Open-pit uranium mining near Wollaston Lake, Saskatchewan. Photo: SkyTruth/Flick

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Despite opposition from residents in the northern Saskatchewan village of Pinehouse, a controversial “collaboration agreement” has been signed, committing Pinehouse to support uranium giants Cameco and Areva’s mining operations in the region in exchange for monetary payments and promises of preferential workforce and business development opportunities in Pinehouse.

The agreement between Pinehouse, the Kineepik Metis Nation of Saskatchewan Local #9, and Cameco and Areva was signed in Pinehouse at a December 12 ceremony, despite the fact that most residents had seen only a summary of the agreement, and many were opposed to controversial terms which they said amounted to a “gag order” on opposition to expanded uranium mines in the area.

The morning before the agreement was finalized, residents called for a delay in the signing of the agreement to give adequate time for legitimate consultation. Pinehouse resident John Smerek said, “There are a lot of questions about the agreement in the community, and we’re being told that a confidentiality clause means we can’t get the answers we need from our administration. To us, it’s a simple issue of democracy. People have a right to see what’s in an agreement before it’s signed, not after. But even though we’ve asked to see the agreement and to have input, the residents here have been totally shut out of the process.”

Despite the agreement being signed, there are indications that the fightback in the community was successful in removing some of the more egregious terms contained in the original summary document shown to residents on November 13.

That summary, which Cameco’s Gary Merastry claimed was not a accurate reflection of the agreement in a December 14 interview on CBC’s As It Happens (despite evidence to the contrary outlined later in the show), included terms which aimed to silence voices opposed to expanded uranium development. It stated that Pinehouse would promise to “Not make statements or say things in public or to any government, business agency that opposes Cameco/Areva’s mining operations” and “Make reasonable efforts to ensure Pinehouse members do not say or do anything that interferes with or delays Cameco/Areva’s mining, or do or say anything that is not consistent with Pinehouse’s promises under the Collaboration Agreement.”

While the agreement still commits Pinehouse to fully support the corporations, the “gag order” terms aimed at silencing opposing voices have been removed in the final 63-page text that was released for the first time after being signed, and replaced with the frequently occurring phrase, “For the avoidance of doubt, nothing in this Article, or in any other term of this Agreement, shall prevent Pinehouse or any of its Residents from raising any concerns of any kind in respect of the Operations or Future Operations in any forum or to any entity whatsoever.”

Another term revealed in the summary document that was released by Pinehouse officials to residents in mid-November stated that “Under the Collaboration Agreement, Pinehouse is expected to fully support Cameco/Areva’s mining,” including existing operations, proposed projects, and, incredibly, even future operations. While the final agreement still commits Pinehouse to fully support present and proposed operations, the commitment to support operations that haven’t even been proposed yet has likewise undergone some changes, now stating (with some exceptions), “The Parties acknowledge that this Agreement does not create any obligations between the Parties in respect of Future Operations.”

In return for its support, Pinehouse receives an up-front payment of $1 million, additional payments of $500,000 after the Cigar Lake mine begins production, $500,000 after construction of the Milennium mine begins, and annual payments depending on production levels of between $200,000 and $1 million. For comparison, according to Cameco’s April 4, 2012 management information circular (available online in Cameco’s online financial disclosure documents), Cameco CEO Tim Gitzel’s total compensation in 2011 was $6,651,250 (p. 91).

So while the campaign to have the signing of the agreement delayed until residents were appropriately consulted on the terms was ultimately unsuccessful, the residents’ fight — which gained international attention and support from as far away as Germany, the U.K., and Australia — seems to have successfully forced Cameco, Areva, and Pinehouse to back down on some of the terms which residents were most opposed to.

And residents say the fight isn’t over yet. Residents and their supporters are analyzing the agreement and are still considering whether to proceed with a court injunction to stop implementation of the agreement.

For updates and more information on opposition in Pinehouse to the agreement, visit the Committee for Future Generations.

Scott Harris is the Council of Canadians’ Prairies Regional Organizer.

Photo: SkyTruth/Flickr