Canadian aboriginals sue Rio Tinto unit for C$900m

Date of publication: 
21 March 2013

Two Canadian aboriginal communities have filed a C$900 million ($877 million) lawsuit against a subsidiary of Rio Tinto , saying on Wednesday that more than a half century of iron ore mining has disrupted their traditional way of life.

The Innu communities of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam and Matimekush-Lac John have asked a Quebec court for an injunction against the operations of Rio’s Iron Ore Company of Canada unit in Quebec and Labrador, as well as an estimated C$900 million in damages.

Rio Tinto spokesman Illtud Harri said in an emailed statement that Iron Ore Co (IOC) has always received required governmental approvals and authorizations. “IOC will take all necessary measures to protect its rights and activities,” he said.

He added that the communities involved are “important partners”.

Rio, one of the world’s largest mining companies, owns a 59 percent stake in IOC, Canada’s largest iron ore producer. It recently hired investment banks to sell its stake, two sources familiar with the matter said in early March.

Matimekush-Lac John Chief Réal McKenzie said in the release that his community is not opposed to all mining, and has signed agreements with other companies. But the group has not been able to reconcile with IOC and Rio Tinto, he said.

In recent months, Canada’s aboriginal activists have stepped up demands for more control over mining and energy projects, and a greater share of benefits from resource development.

A grass-roots aboriginal protest movement known as Idle No More staged demonstrations and blocked roads and rail lines across Canada late last year and early this year, in part to call attention to the improverished living conditions of many aboriginals, especially in remote communities.


$900 million lawsuit filed against Rio Tinto’s IOC

Innu Takuaikan Ushat Mak Mani-Utenam (ITUM) press release

20 March 2013

MONTREAL – On March 18 at the Quebec Superior Court in Montreal, the Innu First Nations of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam (Uashaunnuat) and Matimekush-Lac John (MLJ), whose traditional territory (Nitassinan) covers much of northeastern Quebec and Labrador, filed a motion to obtain an injunction against Iron Ore Company of Canada’s (IOC) mining operations in Quebec and Labrador as well as damages for the harm caused to them by IOC estimated at $900 million. IOC’s majority shareholder is Rio Tinto.

“While Rio Tinto is anxious to uphold its image as a model corporate citizen, boasting of its commitment to aboriginal peoples around the world, the Uashaunnuat and MLJ can attest that, in their own experience, these are nothing but empty words. IOC has undertaken all of its projects without the consent of the Uashaunnuat and MLJ, in violation of our rights. IOC and now Rio Tinto are the companies that have inflicted the most harm on the Uashaunnuat and MLJ and caused the most damage to our Nitassinan” said Vice-Chief Mike McKenzie of Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam.

Since the 1950s, IOC has built and operated a mining mega-project within the Nitassinan in and around what are now Schefferville, Labrador City and Sept-Îles without the prior consent of the Uashaunnuat and MLJ. IOC’s mines and other facilities have ruined the environment of the Uashaunnuat and MLJ, have displaced them from their territory and have prevented them from practicing their traditional activities as well as their traditional way of life. In addition, IOC’s various projects, including a 578-km railway between Schefferville and Sept-Îles owned and operated by their subsidiary QNS&L, have opened up the Uashaunnuat’s and MLJ’s territory to numerous other destructive development projects.

“In spite of the attempts we have made at reconciliation, IOC and Rio Tinto continue to act in an irresponsible and disrespectful manner. While we are not opposed to any and all mining development – we have in fact signed agreements with other mining companies who sought our consent for their projects – mining development, just like any other development, must not violate our rights, must respect our values, traditions and way of life, and must be environmentally sustainable. A balance must be achieved, but regrettably, IOC’s practices are of a bygone era. This must stop,” said Chief Réal McKenzie of Matimekush-Lac John.

Let us not forget that IOC is the most important producer of iron ore in Canada. Since beginning its massive mining operations in Nitassinan in 1954, the company has extracted and profited from the sale of nearly one million tonnes of ore produced at facilities in Schefferville (now closed) and Labrador City. IOC is now looking towards an expansion project that will only result in increased harm to the Uashaunnuat and to MLJ, who have yet to receive any revenue, compensation, indemnity or royalties whatsoever from the company.

For further information:

Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam
Ken Rock
Phone: 418-965-7256

Matimekush-Lac John
Nadir André
Phone: 514-702-8202