Opposition to Bill 75 is gaining steam, as more people step forward with personal accounts of misconduct by mining companies. The controversial legislation would give mining prospectors the right to be on any private land in New Brunswick, rural or urban, without the owner’s permission.
Bill 75 was about to be passed into law when a Green Party of New Brunswick motion successfully sent the bill to the Standing Committee on Law Amendments for further study. Among those who have written to Premier Higgs voicing opposition to Bill 75 are woodlot and farmland owner Mike Pugh and Order of Canada recipient Auréa Cormier, a member of the Religieuses Notre-Dame-Sacré-Coeur.
Pugh’s farm and woodlot is near Salem. He’s worried that governments are too willing to tolerate mining industry “crimes against nature” and that “one way or another, all mining focuses on using a lot of water.”
“It boggles the mind,” he said. “You can’t eat gold.”
Pugh is also upset that Bill 75 gives mining prospectors a right that no other citizen has, namely, the right to go on a person’s land without that person’s permission.
Pugh’s letter to Premier Higgs says Bill 75 “would reduce the working landowners of NB to serfs in a feudalistic regime.” Pugh writes to the Premier, that in the early 1980s he “received a call at work from my neighbour to tell me that my wife was blocking a bulldozer from clearing a way through our land.”
Rushing home, Pugh found Chevron Oil employees claiming they had “government permission” for what they were doing. In his letter, Pugh describes Chevron subsequently bringing “a large tank-like vehicle that would lower a portion of its body to ground level at each seismographic testing point. It then violently shook the earth in order to record seismographic readings.”
Pugh is convinced that Chevron’s shaking of the earth damaged his home. “Several years later an NB Power heat programmer found an abundance of mortar failure in the concrete block portion of our basement,” he wrote. “That mortared block section was laid by professionals, but we could only surmise what caused the leaks” that required expensive repair work.
Pugh also tells the Premier that his neighbour “has intercepted numerous people over the years; some carrying equipment into [Pugh’s] fields” and that “we’ve also had at least two surprise helicopter landings of unknown origin. Both quickly left after being sighted.”
Pugh’s farm and woodlot is near several well sites that were among the first to be fracked in New Brunswick. “We can watch the late night ‘excess gas flaring show’ from our deck, and wonder where the next batch of contaminated underground waste water is going to eventually travel.”
Pugh also complains to Premier Higgs that the government is “keeping us in the dark” and adds that “I don’t know what other powers Bill 75 could give them unless they want to gag and bind us before they work.” He describes Bill 75 as “another boot on the neck giving more power to the big biz-government coalitions that continue to run this province and this country.”
“The issue goes beyond whether one is for or against mining,” Pugh said. “Very few indeed like the idea of someone being able to come on their land at will without needing to ask their permission.”
Mining companies have long ignored what’s good for landowners, as Cormier’s letter asking Premier Higgs to abandon Bill 75 demonstrates. She writes that she still has “a very sad memory” of what happened to her family’s farm after a company drilled without permission.
“My father had a beautiful, large farm in Westmorland County,” Cormier writes. “We were fortunate to have an artesian well that gave us access to pure, underground water.”
The Cormiers’ well “flowed continuously into a deep metal tank, and when the water reached near the top, a pipe poured it into a trough in the farmyard where the animals came to drink.” Then, “one day, without warning, prospectors came to do exploratory work some hundred meters from the farm.”
That unauthorized drilling “hit an underground water vein, which immediately and completely stopped the operation of our artesian well,” Cormier tells the Premier. “The repercussions of this drilling were painful for my entire family: loss of a means to cool food in the cold water tank and the necessity to carry by hand many buckets of water to the farm animals.”
“No one came to offer my father compensation for the great loss my family had suffered because of this drilling.”
As well as seeing personally the damage mining company exploration can cause to farms, Cormier tangled with a Canadian resource company in 2001, while she attended an international social forum in Brazil. She attended the forum on behalf of Development and Peace, a Canadian charitable organization with a history of combating mining company abuse. While there, she was approached by people from Peru who asked for help dealing with a Canadian resource company dumping toxic waste into Peruvian streams north of Lima.
Cormier wrote the Vancouver-based company to demand that it clean up its act in Peru, but further details are unavailable because her files on the subject were lost when her computer later was stolen.
The Development and Peace website reports widespread “human rights abuses by Canadian corporations or their contractors and suppliers.” As well as “rapes and murders against people opposing mining projects,” it also reports the use of “forced labour; child labour; unpaid wages; threats; the contamination of water and land; forced evictions; and abuses of Indigenous rights.”
Whether the Higgs government will listen to Cormier, Pugh and other property owners who are demanding that Bill 75 be dropped remains to be seen. To date, the Conservatives have refused to hold any public consultations on the legislation giving prospectors the right to trespass on private land.
Bill 75 is now before a standing committee of the legislature. It will be the Conservatives, who have a majority on the committee, who decide whether to allow public consultations.
Dallas McQuarrie is a NB Media Co-op writer who lives on unceded Mi’kmaq territory in Kent County.