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Quartz Mining Act 2003 (as amended)

Date Added: March 2020

Legal Risk Rating
Score: 62
Moderate Risk
Yukon’s mineral resources legislation is in need of updating. In 2003, the Yukon Act made changes to the territory’s legislative powers, providing the Government of Yukon with the power to make laws in relation to its natural resources - a power previously held by the federal government. Unfortunately, Yukon’s primary mining legislation, the Quartz Mining Act (QMA), suffers from several key issues. It is outdated, with many terms transitioned from older legislation, thus lacking consistency with the administrative changes brought about by the Yukon Act. It lacks clarity – as a result of vague terms and absent a comprehensive set of regulations. And it contains overly complex licensing processes, which provide too much discretion to decision makers. Collectively, these issues increase risk for those interested in mineral exploration and extraction in Yukon.

Regulatory Corruption Risk

Low Corruption Potential

Corruption Exposure Risk

Very Low Corruption Risk

Legal Risk Rating

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Mining Overview Commentary plus sign


Yukon is a territory located in the northwest of Canada, bordered by the Northwest Territories to the east, British Columbia to the south, the U.S. state of Alaska to the west and the Beaufort Sea to the north. It is one of the smallest provinces or territories in Canada by both size of population and land area. As a territory, Yukon’s government has not always had the same authority as the Canadian provinces, though a gradual process of devolution has been underway since the 1960’s. In 2002, the Yukon Act was passed, granting the territory the right to administer its natural resources, shifting the authority from the federal government.

Yukon has the second smallest economy by GDP in Canada, with public administration (23.9%); real estate (14.4%); construction (12.9%); health care and social assistance (9.1%); mining, quarrying and oil and gas (5.7%); and retail trade (5.5%), amongst the major industry contributors (Yukon Bureau of Statistics, 2018).

Yukon’s natural resources include gold, copper, zinc, lead, silver, uranium and nickel. According to the Yukon government, the territory is home to one of the world’s largest iron ore deposits. That being said, the territory’s mining industry has suffered in recent years, with a 32.1% decrease in GDP contribution between 2017-2018. Whilst exploration spend looked to be on the rise in 2017, reports from the Yukon government in 2019 suggested that spend had decreased by almost 50% from 2018. However, due to the opening of several gold mines in 2018-2019 and the potential for a new copper mine to be approved in the near future, economic forecasting for the territory’s mining industry going forward looks to be positive.


As noted above, since the passing of the Yukon Act, the regulation of the mining industry in Yukon is primarily the territorial government’s responsibility. The primary mining laws in Yukon are the Quartz Mining Act (QMA), which regulates hard rock exploration and mining; the Quartz Mining Land Use Regulation (QMLUR); Placer Mining Act (PMA), which regulates gold exploration and mining; the Quartz Mining Royalty Regulation (QMRR), which provides taxation terms for the industry; and the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act. There are also several relevant environmental statutes and regulations that affect mineral exploration and mining in Yukon including: the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Act (YESAA) and its accompanying regulations; the Waters Act; the Regulations and the Territorial Lands (Yukon) Act; and the Environment Act.   In addition, the Government of Yukon has published several guidance documents providing information on the licensing process and other topics relevant to mineral extraction.

Yukon’s Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) is responsible for managing the territory’s natural resource development. This department is led by the Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources (Minister). Under the terms of the QMA, powers are also given to the Commissioner of Yukon (Commissioner); mining recorders and inspectors; and the Chief of Mining Land Use (Chief) (see ss. 2(2) and 144-145, QMA). The Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB), established pursuant to the YESAA, also plays a vital role in the licensing process - assessing exploration and licensing applications and making recommendations to the EMR.


In Yukon, anyone over the age of 18 may “enter, locate, prospect, and mine for minerals” (s.12, QMA). Section 12, QMA also states that a qualified individual has the right to carry out such activities on: any vacant territorial lands and any lands in respect of which the right to enter, prospect, and mine for minerals is under the administration and control of the Commissioner.

The QMA provides for the following mineral rights:

Mineral Claim (Claim): A Claim is the first and most basic right. The holder is entitled to all minerals covered under the QMA that “lie within the boundaries of their claim continued vertically downwards” (s.50, QMA). A Claim is valid for one year, renewable on a year to year basis, subject to the holder meeting certain conditions (s.56(1), QMA). To make a Claim, a prescribed fee must be paid to the Mining Recorder to acquire claim tags and the area must be marked with two legal posts at “each extremity of the location line” (s.23, QMA). Once marked, an additional fee must be paid and the Claim recorded (s.41(1), QMA). In order to maintain a Claim, the holder must perform work on the land or make a payment in lieu of work (ss. 56 and 61, QMA). Note that in order to carry out exploration activities, the approval of an Exploration Programme is required (s. 132, QMA).

