Quebec’s COVID-19 measures force Agnico Eagle to reduce operations in Nunavut

“We plan to maintain a state of operational readiness in order to resume normal operations,” CEO says

An aerial view of Agnico Eagle’s Meliadine gold mine site, just outside Rankin Inlet. Activities here and at the company’s Meadowbank mine will be reduced, the company said on Tuesday, March 24. (File photo)

By Jane George

Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. says it will reduce activities at its Meliadine and Meadowbank gold mining operations in Nunavut after Quebec ordered a “pause” on all non-essential businesses during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Our Nunavut mines will be operating at reduced levels,” said Sean Boyd, Agnico Eagle’s CEO, in a company release sent out late on Tuesday evening.

“Even with the reduction in mining activities, we plan to maintain a state of operational readiness in order to resume normal operations in a timely and safe manner once the restrictions are lifted.”

The company’s move came after Quebec ordered all non-essential businesses to shut down until April 13.

This order meant Agnico Eagle had to put its operations in the Abitibi region of Quebec into care and maintenance and to reduce activities at its gold mines in Nunavut, which are currently serviced out of Mirabel and Val d’Or in Quebec.

On Tuesday, Nunavik’s Raglan mine also announced it was heading into care and maintenance.

In Nunavut, Agnico Eagle employs between 800 and 900 workers each week at its Meadowbank and Amaruq gold mines near Baker Lake and some 600 workers each week at its Meliadine gold mine near Rankin Inlet.

Between 400 and 500 of these employees are Inuit.

Affected employees will continue to receive their base remuneration through April 13, the company said on Tuesday.

At Meliadine, Agnico Eagle said it is evaluating how to continue limited underground activity and milling operations. Existing ore stockpiles at Meliadine are sufficient to support milling activity for about 40 days, the company said.

At Meadowbank, the focus will be on the continued ramp-up of maintenance activities and water management, as needed for the upcoming spring melt, the company said.

“These activities at both Nunavut mines are expected to position the company to achieve a timely and safe ramp-up of normal operations once all restrictions are lifted,” its release said.

There have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 at Agnico Eagle’s Abitibi or Nunavut operations or at any of its global operations.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Agnico Eagle let Nunavut workers go home on March 19.

Agnico Eagle also took measures at its Nunavut mines to separate Inuit communities from its southern employees, to help address concerns about the potential spread of the new coronavirus.

But many in Rankin Inlet, located near the Meliadine mine site, continued to worry about the traffic in and out of the mine from Quebec, even after Nunavut said transient mine workers were not subject to the quarantine measures announced on March 23.

“This is the right step to take,” Rankin Inlet North–Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie told Nunatsiaq News after learning of Agnico Eagle’s decision to scale back its Nunavut operations.

“Human lives are way more important that the gold.”

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(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by Kivalliqmiut on

    It is incredibly disheartening that both the Inuit Organizations and The government of Nunavut wait to have the Quebec government slow this down instead of doing it themselves. It puts an overwhelming number of people in Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet at risk. This on top of not being able to provide care prior to the pandemic shows what these organizations care for.

  2. Posted by Pujjuut Manitok on

    Yes, it’s not right to put so many people at risk, the PM of Canada acted way too late, and thus Nunavut health officials MP’s and Government didn’t take this seriously. Health care facilities have a limited ability to handle an outbreak in Nunavut, by the time they find 1, it will be too late.

    • Posted by Too simple on

      It’s doubtful that Canada has responded quickly enough to this, but I don’t know for sure. At the same time, I don’t know how the PM’s response can be blamed for officials in Nunavut being asleep at the wheel either. It seems like only days ago our Minister of Health was telling us that keeping coronavirus out of Nunavut would be as simple as washing our hands. We’ll see about that too.

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