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Environmentalist questions Yukon gov't charter with mining company

Yukon environmentalist Lewis Rifkind says the charter suggests special treament, and the government's will to approve the mine.

Yukon Conservation Society activist says charter for Casino project suggests it's a done deal

Lewis Rifkind says he's concerned the message being sent bureaucrats is that the Casino Project must be approved. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The Yukon government's special relationship with a mining company should concern Yukoners, said Whitehorse-based environmental activist Lewis Rifkind of the Yukon Conservation Society (YCS).

The government released a charter on Thursday that it signed in early January with the Western Copper and Gold Corporation.

The document says the charter is meant to ensure the environmental permitting process for the company's massive Casino Mine proposal is done in a "timely and efficient manner."

Rifkind questions why the company appears to be getting extra assistance from the government.

"I suspect there are probably some other companies out there going, 'how come this one project gets this level of service, gets its very own signed charter?'," he said.

The Casino project will receive the highest level of environmental screening ever in Yukon, in part because of plans to build the highest tailings dam in the world. Some similar dams have failed in other jurisdictions.

The charter identifies which officials in the government will be handling what parts of the permitting process. It also lays out who the contact people will be in the bureaucracy for the company.

That sounds like the government is telling its officials they have to ensure the project goes ahead, said Rifkind.

"Basically everyone within the various YG [Yukon Government] departments is going to be working hard to get this project approved, which is a problem because surely the bureaucracy is meant to be neutral on these issues and take a stance on examining the project and determining what is in the best interest of all Yukoners," he said.

The Casino mine project would be bigger than any existing mine in Yukon. The site is located about 400km northwest of Whitehorse. (CasinoMining.com)

This is the first charter with a mining company, said Julie Stinson, the acting director of the territorial government's Development Assessment Branch, but there will be more.

Companies are often confused about who they should talk to in government, she said.

"Often, you would have someone calling one department to talk about something and then they call another department and they might not know about it, but by having a lead co-ordinator, everybody's on the same page."

Stinson denies the charter will influence the outcome of the permitting process.

"It talks about process, it really lays about roles and responsibilities, it doesn't talk about, there's no commitment," she said.

Rifkind and other critics have also questioned the release of the charter, three months after it was signed.

Stinson said Premier Darrell Pasloski mentioned the charter twice at mining related events in Vancouver in January, and also said anyone who asked for a copy was given one.

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