Quartz Lease (Lease): A Lease provides a more secure form of mineral tenure than a Claim. Claim holders are entitled to a Lease upon the granting and recording of a Certificate of Improvement, subject to the payment of prescribed fees (s.74, QMA). In order to obtain a Certificate of Improvement, the Mining Recorder must be satisfied that the criteria set out under section 70, QMA have been met. Some notable criteria include the need for a Claim to have been worked or payment in lieu of work made and for a vein or lode to have been found within the limits of a Claim. Leases are valid for an initial 21-year term, renewable for additional 21-years terms subject to the terms of section 103, QMA.  

In addition to these forms of mineral tenure, those wishing to carry out exploration activities must also provide notification of, or obtain approval for, an Exploration Programme or, for development and production activities, obtain a Mining Licence (Licence) (see ss. 129 et. seq., QMA). 

Exploration Programme: Approval of an Exploration Programme is required if a project proponent intends to disturb the land in a way outlined by the QMA and its regulations (ss.131 and 132, QMA). Programmes are classified based on the scale and size of the project, with classes ranging from 1 – 4. For classes of exploration 2-4, an assessment by the YESAB will be required.  The government has outlined some general requirements for Exploration Programmes in the form of minimum performance expectations in the QMLUR (Schedule 1).

In addition to minimum performance expectations, each class of Exploration Programme also has its own set of content requirements and approval processes.  

Class 1 Programmes

Class 1 Programmes may last up to 12 months. Proponents interested in engaging in a Class 1 Exploration Programme must provide a Notification to the government. The Notification has an extensive list of required information including:

  • Applicant’s details (contact information, etc.)
  • Claim status report
  • Map indicating camp location, work locations, and all proposed access locations
  • Start and end dates for the project
  • List of equipment and/or machinery to be used
  • Details of activities (structures, fuel storage, stripping, drilling, trenching, etc.)
  • Mitigation measures to reduce environmental and socio-economic impacts


The government will consult with affected First Nations but there will be no YESAA assessment required. Approval is at the discretion of the Chief. Class 1 Programmes will be subject to random inspections to ensure compliance with operating conditions.

Class 2 Programmes

As with Class 1 Programmes, Class 2 Programmes may last up to 12 months. Proponents interested in engaging in a Class 2 Exploration Programme must contact the Chief with their Notification application and necessary fees (see Schedule 2, QMLUR). The Class 2 Notification will require the following information:

  • Applicant’s details (name, contact information, etc.)
  • Details on the proposed Exploration Programme (location, size of camp, types of structures, usage of explosives, etc.)
  • Operating procedures being followed to mitigate adverse environmental effects of activities being undertaken


The Chief retains discretion to have an applicant resubmit as a Class 3 or 4 programme application if there are special public concerns. Class 2 Programmes are also subject to environmental assessment pursuant to YESAA (see Environmental Overview Commentary). Once the YESAA assessment is complete, EMR will issue a Decision Document accepting or rejecting the proposal. If the government has added additional terms, the applicant must accept these terms and update them in the Class 2 Notification. Once the Notification is finalised and submitted, the Chief will approve or reject the proposed project. This decision will turn on “whether the exploration program as described in the Notification will appropriately mitigate any adverse effects” (s. 8(1.1)(c), QMLUR).

Class 3 and 4 Programmes

Class 3 and 4 Programmes may last up to ten years. In addition to filing fees (Schedule 2, QMLUR), an Operating Plan/Application must be submitted with all Class 3 and 4 Programmes (s.9(1), QMLUR). This Operating Plan must be approved prior to the commencement of work. The Operating Plan will require some of the following details:

  • Applicant’s contact information
  • Location of operation
  • Operation workplan (including a chronological plan outlining all proposed activities and the dates of all work expected to be completed)
  • Description of the area (including labelled photographs, description of wildlife, vegetation, physiography and the geology of the area)
  • Description of all known waste materials in the area
  • Description of project activities (list of all equipment to be used, new/existing access routes, proximity to water, exploration drilling and trenching)
  • Measures to be taken to minimize negative effects of exploration and site preparation
  • Location of camp facilities
  • Waste management plan
  • Details of any discussions with First Nations and other stakeholders


