One of the hottest topics on the sidelines of the recent Manitoba Mining and Minerals Convention in Winnipeg was the provincial lawsuit launched by two prospectors against the Manitoba government for allegedly failing in its “duty to consult” with the Manto Sipi Cree First Nation community near the duo’s mineral claims, which effectively ruined their business.
The statement of claim filed in October by Manitoba prospectors James Campbell in Winnipeg and Peter Dunlop in The Pas may stem from a bureaucratic nightmare that directly impacts only a handful of people, but it’s the kind of conflict that is becoming all too common across Manitoba and Canada.
For that reason, the plaintiffs say they have drawn sympathy and moral support from mining industry professionals and associations across Manitoba and beyond.
The lawsuit centres around Campbell and Dunlop’s Godslith lithium claims in the Gods Lake region of northeastern Manitoba. While the ground had seen earlier exploration by companies such as Inco, Dunlop staked the ground in 1988 and transferred it to Campbell in 2004, who in turn optioned it to Golden Virtue Resources (formerly named First Lithium Resources) in 2009.
As a public company based in Vancouver, Golden Virtue then raised $1.3 million, with the funds intended to be used to explore Godslith for its budding lithium potential. The company was granted a “Mineral Exploration Licence” in September 2010.
So far, so good, right? Well, five years after the option deal was struck, absolutely nothing has happened on the ground at the property because no work permits have been granted by the provincial government. Golden Virtue drifted away in March 2013, giving up its option without ever having a chance to spend money on the ground or make option payments to the prospectors. (The government has at least repeatedly extended the deadlines for completing work needed to keep the claims in good standing.)
In a phone interview, Campbell blames the Manitoba government’s Mines Branch for dragging its heels in carrying out its obligations under the provincial Mines and Minerals Act to consult with local First Nations. He wants the provincial government to admit that it has carried out a de facto expropriation through its chronic delays.
The Manitoba government has yet to respond to the lawsuit with a full statement of defence, but after so many wasted years, the plaintiffs would obviously prefer compensation rather than a drawn-out court case.