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Gold, arsenic and murder: A look at the complex history of N.W.T.’s Giant Mine

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YELLOWKNIFE — A team working to address environmental and health effects from a former gold mine outside Yellowknife has provided an update on the effort to clean up one of the most contaminated places in Canada.

The Giant Mine Remediation Project, co-managed by the Canadian and Northwest Territories governments, is expected to take until 2038 to complete. Arsenic trioxide waste stored underground is anticipated to require perpetual maintenance.

Here is a look at the mine’s history:

— Summer of 1935: C.J. (Johnny) Baker and H. Muir stake the original 21 “Giant” claims near Great Slave Lake’s Back Bay while working for Burwash Yellowknife Mines Ltd.

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— June 3, 1948: The mine, owned by Frobisher Explorations, pours its first gold brick. Ownership later changes hands several times.

— 1949-1951: Airborne arsenic emissions at the mine, where no pollution control has been installed, is estimated at 7,500 kilograms per day.

— 1951: There are reports of widespread sickness, including skin lesions, among residents on Latham Island, where the Yellowknives Dene use snowmelt for drinking water. Local newspaper ads warning about arsenic in water sources are published in English, which many of the Dene cannot read.

— April 1951: A two-year-old Dene child dies from acute arsenic poisoning after drinking water. Giant Yellowknife Gold Mines Ltd. gives the family $750 in compensation.

— October 1951: A Cottrell Electrostatic Precipitator is installed to capture and control emissions. Arsenic emissions drop to 5,500 kilograms per day. That same year, storage of arsenic trioxide dust in underground storage chambers begins.

— 1959: Emissions drop to 200 to 300 kilograms per day after the installation of a second electrostatic precipitator and a baghouse.

— 1969: Water intake for Yellowknife is relocated to avoid contamination.

— 1974: Three uncontrolled releases of tailings into Back Bay occur. Environmental studies later find contamination of Back Bay, Baker Creek and Yellowknife Bay.

— 1975: The federal government begins public health studies, including hair and urine sampling in Yellowknife, which find especially high arsenic levels in mine workers.

— 1977: The National Indian Brotherhood conducts an independent study with United Steelworkers and the University of Toronto’s Institute for Environmental Studies, which finds high arsenic levels in mine workers and Indigenous children.

— 1990: Royal Oak Resources Ltd. gains control of the mine.

— April 1992: Local 4 of the Association of Smelter and Allied Workers and Royal Oak reach a tentative agreement, which a majority of union members vote down.

— May 22, 1992: The day before workers plan to go on strike, Royal Oak locks out union members and plans to use replacement workers.

— June 1992: A riot breaks out as a group of striking workers tears down a fence and storms the mine grounds, damaging property and injuring security guards. Later that month, a group of strikers, calling themselves “Cambodian Cowboys,” break into the mine, steal explosives and write threatening graffiti on an underground tunnel. They later set off explosions that cause damage.

— Sept. 18, 1992: Nine mine workers in an underground railcar are killed by a bomb.

— November 1993: The Canada Labour Relations Board orders an end to the lockout.

— 1995: Roger Warren is convicted of nine counts of second-degree murder in the 1992 bombing.

— 1997: The federal and N.W.T. governments begin studying how to manage the arsenic trioxide waste.

— 1999: Royal Oak goes into receivership and rights to the mine are transferred to the federal government, which then sells the assets to Miramar Giant Mine Ltd. while severing environmental liabilities.

— 2004: The federal government announces plans to freeze the arsenic trioxide dust underground long-term.

— 2004: The N.W.T. workers’ compensation board is awarded $10.7 million following a lawsuit against the territorial government, union, Royal Oak and private security firm Pinkerton that sought compensation for families of the workers who died in the bombing.

— 2005: The Giant Mine officially becomes an abandoned site.

— 2008: The decision on compensation for families of the workers killed in the bombing is overturned on appeal.

— 2012-2014: The roaster at the mine site is demolished.

