Diamond cutting takes tenuous hold in Sudbury, Ont.

The future of diamond-cutting in Sudbury, Ont., remains unclear as De Beer's Victor mine is set to operate only for the next four years, removing its highest quality supplier of stones.

Community leaders say too many jobs were filled by outsiders

Diamond cutting at the Crossworks diamond polishing facility in Sudbury. Critics say it hired very few locals. (Rita Celli/CBC)

The future of diamond-cutting in Sudbury, Ont.,  remains unclear as De Beer's Victor mine is set to operate only for the next four years, removing its highest quality supplier of stones.

Retired Ontario gemmologist Ron Gashinski says the government fought hard for a 'beneficiation' agreement with De Beers to ensure that at least 10 per cent of the diamonds harvested from the Victor mine would be cut and polished in Canada.

Many of the diamonds that are cut and polished at the Crossworks facility in Sudbury come from De Beers Victor mine, Ontario's first and only diamond mine; a remote operation that's a one-and-a-half hour direct charter flight north of Timmins.

"It's like you're only getting Dom Perignon. You're not getting the Baby Duck," enthuses Dylan Dix, an executive for Crossworks.

"You have such a high level of gem quality. It's essentially an anomaly," says Dix.  "Such wonderful, beautiful diamond crystals. It's quite a pleasure to polish them."

Imported diamond-cutters

Critics still say the province has exaggerated the value-added nature of the diamond-cutting jobs. When the Sudbury facility opened, the company imported cutters from Vietnam.

A promised college program never materialized, but the company says it has trained 12 polishers on site. There are 12 locally trained employees, another 22 from Vietnam.

"Our goal was to have a local workforce cutting diamonds. At the start, some people complained to the government about not having a whole pile of Sudbury workers. Well, the average Joe can not cut a diamond," says Gashinski, who worked for the province,
Dylan Dix of Crossworks praises the high quality of the Victor mine diamonds. (Rita Celli/CBC)

Dix says Crosscutters chose workers with at least 20 years experience, because there was no pool of expertise here to work on such expensive stones.

"Initially we transferred people from our factory in Vietnam. We have sponsored them to become permanent residents in Canada. They now have their families here. They are now truly joining a part of the Canadian fabric," says Dix.

Retired Sudbury mayor John Rodriguez says he's angry at how things have worked out, especially at how few locals have been trained.

Too few jobs

"That is short-sighted and stupid. Surely, the resources should be creating the jobs primarily for Canadians,' says Rodriguez.

We started out this venture in 2005/6 in diamonds and now we have North America's largest cutting and polishing facility- retired gemmologist Ron Gashinski

Rodriguez, who cut the ribbon at the grand opening, says he accepts that the company may have had to bring in its own workers at the start, but he says by now, it could have trained many more local residents.

"You could use that argument to never develop an opportunity for your own citizens to never be able to do that job," Rodriquez said. "What deposits of diamonds has Vietnam got? How is it that Vietnamese people have developed diamond cutters when there are no freakin' diamond deposits?"

But retired gemmologist Gashinski sees it as a success.  "We started out this venture in 2005/6 in diamonds and now we have North America's largest cutting and polishing facility.

"If something goes wrong and those people are let go — it's like all hell breaks loose. It's one of the biggest things that can happen in a small community. If the factory were to close tomorrow? The gnashing teeth. The screaming and all of that?"

"That's how important it is."

After the mine closes?

Whether there is a future for the Sudbury factory remains unclear. The majority of workers` time is spent on diamonds from the Ontario mine.

Owned by HRA Group of Companies Manufacturing, Crossworks Dylan  Dix is vague about long term plans.  The De Beers Victor Mine is expected to be exhausted in four years. At best, the diamond company may receive another five year extension.   

Is Crossworks committed to staying in Sudbury when the diamond mine closes? 

"We don't have a crystal ball, but we are, you know, incredibly successful in the province and the goal has been that we have the ability to supplement the factory here," says Dix.


Rita Celli is host of radio phone-in show Ontario Today. She won the 2014 Michener-Deacon Fellowship for investigative journalism, using her time to investigate Canada's diamond industry and mining royalties.


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