Darryl Stretch has his Howard Beale
Like the ranting fictional TV
anchorman, emotion can get the better of the president of Solid Gold Resources when he discusses the exploration standstill at his Lake
Abitibi gold play in northeastern Ontario.
The 25-year industry veteran admits to
not being very polished, media-wise, in explaining his gloves-off
approach in fighting to resume drilling at his Legacy Gold Project, a
200-square-kilometre property near the Quebec border that the junior
miner has held since 2007.
“Everything we do in life is a
double-edged sword,” said Stretch, whose torrent of colourful press
releases attacking the province, the courts and First Nations as
being “bullies,” “tyrants,” and speaking with “forked
tongues” is the kind of vitriol that would make his company
radioactive to investors.
“Even though I have a pretty
pathetic-looking stock price (at $0.035 on the TSX Venture Exchange
in mid-August), most of my shareholders are pretty comfortable with
what I’m doing. We’ve been left with no alternative.”
His temper flared last January when an
Ontario Superior Court upheld an injunction by the nearby Wahgoshig First Nation and the company was ordered to stop exploration for 120
days. The court ruled that the junior miner made a “wilful effort
not to consult” with the community despite provincial requests to
do so since 2009.
The First Nation claims the area in
question holds significant cultural and archaeological value.
Justice Carol Brown ordered Solid Gold
and the Ontario government to pay for a third-party mediator to begin
a consultation process with the First Nation.
In appealing the decision, Stretch
argues that the Ontario government delegated its duty to consult and
accommodate onto his company, something it legally can’t do, citing
a 2004 Supreme Court of Canada decision, Haida Nation v. British
With exploration shut down and no money
flowing in, Solid Gold is also suing the Ontario government for $100
million in damages.
“If it comes to the point where they
make us give up all that 200-square kilometres, I expect it will be
considerably more than that,” said Stretch.
Stretch said Solid Gold is sandwiched
in the middle of a long-running turf battle between the First Nation
and the government over access to Crown land.
Some in the industry silently cheer him
on, while others wince. But Stretch is content to make as much noise
as possible, even choosing to picket the First Nations.
“We decided to take a page from the
First Nations’ playbook and speak out.”
On the opening day of the Assembly of
First Nations’ annual general assembly mid-July, Stretch read aloud
a statement outside the Metro Toronto Convention Centre as delegates
filed past. He accused the government of looking the other way while
First Nations impose a fee on industry and Canadians to access Crown
“I think the other half of Canada has
to start standing up for its own rights too because we’ve been
taking it on the chin and allowing First Nations to interrupt
commerce in this country.”
Stretch said for some small juniors
with sizeable and valuable properties, it’s difficult to speak out,
and more expedient just to cut a secret deal with First Nations to
get access to their claims.
Stretch said Wahgoshig representatives
demanded that he pay $100,000 to do an archaeological study on the
property during a heated meeting last fall. Band officials were not
available for comment.
“I need to have the comfort that the
Crown is standing up for my rights.”
Stretch is now calling on the province
to demonstrate to the court that it’s met its duty to consult with
Wahgoshig. He gave them a deadline of Aug. 18.
“I’m hoping the government will
come forward with their declaration. Failing that, I will be asking
the government to buy me out.”
Conflict with First Nations is part of
what Ontario Prospectors Association executive director Garry Clark
calls the “perform storm” in a less-than-stellar year for
The global commodities super-cycle has
slowed, making it tough for junior miners to raise exploration
capital, and the Ontario government is slow in rolling out its plans
and permits revisions to the Mining Act, which affect First Nation
The lack of a provincial consultation
framework has created a minefield for exploration firms working on
First Nation court challenges,
Aboriginal mining moratoriums, and a Ring of Fire ‘evictions list’
from the Matawa chiefs have caused a hardening of attitudes among
prospectors and exploration firms that’s having an economic impact.
“It’s causing people to leave the
province,” said Clark, adding most of the Thunder Bay-based junior
miners are raising money and concentrating on projects outside of
Ontario. One Vancouver mining executive told Clark in July that there
are “too many problems in Ontario and until you solve them, we can
go work in other places.”
The OPA is still doing damage control
from a less-than-flattering national media portrayal last spring of
Miners United, an ad-hoc group of frustrated prospectors and junior
miners upset over government indecision on policy and consultation.
The over-the-top rhetoric and media
coverage of land conflicts with First Nations does little to enhance
the general public's perception of the industry, said Clark
“It think it makes us look like a
bunch of buffoons. It makes it look like there's nothing good
happening, and makes it look like you can't work in Ontario.”
Clark said there are many Aboriginal
bands and tribal councils in the Far North, along the north shore of
Lake Superior, and in mining camps like Sudbury and Timmins that have
embraced the industry.
“We want to get on the land, and a
lot of First Nations want us on the land, but we don't have any sign
posts or template to do the consultation. We're just stumbling around
in the dark and make errors and cause bad feelings because we do
things we didn't know were going to be offensive.”
Clark said the upcoming Mining Act
changes mean more paperwork for industry, but he is hopeful First
Nations at large will buy-in.
“If it works, great, but if it
doesn't, then it's a waste of our time and it'll scare more people