Nunavut board rejects gold mine over concerns about caribou

After a major public hearing in Cambridge Bay, the Nunavut Impact Review Board has recommended Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.'s proposed Back River mine not proceed at this time.

'Sabina plans to take all actions available to us to resolve this matters' says company's president and CEO

Sabina Gold and Silver Corp.'s proposed mine lies within the range of several declining caribou herds. (N.W.T. Department of Environment and Natural Resources)

The Nunavut Impact Review Board has rejected a gold mining project in Nunavut's Kitikmeot region.

NIRB sent its review of Sabina Gold & Silver Corp.'s Back River Gold Mine Project to the minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs recommending the project should not proceed to the licensing stage at this time.

It cited concerns about potential impacts to caribou populations that are already in decline.

The Back River property is located 95 kilometres southeast of Bathurst Inlet, Nunavut.

"The board heard there is a high level of concern about the potential for this project to have impacts on caribou herds with ranges in Nunavut and the Northwest Territories that have recently experienced significant declines," read a release from NIRB on Wednesday.
Sabina Gold and Silver's proposed gold mine at Back River lies about 95 kilometres southeast of Bathurst Inlet and 520 kilometres northeast of Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

"Due to a high level of uncertainty regarding the efficacy and adaptability of measures designed to mitigate these effects, the board is not confident that these potential adverse ecosystemic and related socio-economic effects could be effectively mitigated over the life of the project."

In a conference call Thursday morning, Sabina's president and CEO Bruce McLeod said he's surprised and disappointed with the recommendation.

"Sabina plans to take all actions available to us to resolve this matter. The NIRB has clearly opened the door to reconsideration when these uncertainties can be addressed. We think we can address them," McLeod said. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Government of Nunavut said it respects the environmental assessment process and NIRB's role.

"We look forward to a final decision from the Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs," the statement said. "The GN supports responsible development that provides benefits to Nunavummiut and does not negatively impact people, wildlife or the environment."

Paul Crowley of WWF-Canada called the announcement "bittersweet."

"It is absolutely the right decision for the future of the Bathurst caribou herd and the Nunavut and N.W.T. communities who depend on them, but it will be disappointing for northern communities that need new economic opportunities," he said.

'What about the future?' asks Chamber of Mines

Gary Vivian, president of the N.W.T. and Nunavut Chamber of Mines, said the board's recommendation was "very negative news for the mining industry and for future economic hope for Nunavut, to be quite honest."

"I believe if people actually spent time here they would see there is less public concern about caribou than actually some of the environmentalists and wildlife people would have us believe.

"I've seen very little evidence that a mine has killed any caribou."

Vivian said many factors affect caribou numbers and people shouldn't "throw industry under the bus every time that a public concern is raised about caribou."

"Economic development and protectionism have to start working together to provide an economic base for Nunavut and the N.W.T. It's the only way forward. I don't know how these governments are going to survive. Government handouts are not going to continue."

The federal minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs will review the report and decide what happens next.