— June 2015: The federal government signs an environmental agreement for remediation with the N.W.T. government, City of Yellowknife, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Alternatives North and North Slave Métis Alliance.

— 2016: The N.W.T. issues a public health advisory warning residents to avoid drinking water, swimming, fishing and harvesting plants and berries in and around several lakes in the Yellowknife area due to high arsenic levels.

— 2019: Initial baseline results from urine and toenail samples from residents of Yellowknife, Dettah and N’dilo find arsenic exposure levels similar to the rest of Canada.

— August 2020: The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board approves the federal government’s land-use permit to remediate the site and the Northern Affairs minister approves the project’s water licence the following month.

— December 2020: The Yellowknives Dene call for a federal apology and compensation for the mine, as well as involvement in remediation.

— July 2021: Full remediation begins.

— Aug. 2021: Canada and the Yellowknives Dene sign three agreements, including a community benefits agreement that promises up to $20 million over 10 years to support the First Nation’s participation in the remediation project.

— April 2022: The federal budget earmarks $2 million between 2022 and 2024 to support the Yellowknives Dene in their pursuit of an apology and compensation.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 28, 2022.

 

Emily Blake, The Canadian Press

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Afghan refugees: Government delays increasing financial pressure – CTV News

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Refugee advocates are raising concerns that Afghan refugees granted asylum in Canada are being burdened by escalating costs stemming from the government’s delay in processing their claims.

Before they board their flight to Canada, all refugees are required to sign a loan agreement to pay back the cost of their transportation and pre-arrival expenses which can include hotel stays.

Some Afghans identified by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as eligible for resettlement have been waiting months for exit permits while living in hotels arranged by the government. The hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their debt.

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The Canadian Council for Refugees says Afghans are being forced to pay for an inefficient bureaucracy.

“It seems like the Canadian government is taking advantage of the vulnerability of people,” says Janet Dench, executive director of the Canadian Council of Refugees. Hotel bills can add thousands of dollars to their government debt.

Dench says refugees have no choice but to accept a “legally dubious” contract that doesn’t stipulate a precise loan amount.

“If they want a permanent home they have to sign on to whatever the terms of the agreement are. There’s no negotiation room, so people are forced into this situation.”

LONG WAITS AND BIG BILLS

Because Canada doesn’t recognize the Taliban government Afghans must get to a third country with consular support to complete their refugee applications. Many flee to neighboring Pakistan where Canada has a High Commission in the capital of Islamabad.

Nearly all Afghan refugees deemed eligible for resettlement are placed in the care of the International Organization for Migration while they are overseas.

The IOM organizes both charter and commercial flights to Canada and coordinates hotel stays for refugees as they wait for their exit permits. IOM doesn’t book flights until after IRCC has completed security and medical checks of its applicants. The organization bills the Canadian government approximately $150 per day to house and provide three meals a day for one family.

Of the 25,400 Afghans who have arrived in Canada since August 2021, IOM spokesperson Paul Dillon told CTV News in an emailed statement Friday the organizations has arranged travel for more than 22,000 of those refugees.

The claims of another 15,000 Afghans Canada committed to accepting after the Taliban took over the country have been delayed.

Irfanullah Noori, 28 and his family of five stepped off a plane at Pearson International Airport less than two months ago at the end of October. Before the Taliban took over his homeland in Noori worked as a logistics coordinator at the Kabul International Airport. He qualified for asylum because his brother served as an interpreter for Canadian soldiers.

Before being issued travel documents to Canada, Nouri, his wife and their three children, all under the age of five – stayed in an Islamabad hotel arranged by IOM for three months.

Irfanullah Noori poses with his youngest daughter on October 25, 2022 at the Pakistan International Airport before he boarded plane bound for Canada.

Before boarding his flight he signed a loan agreement. Nouri says IOM staff told him he would need to repay hotel expenses that added up to more than $13,000. That amount does not factor in the cost of flights for his family that he will also have to repay.

