B.C.’s move to modernize mineral claims is making the mining industry nervous

By Alec Lazenby March 19, 2024

B.C. Mines Minister Josie Osborne says the province is taking a multi-pronged approach to modernizing the Mineral Tenure Act. (Flickr)

Nearly six months after B.C.’s Supreme Court ordered the province to modernize its mineral claim system, Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation Minister Josie Osborne announced the launch of a consultation process to update the Mineral Tenure Act. The province is also pausing mining activity, new permits and mineral claims in Gitxaała Nation and Ehattesaht First Nations territory.

In exchange, the nations are pausing their court challenge, which asked that certain mineral claims in their territories be quashed and new claim registrations banned until consultations to update the act were put in place.

“Gitxaała is ready to work with the province and other First Nations to ensure B.C. meets its commitment to establish a mineral tenure law that aligns with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and respects Gitxaała laws,” said Gitxaała-elected Chief councillor Linda Innes. “The orders enacted by the province are an important step to begin this work together.”

Industry groups, however, say they were not given advance notice of the consultation process and are not clear on the industry’s role in it.

“We said from day one that we are going into reconciliation and we’re committed to working with Indigenous Peoples and the governments on the Mineral Tenure Act modernization process,” said Keerit Jutla, CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration of BC (AMEBC).

“Key for our members is that this must be a process that has meaningful and broad industry engagement, because this is at the heart of our members’ livelihood.”

The Mineral Tenure Act modernization was spurred by BC Supreme Court Justice Alan Ross’ September 2023 ruling, which gave the province 18 months to align the law with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) following a legal challenge by the Gitxaała and Ehattesaht.

The legislation has drawn criticism from First Nations for allowing mining companies to stake mineral claims without consulting local First Nations.

Osborne told BC Today the government is discussing the future of mining in B.C. with the First Nations Leadership Council and is ready to proceed with a broader consultation that involves the mining industry and other stakeholders.

She acknowledged AMEBC’s concerns but said the government is working to navigate the issue more sensitively than it did the now-paused Land Act overhaul.

“Our intention is to work in two ways: first, in a government to government process, that direct fiduciary obligation that we have as the Crown to work with rights and title holders to address the need to modernize the Mineral Tenure Act,” she said. “Then broadly, the consultation engagement and information sharing that we need to do with industry, with communities, with local governments, with environmental and non-government organizations, and with the general public.”

Jutla said he hopes the province has learned from the issues with the Land Act process and that the industry’s efforts to get clarity on the Mineral Tenure Act modernization should not be construed as unwillingness to engage with First Nations.

“At least Minister Osborne and her ministry have been much more proactive in the sense of seeking to see how industry can be more engaged, but there’s a lot of work to do,” Jutla said. “We’re really, really, really trying to work with the government to have extended good relations and a desire to begin dialogue with the First Nations Leadership Council because we, like so many other groups, have kind of been left on the sidelines.”

The Mining Association of British Columbia said in a statement that any amendments to the Mineral Tenure Act must be incremental, preserve certainty for industry and respect existing tenure.

“Open, transparent and timely engagement that includes B.C.’s exploration and mining industry is imperative,” said association CEO Michael Goehring.