Skip to content

Environmental, human rights questions shadow Hope Bay mine sale

Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on the implications of a potential sale of TMAC Resources, operators of the Hope Bay gold mine, to Chinese-owned Shandong Gold Mining. The first part can be found here:

TMAC Resources negotiated a mineral exploration agreement with land claims organization Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and a series of deals with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association (KIA), including a 20-year Inuit Impact and Benefit Agreement in 2015.

Even if Chinese-owned Shandong Gold Mining takes over operations at Hope Bay, the land will continue to be Inuit-owned and “stringent” regulatory licences and permits will remain in place, says Alex Buchan, TMAC Resources’ vice-president of corporate social responsibility.
photo courtesy of TMAC Resources

“All those agreements will stay in place” if Shandong Gold Mining buys out TMAC Resources, said Alex Buchan, TMAC’s vice-president of corporate social responsibility.

Asked whether the change in ownership at the Kitikmeot’s Hope Bay gold mine would open the door to renegotiating the KIA’s agreements as the Qikiqtani Inuit Association did in 2018 with Baffinland Iron Mines and again earlier this year with an Inuit Certainty Agreement – commanding a rising royalty rate, more jobs and training and even daycare provisions for workers’ children – Buchan tapped the brakes on such an idea.

“No, I don’t believe so,” he said. “In 2015, when we negotiated these sets of agreements with the Kitikmeot Inuit Association and then with Nunavut Tunngavik … the term of those agreements was 20 years, and we’re basically five years down the road from that.”

Although Buchan said TMAC has been in “continual communication” with the KIA during this proposed sale, the Kitikmeot Inuit organization has repeatedly refused public comment on the pending deal. Buchan wouldn’t offer comment on where the KIA stands or whether its silence is cause for concern.

“We can’t really speak for the KIA or for Inuit,” he said.

Likewise, Mark Wall, CEO of Streamers Gold – a Canadian subsidiary of Shandong that would oversee operations at Hope Bay on behalf of Shandong – wouldn’t speculate on whether the federal government would require a national security review for a Chinese proponent to take control of TMAC Resources and its assets, including Hope Bay, and whether a national security review might jeopardize the transaction.

“The government process is taking its course,” Wall said repeatedly, acknowledging that Covid-19 is posing complications at various levels. “The government will proceed on the timeline that the government chooses.”

Environmental concerns

Among the online comments from Nunavummiut and others regarding a potential Shandong Gold Mining takeover of TMAC Resources are recurring concerns that environmental damage could occur and that because the company is Chinese, it may pull up stakes without following through on clean-up efforts.

Wall, who worked with Shandong previously in South America, said his experience has shown him that the Chinese company is “very focused on environment, health, safety and sustainability.”

“For me, it’s front and centre and absolutely critical … as well as to Shandong,” Wall said.

Buchan added the Hope Bay mining operation is on Inuit-owned land and it’s highly regulated, including oversight from Inuit organizations.

“The ownership of the land is not subject to this deal,” he said. “In order for any (mining company) to move forward at Hope Bay, the licences and permits that are in place – and subject to review, amendment and renewal as the project move forward in development – are very stringent and will remain so.”

Some critics also discourage doing business with China, and its state-owned companies, because that country is holding two Canadians – Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig – as political prisoners. In addition, there are many who denounce China for its human rights record with its own citizens, including the holding of more than one million Uighurs, of Muslim faith, in detention centres.

Buchan said those issues are unconnected to the business at hand.

“We’re miners, we’re not politicians or national leaders or whatnot,” he said. “My interaction with Shandong Gold is that they’re a professional, respectful group of industry people. Many, including Mark (Wall) have Canadian and international experience. This is a commercial transaction. It’s very hard, if not impossible, to comment on those larger issues that are beyond the scope of this business deal.”

Wall reiterated that Shandong is the best candidate to optimize the assets at Hope Bay, which could be “multi-generational” in terms of their lifespan.

“What they need is long-term, patient capital that is prepared to be invested by a major mining company to allow this district to be a very good producing asset for a long time. We at Shandong see that opportunity,” Wall said.