North

Makivik president demands Quebec premier reconsider decision to reopen mines

The head of the organization representing Inuit in northern Quebec is outraged over a provincial government decision allowing mines to reopen in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and is asking for a one-on-one meeting with the premier. 

'We're trying to protect ourselves,' says Charlie Watt

Makivik Corporation president Charlie Watt wants a one-on-one meeting with Quebec premier François Legault. (Submitted by the Makivik Corporation)

The head of the organization representing Inuit in northern Quebec is outraged over a provincial government decision allowing mines to reopen in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and is asking for a one-on-one meeting with the premier. 

Charlie Watt is also furious over the way the government made the decision, without consultation with his organization and is adding his voice to other Indigenous leaders upset over the unilateral move. 

Watt was to send a letter to premier François Legault Tuesday demanding the province "retreat" from its decision to reopen the mining industry.

"Makivik will not entertain the opening of any mines at this time in Nunavik," said Watt, Makivik Corporation president in a press release. "This is very dangerous."

The Legault government added mining operations to the list of priority activities and services last week, giving operations the green light to gradually reopen operations with measures in place to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. 

Makivik will not entertain the opening of any mines at this time.- Charlie Watt, Makivik president

Those measures include reducing fly-in-fly-out to a "strict minimum," extending work cycles from 14 days to 28 days, chartering more aircraft to allow for physical distancing and requiring workers to wear protective equipment. 

Not Reassured: Charlie Watt

Raglan Mine located at the northern limit of Quebec between the two Inuit communities of Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq. (Raglan Mine/Glencore)

In an interview, Watt said he is not reassured that those measures will be enough to keep Inuit communities safe. 

"Everybody can take a precaution and some times it works and sometimes it doesn't," said Watt. "I cannot just take their word for it."

So far in the pandemic, there have been 14 cases of COVID-19 reported in Nunavik, in three separate communities. 

Watt is asking for a one-one-meeting with the premier to go over his concerns and said his organization is considering legal action if it isn't satisfied by the result of those discussions.

I cannot just take their word for it.- Charlie Watt, Makivik president

"Nobody wants to got there...[but] it's so bloody dangerous right now. Sooner or later someone's going to be coming up to Nunavik as a [COVID-19] carrier," said Watt. 

"We're trying to protect ourselves," said Watt.  

Workers living in Inuit communities can't return to work

In a press release issued last week, Nunavik public health added restrictions on any mining operations in the territory, including allowing only workers from the South to travel to sites and only without any contact with Nunavik communities. There are about 100 Inuit workers at Raglan, who live in the South of the province, who are still expected to go to the mining site.

The press release also announced Nunavik residents would not be allowed at Raglan Mine installations at Deception Bay.

"The lockdown in Nunavik has the unfortunate consequence of preventing only Inuit miners from going back to work without any form of compensation or job protection," said the release from the Kativik Regional Government.

On-site testing coming at Raglan Mine

Raglan Mine is one of the main mining operations in Nunavik, located at the northern limits of Quebec between two Inuit communities of Salluit and Kangiqsujuaq. 

The company restarted regular mining operations on April 18 and said it's committed to protect workers and communities. 

The Deception Bay wharf is part of its Raglan Mine operation in Nunavik. (Xstrata)

Céliane Dorval, a spokesperson for the Raglan mine, said the company will be adding on-site testing in the days to come. 

"Our first priority is to restart our operations by ensuring the health and safety of all our workers and, by extension, those of their loved ones, as well as protecting the population of Nunavik," she said in an email. 

Dorval also said the Raglan facility will be operating with a staff of 550 people, down from a full work force of more than 1,200 people. 

She also said that Inuit workers who are not being allowed back to work will continue to receive their base salary according to their regular work schedule until further notice. 

"It is essential to us to find solutions and to make sure these employees will want to come back to work when the time comes," wrote Dorval.