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Times of crisis evoke a lot of different responses from different industries, corporations, and those who lobby for them.

According to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, thousands of companies are rising to the occasion of the COVID-19 crisis, switching or creating new production lines to try to help fill critical gaps in the supply of protective equipment. One of these is Stanfield’s in Truro. Many companies and industries recognize that in times like these, they can and should put public health and the public good ahead of private profits and interests.

Unfortunately, some do not.

Take, for example, the Mining Association of Nova Scotia, or MANS.

MANS does not publish a list of its members so there is no way of knowing who or how many they are. However, we do know that its executive director is Sean Kirby, who works with his wife, Sarah Kirby, director of government relations and communications, and that MANS operates out of the Kirby home in Ingramport.

On its website, in Op-eds, and on social media MANS, continues to stretch and torque the truth in its strident efforts to promote the mining industry. It claims over and over and over that mining and quarrying provide 5,500 jobs in Nova Scotia, ignoring the fact that this is contradicted by Natural Resources Canada figures from 2017, which show that mining and quarrying employed only 610 in the province, and another 140 in mining support activities. (The Examiner reported details on these jobs figures here.)

This screenshot from MANS’ Facebook page shows Liberal MLA and Minister of Justice Mark Furey presenting prizes to students in Bridgewater for the MANS-sponsored video contest. Sean Kirby is on the left in the photo.

COVID-washing

At a time when most people are focussed on obeying public health regulations, worrying about how to keep their families healthy and fed — and expressing gratitude to the frontline workers in healthcare and other essential services for their fortitude and sacrifices for us all — MANS has been busy trying to exploit the COVID-19 crisis by asking the government for special favours for the mining industry. It has also been pumping out PR messages that mining, and particularly gold mining (which is the only metal mining ongoing in the province) is good for us.

MANS continues to ignore the fact that we do not need to mine any more gold, which is “one of the most destructive industries on earth.” The monetary value of gold bullion as an investment is purely speculative — we cannot eat it, drink it, or grow crops in it.

According to the World Gold Council, nearly half of the world’s gold supply is in jewellery, private investment and gold reserves account for about 38%, and just 14% of the gold supply has “other” uses, such as medicine and technology. It recycles well, and there is more than enough of it sitting around in vaults to provide for all our technological and medical needs forever.

Yet, last weekend, as part of its campaign to promote gold mining, MANS tweeted that ventilators helping COVID-19 patients are made of minerals such as “#gold, #copper and steel (which is made of iron and coal).”

Then, in case any of MANS’ Twitter followers (there are 475 of them) didn’t know what a ventilator is, MANS (presumably Kirby) added, “They move air in and out of a person’s lungs who can’t breathe on their own.”

This prompted Cape Breton Spectator editor, Mary Campbell, to tweet this message to MANS:

Dude, seriously, it’s time to give this a break.

For her pains (and her gentle humour and sound advice), MANS blocked Campbell’s reply.

Another reply to MANS was:

And a tweeter named Ray MacNeil answered MANS this way:

Who are you reminding that minerals are mined from the ground? (FYI, we learn that in grade 3 in #NovaScotia). Or perhaps you’re using #coronavirus #crisis as opportunity to promote your agenda? If it is the latter, corporate self-aggrandizing is not welcome at this time. Thanks.

To which Kirby, writing in first person plural, replied:

We are sharing, as we always do, factual info about mining, minerals and geology so people understand how they contribute to everything in our daily lives. Mining is playing a key role in fighting #Covid19NS and saving lives at this difficult time.

Ray MacNeil replied again:

“Mining is … saving lives …” #COVID19NS People out there r giving everything they have in this time. Not just in HC [healthcare]. Avg [average] everyday sorts. Considering your efforts to put your industry in THEIR category please share what you r doing to warrant that. I’ll wait.

Undaunted, and apparently unable to hear and heed good advice when it is offered (and apparently unable to grasp that most criticism of the mining industry in Nova Scotia and elsewhere is not about mining in general but about gold mining), MANS replied:

Without mining, we wouldn’t have medicines, medical equipment, computers, ventilators, tests for #Covid19, etc. We wouldn’t be able to build hospitals. People like docs and nurses are heroes but we are all doing out part to help fight #Covid19NS.

MANS’ attempt to deflect attention from the destructiveness and long-term environmental risks of modern open pit metal – and particularly gold – mining by claiming it is “saving lives” during the COVID-19 crisis, elicited a strong response from @Wayne O’Toole, with a lot of expletives:

Oh fuck off. Just fuck off.  Your [sic] killing our planet to the point nobody will breathe, so how about fucking off.

MANS working behind the scenes

It’s not just on social media that MANS has been waging a PR assault in the time of COVID-19. It has also been busy behind the scenes, writing to government ministers.

