Agnico Eagle sends home Nunavut workers as Rankin Inlet residents blockade road

Residents of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, took to the streets Wednesday evening, blockading a road to a nearby gold mine in an attempt to stop operations amid fears of the COVID-19 pandemic.

After a plane landed in the community Wednesday filled with workers set to go to the Meliadine gold mine, residents blocked the road to the mine with vehicles, forcing employees to turn back. 

Another protest started Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. local time. 

However, earlier on Thursday, Agnico Eagle announced that it would be sending home its Nunavut-based workforce from both its Meliadine and Meadowbank mines — Meadowbank is located near the community of Baker Lake — for four weeks, effective immediately.

Every time, before sending someone to the town, we run communication with the hamlet.– Dominique Girard,  Agnico’s vice-president of Nunavut operations

“We value our relationship with the people of Nunavut and are committed to do what is best for the health, safety and well-being of all our employees and the communities”, Sean Boyd, Agnico Eagle’s chief executive officer, said in the release. 

“This precautionary measure is being implemented in order to eliminate the potential risk of transmission of COVID-19 from a southern worker to a Nunavut worker, with the risk of it moving into the communities.”

According to the release, Nunavut employees on site will be returned home, and those off-site will not return. All will continue to receive their regular pay. 

An file photo of the Meliadine project. Dominique Girard, Agnico Eagle’s vice president of Nunavut operations, says that all southern mine employees will not come into contact with the nearby community of Rankin Inlet. (Agnico Eagle)

The mining company will also meet with Nunavut-based contractors in order to discuss similar measures with their Nunavummiut workers. 

“Things are evolving, and we took the best precautionary measure we could take to protect the employees as well as the community,” Dominique Girard, Agnico Eagle’s vice-president of Nunavut operations, told CBC.

“We had to fast track the decision making process following the blockade yesterday on the road. But everything was aligned in that direction.”

Employees will not come into contact with community

The release also states that senior management from Agnico Eagle will meet Thursday with representatives from Rankin Inlet and Baker Lake, as well as the Kivalliq Inuit Association, government of Nunavut, and other stakeholders, in order to review the company’s pandemic plan.

Girard said these meetings have been ongoing since the start of the pandemic, and they continue to share their pandemic planning with the territory’s chief public health officer.

The mine screens employees before they board planes to head north, he said, taking temperatures and having them fill out questionnaires. Anyone with risk factors or showing symptoms is not allowed to board.

Girard also noted that southern mine employees do not have contact with the community — after landing in Rankin Inlet, they travel straight from a plane to a bus, and straight to the mine site. In Baker Lake, employees are flown directly to the mine site. 

Some employees have come to town from time to time to purchase supplies, a practice that Girard says has currently stopped. 

“Since the beginning of the week, we’ve minimized that,” he said. “Every time, before sending someone to the town, we run communication with the hamlet, the mayors, to say here’s who’s going to town, and why. But for now, there is zero.”

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