De Beers threatens legal action over Attawapiskat blockades

Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence during a ceremony for her in Ottawa Jan 24 2013.



ATTAWAPISKAT, ON - De Beers officials are getting fed up with repeated illegal blockades of the winter road leading to the Victor diamond mine.

Since the road opened 13 days ago, blockades have prevented supplies and equipment from being delivered for nine days.

After resolving a blockade that began early last week, another one started up this week.

On Tuesday, De Beers Canada representatives met with Attwapiskat First Nation Chief Theresa Spence, "to deliver a formal letter to chief and council stating that if the community does not take immediate action to remove the current illegal blockade of the winter road ... we will pursue all options at our disposal, including legal action," said Tom Ormsby, the company's director of external and corporate affairs.

Ormsby said after meeting with Spence, company officials delivered a formal letter to those blocking the road, warning the company will explore legal options. At last report, the blockade remained in place.

While the mine continues to operate at full capacity, Ormsby said the disruptions pose a threat to the mine's future.

The road generally provides a 45-day window to deliver supplies and equipment needed by the mine for the next 12 months.

Ormsby said the disruptions pose a threat to those supplies and are adding costs, which could have severe consequences on the mine's future. These supplies include vehicles, equipment, oil and fuel.

"It's critical that we complete the program," Ormsby said. "If we don't then there will likely be economic impacts on the mine and they will then cascade out to the communities because we use local suppliers, we use local employees. And if the mine is impacted, everybody is impacted."

The added costs don't help at a time when De Beers is exploring the economic feasibility of extending the life of the mine.

The mine is in its fifth year of operation and is expected to continue until 2018.

Ormsby said it is frustrating because the blockades are avoidable and often spurred by matters not directly within De Beers' control or responsibility.

Sometimes it's someone who was dismissed wants to be rehired, or they feel they are owed money from a contractor or they are not being compensated properly for their trap line.

"Under the terms of the IBA, (Impact Benefit Agreement) it is the responsibility of the community to redirect monies as they deem appropriate for those whose trap lines are impacted by the Victor mine," Ormsby said. "Regarding claims for compensation from contractors or other third-party service providers, those claims need to be directed to those companies or organizations."

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