Adoption of Mining Standards: an ounce of prevention is worth a tonne of regulatory pain


Richard Butler, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP; Victoria Chai, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP

Canada is a global leader in advocating for safe and sustainable mining practices.  There are multiple organizations with different standards / best practices available to mining companies helping mining and exploration companies adopt beneficial approaches to social, economic and environmental issues commonly faced by the mining industry.  For example: the Canadian Institute of Mining Metallurgy and Petroleum’s ‘Best Practice Guidelines for Mineral Processing’, the Mining Association of Canada’s ‘Towards Sustainable Mining’ program, and the International Council on Mining & Metals’ Statement on ‘Preventing Catastrophic Failure of Tailings Storage Facilities’. Adopting voluntary standards can benefit companies by improving performance, competitiveness, investor confidence, and accountability. Meeting international or national standards can also be of great assistance when operational mistakes occur.  Incidents such as the Mt. Polley tailings breach, or the Syncrude tailings pond kills are reminders of the Environmental risks of mining.  When accidents happen, causing adverse environmental effects, mining and exploration companies may be prosecuted by the Provincial and Federal government, or be subject to civil lawsuits.  Implementing standards may assist companies to establish a defence to a prosecution or to meet the standard of care in civil lawsuits.  For instance, demonstrating at trial that a mine implemented a third-party verified system to prevent accidents, and was exceeding industry best practices, can assist the company to establish that it exercised due diligence.  This presentation and article will explore the advantages to mining and exploration companies (either working or based in Canada) of adopting standards, including how these standards can help get companies out of trouble.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, or even a tonne of regulatory agony.