MISLEADING COSTS

IRCC says 96 per cent of refugees are able to pay back the loans. Monthly payments on the interest free loans are scheduled to begin one year after refugees arrive in Canada and costs can be spread out over nine years.

The federal government puts a cap of $15,000 on each loan per family, but the Canadian Council for Refugees says this is a misleading number.

Refugee families who have older dependents may have to pay back more than the cap. That’s because dependents over the age of 22 years old, can be considered a separate family unit and required to take on a new loan. Dench says this policy puts refugees in a precarious economic position. She’s seen families fight over finances and hopes and dreams put on hold.

“You have young people who should normally be going to university and pursuing their education but they feel that they’re morally obliged to get down to work, even at a minimum wage job in order to pay off the family debt,” said Dench. She argues the Canadian government should stop requiring refugees to repay the costs of getting them to safety, no matter where they come from.

SIMILAR CLAIMS, DIFFERENT TIME FRAMES

Since the fall of Kabul in August 2021, the Veterans Transition Network has helped raise funds to get interpreters and others out of Afghanistan. Oliver Thorne, VTN’s executive director says he’s frustrated that there are huge variations how long it takes for claims to be approved between applicants with similar profiles

“Some migrants are left in the dark. They don’t know why it’s taking them an additional two, four or six months compared to another interpreter who worked with the Canadian armed forces.” Thorne says IRCC needs to hire and train more staff to speed up the processing of claims.

He’s also calling for the removal of loan requirements, especially for Afghans who assisted the Canadian armed forces.

“They protected our men and women in uniform at great risk to themselves and their families. And secondly, these are going to be Canadians. They’re going to live here in our society down the street from us, and we have nothing to gain by making their transition more difficult,” Thorne said in an interview from Vancouver.

NO DEBT RELIEF

CTV News asked the Immigration Minister if it was fair that the Canadian government was burdening Afghans with additional costs due to the government backlog.

On Friday, Sean Fraser blamed a complicated process, but acknowledged that some refugees had been stuck “for a significant period of time.’ But the minister offered few solutions other than a vague reassurance that his department was “working with Pakistani officials to make sure we’re facilitating the smooth transportation of people to Canada.”

Meanwhile Noori is struggling to make ends meet in his new Ontario home, despite finding a job a few weeks ago at the General Motors plant in Oshawa.

Hired as a data-entry clerk, Noori earns $19/hour and is trying to pick up extra shifts on the weekend so he can make his $2,000 monthly rent on a one bedroom apartment.

Even though he won’t have to start paying back his refugee loan until next year, he’s daunted by the impending bill.

“It’s expensive (here.) I work 8 hours a day and six days a week. It will be very hard for me to pay back.”

After surviving the Taliban, Noori now faces subsistence in Canada.

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Children’s hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries

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A children’s hospital in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador is cancelling some surgeries and appointments starting Monday.

Health officials say it’s due to a high level of respiratory illness.

It is unclear how many surgeries and appointments at Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre in St. John‘s will be affected.

Residents who are not experiencing a medical emergency are being asked to avoid visiting an emergency department.

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

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Slain RCMP Const. Yang cleared of wrongdoing in shooting: B.C. police watchdog

British Columbia‘s police watchdog has cleared a slain Burnaby RCMP constable of wrongdoing after she shot a man in the altercation that led to her death.

The Independent Investigations Office says after a review of all available evidence its chief civilian director determined that there are no reasonable grounds to believe Const. Shaelyn Yang committed an offence.

It says the matter will not be referred to the Crown for consideration of charges.

Yang, a 31-year-old mental health and homeless outreach officer, was stabbed to death on Oct. 18 while she and a City of Burnaby employee attempted to issue an eviction notice to a man who had been living in a tent at a local park.

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Yang shot the suspect before she died, and the IIO later said Jongwon Ham underwent surgery for his injuries.

Ham has since been charged with first-degree murder in Yang’s death.

“Due to concurrent court proceedings related to the incident, the IIO’s public report will not be released on the IIO website until that process has concluded,” the IIO said in a news release.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2022.

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