Dr. Jacob Hanley and Kevin Neyedley chat with Sean Kirby, left, and Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette, right. Photo: Kelly Clark/ Communications Nova Scotia.

On March 27, Kirby wrote to Energy and Mines Minister Derek Mombourquette to “respectfully” request that the department:

…suspend [mineral exploration] claim renewals — and therefore claim staking fees and work requirements — for one year in light of the challenges being created by Coronavirus.

The revised Mineral Resources Act already granted mineral rights-holders a break on the costs of their claim fees. As a 2018 government press release stated, the revised Act extended exploration licences from one to two years, and made it “easier and less expensive for industry to manage exploration licences saving business about $175,000 a year.”

Apparently Kirby didn’t think these concessions were enough. In his letter to Minister Mombourquette he asked for an additional one-year holiday on claim fees — until December 2021 — because of COVID-19.

Wrote Kirby:

Coronavirus has resulted in an extraordinary period of economic uncertainty and stock market volatility. This is affecting our prospecting and explorationist members in various ways, including:

• There is a great deal of uncertainty about what the impacts will be on mineral and metal prices.
• Raising financing for exploration work in this market will be very difficult and potentially impossible for many.
• Stock prices for some junior exploration companies are falling dramatically, which impacts their ability to follow through on exploration plans.
• Some junior exploration companies and investors are already deciding to horde [sic] their funds to ensure their survival through this public health crisis.

To suggest that the gold business is being harmed by the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus is preposterous. While other metal and mineral prices have dropped, the economic uncertainty of the global COVID-19 health crisis has sent gold prices soaring.

In an email, Department of Energy and Mines spokesperson Patricia Jreige confirmed that in Nova Scotia “exploration licences have mainly focused on gold versus other minerals (about 60 to 70% on gold exploration).”

That makes it hard to fathom MANS’ claim that the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 merits special favours for gold mining and exploration from a provincial government trying to cope with an unprecedented health crisis and the economic hardship and suffering it is causing.

Atlantic Gold, which was acquired last year by the Australian company St. Barbara, is continuing to operate its highly profitable open pit Touquoy gold mine in Moose River even during the COVID-19 crisis. As reported here, the former CEO of Atlantic Gold, Steven Dean, boasts that the Touquoy mine netted a staggering 1,129% rate of return between 2014 and 2019, when St. Barbara bought the company for $722 million.

NovaROC map with mineral exploration licences in green and the bulk of those in southern NS belong to Atlantic Gold and affiliates.

Atlantic Gold holds thousands of claims for gold exploration in Nova Scotia. It does so under various names, including that of its predecessor DDV Gold, and its corporate branches, Annapolis Properties Corp and Atlantic Mining NS Corp. Its licences extend from Cape Breton Island all the way to Shelburne County. Yet the total that Atlantic Gold paid in fees to the province in 2018 for all its exploration claims and permits — the last time it had to report payments to governments in Canada because of the Extractive Sector Transparency Measures Act (ESTMA) — was just over half a million dollars.

The same year, the value of the gold it produced at its Touquoy mine would have been upwards of $150 million, and yet it paid nothing in taxes to any level of government.

So one would hope that MANS is not asking for special fee-waiving favours from the province on behalf of Atlantic Gold.

MegumaGold exploration license holdings in Nova Scotia. From MegumaGold website.

MegumaGold is another company with a vast area under mineral claims in the province. On its website it boasts that it has exploration licences covering 107,114 hectares in Nova Scotia, which it calls “an emerging gold camp.” MegumaGold recently added to its extensive claim holdings — held under the company name 1156219 B.C. Limited — when it acquired Osprey Gold, with its properties that include Goldenville and Caribou Mines.

One could ask why, if junior companies are having trouble financing their exploration work, they don’t relinquish a few of their licences and reduce the fees they owe to government.

Of course there is no way of knowing which, if any, of the gold interests in Nova Scotia endorsed MANS’ decision to write to the government and unabashedly ask for more government largesse because of COVID-19. It’s not as if the government doesn’t already provide funding for exploration.

Each year the Mineral Resources Development Fund (MRDF) hands out $1.5 million of public money in grants for mineral exploration and promotion — to prospectors, mining and exploration companies, MANS ($211,00 in 2018 and 2019), and scientists. In 2019, nine exploration grants went to mining companies, seven of which were for gold (more about that here).

DEM spokesperson Jreige said the application process for the MRDF is still open, which means the government grants for mineral exploration will go ahead even in a time of COVID-19. But MANS is using the crisis to justify its ask that the government suspend for another year the claims fees that prospectors and mining companies owe.

Asked if DEM was considering suspending claim staking fees, Jreige replied:

The Department is not suspending claim staking fees, renewal fees or mineral lease fees at this time, and extensions have not been made.

