary’s River and jeopardizing its salmon recovery. Photo: Joan Baxter

For many years, when the St. Mary’s River Association (SMRA) held meetings in Sherbrooke on Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore, the group members’ purpose was primarily to report on the headway they were making in their efforts to achieve their vision of “Health for our river, the Atlantic salmon and our community.”

Members would gather in the St. Mary’s Education and Interpretive Centre, which serves as a “salmon museum” that volunteers from the community built in 2001 with financial help from supporters of their cause.

The interpretive centre is a testament to the storied history of the river. It is filled with exhibits of fly-fishing gear through the ages, photos of species at risk such as wood turtles, and of huge Atlantic salmon specimens that could once be caught in the river. There is also a display devoted to famous anglers who have fished in the river over the decades, including the legendary American baseball player, Babe Ruth.

Past issues of SMRA’s annual newsletters offer a glimpse of the astounding amounts of unpaid time, energy, and enthusiasm that people in rural communities devote to trying to make their small parts of the world better and healthier places. The tone of the newsletter is always upbeat, the reports brimming with optimism and positivity.

The SMRA meeting held this week was not.

This time the subject was not the St. Mary’s River and how to improve it, but Atlantic Gold’s proposed open-pit gold mine and how to stop it.

Continue reading Friends of St. Mary’s River say “NOPE” to Atlantic Gold

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(This article was first published by the Halifax Examiner on February 1, 2019.)

On January 31, 2019, Pictou Landing First Nation started counting down the days until Boat Harbour is closed to pulp mill effluent. Photo courtesy Matt Dort.

The children of Pictou Landing First Nation didn’t mince words when they addressed the standing-room-only audience that gathered in their school gymnasium on January 31, 2019 to mark the start of the one-year countdown to the legislated closure of Boat Harbour.

They “hate” Boat Harbour. It makes them “sad.” And “it stinks.”

Pictou Landing First Nationyouth council president Shyanna Denny (L) & PLFN Band Councillor Haley Bernard (R) distribute A’se’K (Mi’kmaq name for Boat Harbour) t-shirts at closure countdown celebration. Photo: Joan Baxter

Once the mill stops pumping its effluent — up to 90 million litres of the reeking stuff every day — into the lagoon that backs up against their Reserve, Alden Francis told the audience that “everything won’t stink really bad” any more. He said he can’t wait for the smell to be gone.

But it’s not just Boat Harbour that stinks. Continue reading “Everything won’t stink so bad”: The countdown to the Boat Harbour closure begins

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This article first appeared in the Halifax Examiner on November 3, 2018.

The pulp mill effluent is aerated in this basin before flowing into Boat Harbour, where it settles for up to a month before being released into the Northumberland Strait. Photo: Joan Baxter

The numbers are staggering.

For the past 51 years, the bleached kraft pulp mill on Abercrombie Point in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, has piped about 1.25 trillion litres of toxic effluent into Boat Harbour.[1] That’s enough to fill about half a million Olympic-size swimming pools, or a pipeline one metre in diameter stretching about 1.6 million kilometres, the distance to the moon and back – twice.[2]

But in less than a year, the Northern Pulp mill has to turn off the flow. The 2015 Boat Harbour Act gives the mill until January 30, 2020 to use Boat Harbour for its effluent. The Pictou Landing First Nation has a “Winds of Change” clock on its website, counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until Boat Harbour pipe outlet is closed.

Proposals for an alternative treatment and disposal facility for the mill’s have met with vigorous and vociferous opposition from the Pictou Landing First Nation and fishermen in the three Maritime provinces, leading to rising tensions in the area.[3]

Despite the rapidly approaching deadline for closing the pipe into Boat Harbour, Premier Stephen McNeil has told CBC that he made a commitment to Pictou Landing First Nation, and unless the people there tell him otherwise, the closure date remains. Continue reading Containing Northern Pulp’s mess: A half century of toxic waste in Boat Harbour, a leaky pipeline, and what happens next in the mill saga

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 This is the last in a series of four articles on the 21st century push for mining and quarrying in Nova Scotia. Earlier versions of these articles appeared in May and June 2018 in the Halifax Examiner and the Cape Breton Spectator. (I am pleased to say that this series of four articles has been shortlisted for an Atlantic Journalism Award in Excellence in Digital Journalism: Enterprise/Longform.)

How the mining lobby is working to undermine environmental protection in Nova Scotia

Photo courtesy Paul Strome

On a cold day in late November 2017 a couple of dozen people gathered near Kellys Mountain in Victoria County, on Nova Scotia’s Cape Breton Island, for the first in a series of protests over possible mining or quarrying on the mountain.

They were reacting to comments from the executive director of the Mining Association of Nova Scotia (MANS), Sean Kirby, that mineral deposits on Kellys Mountain were “blocked forever” because they were locked underneath the Kluscap Wilderness Area, which had been created in 2015.

