A ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal may be the final chapter in the 14-year saga of Strateco Resources’ Matoush uranium project.
On January 14, the panel of three judges in the case unanimously ruled against Strateco’s appeal of a lower court decision in which it sought close to $200 million in damages from the Quebec government for rejecting the company’s proposed uranium mine 210 km northeast of Mistissini.
Prospecting for the project began in 2006, but in 2013, when the company sought permission to build the active mine, the Quebec environment ministry cited Cree “social acceptability” as one of the factors in its decision to refuse permission to proceed.
The corporation took the province to court seeking claiming $182,684,575 for lost investments and $10 million in punitive damages.
The Cree Nation Government was an intervener in both court actions.
“Any time the interpretation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement or the interpretation of Cree rights is brought to court, we have a standing policy that we will intervene in that case,” said CNG Executive Director Cree Bill Namagoose. “We are the ones best suited to protect our rights and our track record proves that.”
Strateco received $4 million in interim financing from Third Eye Capital to continue its legal battle in November 2015.
In 2017, Quebec Superior Court Judge Denis Jacques rejected Strateco’s claim. Now, with the highest court in Quebec siding with the defendant, Strateco has no other options but to take the case to the Supreme Court of Canada, or cut their losses.
When the Nation reached out to Strateco President and CEO Guy Hébert, following the dismissal, he said he would not be commenting on the matter until a decision had been made on whether or not to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court.
Namagoose was quick to state that if and when the decision is made to take the case to the Supreme Court, the Cree would again act as interveners.
“In the commercial world, when you invest in a mine, you risk your investment,” he observed. “Why should the taxpayer be on the hook for that?”
With the long, drawn-out legal process now coming closer to a final resolution, Namagoose commended the community opposition to the mine.
“The marches and publicity the people of Mistissini and the youth brought to the issue was integral,” he said. “You still have to be strategic and legal, but if you don’t have people protesting, your legal case is much weaker.”
Former Mistissini Youth Chief Shawn Iserhoff remembered the fight against Strateco as one that catalyzed the community. “It showed that the more we stand together, the more power we have as people,” he told the Nation.
“In the early days, Strateco didn’t think of the Cree youth as much of a threat,” Iserhoff remembered. “But as we continued to rally against them, they went from completely ignoring our voice to asking to work with us.”
“We hope that companies with [uranium] claims in Eeyou Istchee will now leave,” added Namagoose. “They’ve been watching the Strateco case and I think they’ve learnt that uranium mining companies should not tangle with the Cree Nation Government.”
Namagoose concluded that the government and court decisions in this case demonstrated growing Cree influence over resource-extraction projects in the territory.
“Back 40 to 50 years ago the Crees were victims of development,” he said. “This decision shows that we have to be consulted and be participants in development in Eeyou Istchee.”