However, she added that licence holders may still be able to get extensions if their work is delayed because of COVID-19:

If the current public health crisis persists for many months and licensees are unable to complete their required work due to COVID related factors, the Registrar may consider extensions if requests are received. Valid COVID-related reasons for requesting an extension may include, amongst others, inability for the licensee to procure exploration services (e.g. analytical laboratories, geophysical and drilling companies may be closed for COVID-related reasons).

Jreige was unable to put a value on the claim fees due this year for the 1,521 exploration licenses that comprise 38,074 mineral claims in Nova Scotia, saying there is no way of knowing how many will be acquired this year. Even during the crisis, she said, “there are new licenses acquired weekly.”

MANS tries to undermine a county council

Sean Kirby also wrote to Environment Minister Gordon Wilson to try to have him ignore the wishes of the Colchester County Council that is seeking to have Nova Scotia Environment protect the French River watershed, which supplies Tatamagouche with its drinking water.

Kirby’s February 19 letter said:

I am writing regarding Colchester County Council’s recent request to ban mineral exploration and extraction in the French River watershed. Specifically, I am writing to respectfully request that the Government of Nova Scotia decline to adopt council’s proposed regulations because they uniquely target mining activities based on misconceptions about gold mining and are not based in science.

Kirby repeated his trope about modern mining being a “sophisticated, science-based activity that takes proper care of the environment” and referred the environment minister to the MANS website for evidence of this claim. He also took up the baton for the Department of Energy and Mines:

Interest in the gold potential of the Warwick Mountain area of Tatamagouche was triggered by excellent prospecting work undertaken by geologists at the Department of Energy and Mines who have advanced the prospect and marketed it to the global mining industry as an area of interest. For example, Energy and Mines released a data package about the area in 2018 at the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada’s annual conference, the largest mining conference in the world. Unfortunately, Energy and Mines’ efforts also triggered opposition to any potential mining in the area from a small but vocal group.

We [there’s that royal “we” again in a letter signed by one man] are concerned that misinformation promoted by anti-mining activists has led to Colchester County Council seeking to ban exploration and mining in the area despite the fact that all industry activities are stringently regulated by Nova Scotia Environment (NSE) to prevent harm to the environment, including impacts on water.

As readers of the Halifax Examiner may recall from the Fool’s Gold series in 2018, it was back in November 2017 that people in and around Tatamagouche in northern Nova Scotia first learned that the province had temporarily closed off 30,000 hectares (74,132 acres) of forested land in the Cobequid Hills to mineral claims. The aim of the province’s Geoscience and Mines branch was to promote the entire area for large-scale gold exploration. At the heart of the area slated for gold exploration — and potentially for gold mining should there be a viable find — was Warwick Mountain and the French River watershed, the source of Tatamagouche drinking water.

Photo: Joan Baxter

Local opposition was swift. Members of the French River watershed protection committee met with the public to discuss the proposal, after which the citizens’ group Sustainable Northern Nova Scotia (SuNNS) was formed. Eventually, after a long period of consultation and research, the Colchester County Council voted unanimously in January 2020 to apply to Nova Scotia Environment for protection of the watershed from mineral exploration and mining.

In an email, SuNNS member Yuill Herbert had this to say about the MANS letter urging Environment Minister Wilson to deny this application:

Colchester County made a decision following an extensive community engagement process that was informed by the latest science. This letter is yet one more piece of evidence that communities cannot trust the mining industry in NS, as they try to undermine local decision-making for their own short term interests.”

Another member of SuNNS, Kathryn Anderson, who has worked against mining injustice for many years through the Maritimes — Guatemala Breaking the Silence network, dismissed Kirby’s claims that modern gold mining can be environmentally safe. In a telephone interview, she said:

Science is very clear about the huge environmental risks of open pit gold mining, there is no question about that. That MANS would say otherwise is absolutely ridiculous.

Anderson referred me to a 2017 report that looks at the risks of mine tailings storage facilities around the world, which shows that modern mining has failed to eliminate the risks of catastrophic failings from these facilities:

Despite the many advances made in the mining sector and increased geotechnical engineering knowledge, tailings dam failures still occur. Since 2014 there have been seven failures significant enough to make international news. These occurred in Canada, Mexico, Brazil (x2), China, USA and Israel … While not all have resulted in loss of life, they have all caused extensive damage to the environment.

John Perkins, who last year was violently arrested at an Atlantic Gold public information session in Sherbrooke and who has launched a lawsuit against the RCMP and Atlantic Gold, emailed this comment after reading the MANS letter:

The bald self interest evident in MANS continuing to purport — without any scientific evidence offered — that modern metal mining is environmentally sound is just not supported by the facts. Study after study after analysis of modern gold mining shows the enormous detrimental effects of gold mining activities on drinking water. 100% of every gold mine in the USA in 2017 had toxic substance release into watersheds [Perkins provides sources for his comments, here and here].