According to MANS, Cape Breton’s economy was being “harmed” by protected wilderness areas, losing out on 80 jobs that could be created if a quarry were allowed on Kellys Mountain, where there were 2 billion tonnes of aggregate.[1]

Outraged by Kirby’s suggestions that part of the protected area could be swapped for another piece of land so that Kluscap Mountain could be opened up for quarrying, members of the First Nation organization, Reclaim Turtle Island, organized the demonstration on Highway 105, with support from the Council of Canadians.

The majority of participants were First Nations activists and Warriors, who came from all over the province, including Waycobah, Port Hawkesbury, Sydney, Halifax and Sipekne’katik.[2]

Speaking to CTV during the November 25 protest, Suzanne Patles said that the mountain is sacred to her people, the departure point for Kluscap, and home to the Kluscap Cave where the Mi’kmaq perform ceremonies.

Another protest on December 16 drew about 40 people, who gathered on Seal Island Bridge.

In a telephone interview, Madonna Bernard of Waycobah First Nation, tells me that the police helped control traffic on the bridge while the demonstrators conducted a ceremony for Kluscap Mountain. Continue reading Fool’s gold: the resource curse strikes Nova Scotia (Part 4)

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This is the third in a series of four articles on the 21st-century push for mining and quarrying in Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic coast. Earlier versions of articles in this series appeared in May and June 2018 in the Halifax Examiner and the Cape Breton Spectator(I am pleased to say that this series of four articles has been shortlisted for an Atlantic Journalism Award in Excellence in Digital Journalism: Enterprise/Longform.)

Part 3. Gold in the hills or clean water in the rivers? Citizens take on government geologists in northern Nova Scotia

Article 3 photo SuNNS no mining sign

The news broke in November 2017 on the front page of the free monthly community paper, The Tatamagouche Light, in an article written by Raissa Tetanish under the headline “Gold in the hills?”

“The hills” are the Eastern Cobequid Highlands in northern Nova Scotia, a mostly forested area of 30,000 hectares (74,132 acres), stretching from the Wentworth ski hill to Earltown.[1]

Tetanish reported that, not only did geologists from the provincial Department of Natural Resources (DNR) think there was gold in the Cobequid Hills, they had been prospecting there for six years. And now, reported Tetanish, DNR was preparing to invite mining companies from around the world to come and do more advanced exploration.

Screenshot taken from DNR geological map showing enclosure area slated for gold exploration in the Cobequid Highlands in Nova Scotia.

In 2016, the government had closed the area to any other prospecting while DNR geologists did their own hunting for gold. About half the enclosure area was the French River watershed, which supplies the village of Tatamagouche its drinking water. Concerns about the water supply aside, the geologists were “enthused” by what they’d found and “optimistic for the future,” reported Tetanish.

The article explained that there were plans to hold an “open house” to inform citizens about the findings, and the geologists said they would be promoting the “opportunity” at the next Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention, which would be held in Toronto in March 2018. After that there “could be a Request for Proposals (RFP) to see if there’s interest from mining companies.”

Garth DeMont, a geologist with the Geoscience Branch of DNR (which was moved to the Department of Energy and Mines in July 2018), was quoted as saying, “All we need is the discovery of one significant gold vein and the Cobequids will light up.” Continue reading Fool’s gold: the resource curse strikes Nova Scotia (Part 3)

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There’s a 21st century gold rush starting in Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic coast, just as industrial gold mining is increasingly coming into disrepute around the world. It has been described as an “environmental disaster,” which often leads to contamination of water sources on which life depends. This is the second in a series of four articles on mining and quarrying in Nova Scotia. Earlier versions of these articles appeared in May and June 2018 in the Halifax Examiner and the Cape Breton Spectator. (I am pleased to say that this series of four articles has been shortlisted for an Atlantic Journalism Award in Excellence in Digital Journalism: Enterprise/Longform.)

Part 2. Going for gold

Screenshot of BNN interview of Atlantic Gold CEO Steven Dean (left) at the 2018 Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) convention.

The CEO and chairman of Vancouver-based Atlantic Gold Corporation, Steven Dean, a man with a history of international coal and metal mining and former president of Teck Cominco, was being interviewed by Andrew Bell of the Business News Network (BNN).[1] Dean was talking up his company’s first gold mine, named Touquoy after a French miner who worked the deposit in the late 1800s, which had just gone into production in Moose River, Nova Scotia.

The interview was held at an ideal venue for Atlantic Gold to showcase its new open-pit gold mine, the first ever in Nova Scotia: the 2018 convention of the Prospectors and Developers Association (PDAC) of Canada in Toronto, the global mining industry’s “event of choice.”

Bell expressed amazement at the low cost – $550 – of producing an ounce of gold at the Touquoy mine. Dean told him the mine would produce about 90,000 ounces a year which, at current gold prices, would make it a “profitable mine” with about $90 million in “operating cash flow.” And, said Dean, Atlantic Gold planned to enter its second phase of operations by 2022, with more mines operating in the area, producing a total of 200,000 ounces a year. Continue reading Fool’s gold: the resource curse strikes Nova Scotia (Part 2)

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