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This land is mine

January 9th,2024 | News

Residents up the line may be living on the 21st-century equivalent of a gold mine. 

That’s because mining companies have been buying claims on plots of land throughout much of the Outaouais, particularly near Low and Kazabazua, with the intention of exploring for possible lithium and graphite deposits required to produce EV batteries. 

On Jan. 5, around 120 residents gathered at Heritage Hall in Low to hear a presentation given by Sylvie Ott and Martin Belanger, two property owners on Chemin Martindale, north of Low village. 

Both Ott and Belanger made it clear that they are not mining experts, but instead concerned citizens who have done extensive research to understand how and why claims are being increasingly made on privately owned properties throughout the Gatineau Valley. 

“There are regions in Quebec that welcome mines and there are others that want nothing to do with it. I don’t know you personally,” Belanger told residents at the meeting, “and I don’t know if you want a mine near you or not, but I’m here to give you the information either way.” 

According to the Globe and Mail, as of August 2023, active mining claims in Quebec totaled 330,000 – double the number in October 2020. 

Ott and Belanger began by explaining that a claim is a title that an individual or company can purchase, which grants the exclusive right to explore the land – even if the land is already owned by someone else. 

Claims are initially valid for up to three years. Under Quebec law, anyone can buy a mining claim using an online registry. The cost is as little as $75 and there is no obligation to notify the landowner. 

Claim-holders do have to seek permission from the landowner before proceeding with mineral exploration, and Quebec’s Mining Act states that landowners have the right to refuse, although in some cases expropriation may be possible. Companies may use helicopters to carry out survey work, even without the landowner’s permission. 

They projected a map of the region showing where claims have currently been made. Swaths of land along Chemin Martindale and surrounding Lake Manitou, along with large portions surrounding Denholm to the east and land north of Kazabazua, have all been claimed. 

Ott and Belanger said they are aware of two mining companies that are making claims in the area: Brunswick Exploration and Lomiko Metals. 

A series of reports by Radio Canada last year claimed that the current Legault government wants to make Quebec one of the major players in the strategic minerals industry, which has been deemed necessary for an energy transition away from oil and gas. Part of the government’s plan is to develop mining capabilities to extract, in particular, lithium, which is used in batteries for EVs. 

Territories incompatible with mining activity 

Using a map found on the Quebec Ministry of Natural Resources and Forests website, Ott and Belanger showed that some areas in the MRC Valleé-de-la-Gatineau have already been temporarily designated as off-limits for mining by the Ministry of the Environment. However, this designation expires in March. 

Maps showing current mining claims and protected areas can be found using Gestim, an online source provided by the government of Quebec, or SIGÉOM found on the provincial website for the Ministere. 

Ott and Belanger, along with Low Mayor Carole Robert who was in attendance at the meeting, encouraged residents to help the MRC identify specific areas that should be permanently zoned as “territories incompatible with mining activity” or TIAM, which would restrict, but not outrightly ban, mining from taking place. 

The criteria for TIAM includes: land within an urban perimeter, which some residents were shocked to learn on Jan. 5 does not appear to include the villages of Low or Venosta, as well as agricultural or touristic areas, places of historical or cultural importance, conservation sites and areas where there is ground or surface water being used for consumption. 

Municipalities may put forward recommendations for TIAM to the provincial Ministry for the Environment, which has the final say in granting the designation. 

Mayor Robert explained that she will be meeting with other MRC mayors on Jan. 18 to formally create a committee to address mining claims in the region. 

She asked that residents who want to help identify land in the municipality that they believe should be part of TIAM email Thomas Rozsnaki-Sasseville at the MRC Vallée-de-la-Gatineau using trozsnakisasseville@mrcvg.qc.ca, preferably before Jan. 12, and copy the municipality using the email reception@lowquebec.ca. “Mining” should be mentioned in the email’s subject and you should include your full name and address. 

Most residents present at the Jan. 5 meeting expressed concern about mining claims in their area. At one point someone asked how many opposed mining in the region, and the majority of hands went up. 

Ott and Belanger suggested a number of ways that concerned residents could take action. 

Besides helping the MRC identify TIAM, they encouraged participation in an MRC public consultation meeting taking place in February or March this year. 

While buying a claim on your own land might be a possibility for some – if it hasn’t already been bought by someone else, that is – Belanger explained that this is usually difficult to do. Plus, after three years, the cost of maintaining the claim goes way up: it’s $1,500 for a two-year claim renewal. 

Since the Jan. 5 meeting, a group calling itself “Against Low Mines” has already been created on Facebook, garnering 195 members by the time of publication. 

The slides from Ott and Belanger’s presentation have been made available on the Low Folks Facebook group in both English and French. 

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