He continued:

And then there is the drill hole in the French River watershed that the [provincial] government knew about, tried to hide, and has still not fixed. It was to avert these kinds of disasters that the Colchester County Council wisely acted.

The so-called “small” group opposed to allowing likely contamination included approximately 96% of landowners and residents surveyed in the [French River] watershed area and more than a thousand petition signatories. Demanding the minister to favour industry over the people is an outrage that I hope the ministers have the good sense to ignore.

I emailed Colchester County Mayor Christine Blair and Tatamagouche area Councillor Mike Gregory for their reaction to the MANS letter, and asked Nova Scotia Environment is any decisions had been made on whether to accept or decline the request from Colchester County for protection of the French River watershed. As of publication, I’ve had no reply from any of them.

MANS assault on NS protected wilderness areas

Another MANS letter, this one written in early February, is eight pages long and addressed to Premier Stephen McNeil, Environment Minister Gordon Wilson, and DEM Minister Derek Mombourquette. In the letter, Kirby asks for a meeting “as soon as possible,” and takes aim at a whole range of provincial policies on mining that he would like to see changed, from lifting the ban on uranium mining to making “land swaps” so that mineral-rich areas currently designated protected wilderness areas could be opened up for mining and quarrying.

Kirby is particularly incensed by the government’s proposal to protect Archibald Lake, which, if approved, would require Atlantic Gold to revise its plans for an open pit gold mine at Cochrane Hill near Sherbrooke, one of three the company has planned for the Eastern Shore.  He writes:

The proposed protection of the Archibald Lake Wilderness Area is of tremendous concern to us because:
• It is potentially very harmful to the Cochrane Hill Gold Project and Atlantic Gold’s Moose River Consolidated Project;

And:

• Harming the Cochrane Hill project is simply unnecessary when the government could instead delay protection of Archibald Lake or do interim partial protection such that the mine is allowed to proceed …

In an email, Ray Plourde, wilderness coordinator at the Ecology Action Centre reacted to the MANS letter this way:

Every time I read something like this from MANS I feel like I need to take a shower. There is so much inaccurate, misleading information provided as facts and downright lies that it makes one queasy just reading it. Surely the government and the public can see through their unbelievably warped, self-serving spin. At a time in our history when global biodiversity is plummeting (including here in Nova Scotia) and pollution threatens to make our planet unliveable, these guys blithely oppose wilderness protection and try to re-cast dirty and destructive mining as the great and noble environmental protector and societal benefactor. Give us all a break. No one is buying it.

Kirby’s hostility to the government’s proposal to create a protected wilderness area at Archibald Lake because it would be “harmful” to the Cochrane Hill Gold Project and Atlantic Gold’s plans to open three new open pit mines on the Eastern Shore is, well, a bit awkward.

As reported here, back in 2008 Mark Parent, then Environment and Labour Minister, approved the Moose River mine, which had been proposed by DDV Gold that later morphed into Atlantic Gold. Parent did so with terms and conditions. One of these stated that the company had four years, until 2012, to submit a plan to the province to procure 256 hectares of high-biodiversity land equivalent to the size of the Crown land it was using for its gold mine. That land was then to be donated to the province for protected status.

Twelve years after that government directive, Atlantic Gold still hasn’t complied.  So the province still doesn’t have that piece of protected land that the company was to have donated to it.

That’s not something one is likely to find on MANS’ website, on its Facebook page, in the letters it is sending to Nova Scotia premier and government ministers, or in its Twitter feed.

Rather, you’ll probably find what I did as I was finishing up this article and decided check to see what MANS had been tweeting. There were pollyannaish messages about how wonderful modern gold mining is (one tweet “GOLD ESSENTIAL, CREATING JOBS” with a link to an Op-ed Kirby penned for the Pictou Advocate), how mining is helping to “save lives” in the age of COVID-19, and other threads depicting the history of gold in the province as if it were quaint, even romantic.

A couple of days ago, for instance, MANS tweeted about the discovery of gold in Cow Bay in the late 1800s, and invited MANS followers to read a thread about the history of gold mining in the area.

In response, @BigJMcC wrote:

We are in the middle of a pandemic. This is not the time for public relations campaigns. All that you are showing is how tone deaf your assoc. is.

Kirby, however, was undeterred, and retorted that if he didn’t like MANS’ tweets, he didn’t need to read them.

Perhaps not the best way to win hearts and mines over to mining in the frightening and very difficult age of COVID-19.


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Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter is an award-winning Nova Scotian journalist and author of seven books, including "The Mill: Fifty Years of Pulp and Protest." Website: www.joanbaxter.ca;...

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  1. Wayne O’Toole’s tweet sums up my feelings about/advice to Sean Kirby, so no point repeating it. He (Kirby that is) must have had his conscience surgically removed to be able to shill so shamelessly for such an industry during a pandemic.

    Great reporting as always from Joan Baxter.