A northern Ontario First Nation now waits for a court ruling over a contested mining exploration permit in its territory after hearings in Toronto wrapped up last week.
Lawyers representing Eabametoong First Nation were in Ontario divisional court on Feb. 7 and 8. The First Nation wants the panel of judges to overturn a permit issued in its territory by the province to Landore Resources Canada in 2016. Eabametoong has argued the province failed in its duty to consult.
"Our position isn't really anything new that we're asking the courts to do, in terms of extending the duty to consult beyond what's already been established," said Krista Robertson, a Victoria-based lawyer with JFK Law, and legal counsel to the First Nation.
"[It] specifically has to do with the steps the Crown took or didn't take and that Landore ... how they conducted the consultation is the concern here."
Landore was eyeing potential gold deposits in an area with two lakes about 40 kilometres from Eabametoong First Nation where several families had camps, traplines and burial sites. Eabametoong is about 350 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont.
The First Nation is alleging that a planned second community meeting in Eabametoong with company officials never happened, despite an agreement to hold one. Instead of a meeting, "Ontario wrote a letter to the nation saying 'you have 10 days to give us your final comments in writing and we intend to make a decision,'" Robertson said.
Lawyers representing Landore, as well as the office of Ontario's Minister of Northern Development and Mines have said they can't comment on the case because it's before the courts. The province has said, through changes to the Mining Act, it has made "significant strides" in engaging Indigenous communities.
A decision from the three-judge panel could possibly come in three or four months, Robertson said, adding that there is an agreement in place that no exploration work will happen while the parties await the court's ruling.
The case has been a "big undertaking" for Eabametoong, she said, adding that some of the community's leadership and affected trapline holders attended the Toronto hearings.
"I think the fact that they put such an effort and expense to have this heard really shows how important and special this area is," she said.