A YESAA assessment will take place in addition to the application submitted to EMR. If the YESAA assessment is supportive of the Operating Plan, a Decision Document will be issued by the EMR accepting, rejecting or varying the YESAA recommendations. In issuing the Decision Document, the EMR will have to consider “scientific information, traditional knowledge and other information that is provided with the recommendation” (s.74(1), YESAA). In reaching a decision on the project, the Chief will apply the following test for approval - “whether the exploration program as described in the Operating Plan will appropriately mitigate any adverse effects” (s.9(2)(c), QMLUR). If YESAA recommendations and the Operating Plan are approved, the project may proceed. If exploration is expected to last longer than one year, an annual pre-season report – outlining the anticipated work for the upcoming year – will need to be submitted.

Quartz Mining Licence (Licence): Yukon’s legislation does not outline in great detail what needs to be included in a Licence application. The legislation states only that an application is required, and the Minister has the discretion to require a public consultation prior to issuing a Licence (s.135, QMA). The QMA also provides discretion to make regulations regarding licensing, but it does not appear that any have been made (s.135(5), QMA). 

The most reliable information available on the process comes from the Quartz Mining Licence Application Guide (QMLAG). The applicant must start by submitting a Letter of Intent requesting a Licence. The application itself is divided into two parts – Mine Development and Mine Construction.

Mine Development requires submission of two plans – a Reclamation and Closure Plan and a General Site Plan. The Reclamation and Closure Plan should contain information addressing how to minimise the likelihood of adverse environmental impacts. The General Site Plan should describe the objectives, plans and activities to be undertaken. Applicants should be prepared to provide information on any of the following that are relevant:

  • Transportation infrastructure (e.g. transportation requirements during site development including plans for upgrading or building roads)
  • Site layout and infrastructure construction (including a description of mine and camp set-up and fuel storage)
  • Environmental management plan (e.g. sediment and erosion control, environmental monitoring plan, emergency response plan, wildlife protection)
  • Plan addressing how to deal with protection of heritage resources
  • Worker’s health and safety plan


The Mine Construction portion of the application requires an explanation of the mining components to be used – more specifically, construction and operation plans relating to the type of mining proposed. These plans will vary depending on whether the project involves open pit or underground mining, for example. In any case, applicants should be prepared to provide some or all of the following information:

  • Planned mining approach
  • Pre-construction plans and drawings
  • Details on the equipment to be used
  • Organizational and management structure
  • Work schedule
  • Development plans
  • Description of extraction method
  • Environmental protection plan


If the EMR approves the proposed plan, it is likely a Licence will be issued and mine construction may begin. It is important to remember that these details are not outlined in the legislation but rather the government’s Licence Guide from 2010. It is critical for any project proponents to contact EMR for more up to date information on the approval process for Licences.


Financially, it is relevant to consider that security may be required when applying for an Exploration Programme or a Licence when “there is a risk of significant adverse environmental effect” (s.139(1), QMA).

Aboriginal treaty rights play a significant role in any land use or development in Canada. Specifically, Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution Act sets out the significance of treaty rights in the country. Section 130, QMA explicitly acknowledges the need to act in accordance with such Constitutional obligations. The screening process provided for under the YESSA explicitly requires consultations with affected First Nations throughout the life of the project. This screening process applies for all Licences and Exploration Programmes classified at levels 2 through 4.

A surface lease or land use permit may also be required to access a Mineral Claim. The QMA addresses surface rights on vacant territorial land (lands under the control of the Commissioner) in Section 79 and outlines that the Minster may grant the holder of a Claim the surface rights at a rate of one dollar per acre. The lease length cannot be longer than the duration of the underlying Lease.  If the surface rights are held by someone other than the Commissioner, Claim holders will have to reach an agreement regarding access with the lawful owner or occupier (see ss. 17 & 108, QMA). Disputes may be heard by the Yukon Surface Rights Board, pursuant to the Yukon Surface Rights Board Act.  

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Environmental Overview Commentary plus sign


Yukon is a territory of Canada in the northwest of the country, bordered by Alaska, British Columbia and the Northwest Territories. At 482,443 km2 Yukon, is around the size of Spain, yet its population is around one thousandth of the size at approximately 36,000 people - 26,000 of which live in the capital of Yukon, Whitehorse. The territory’s aboriginal groups constitute almost 23% of the total population.

Yukon’s geography is made of up of a number of mountains, lakes, rivers and forests. It is home to Canada’s highest mountain - Mount Logan (5,959m), with several other peaks exceeding 4,000 metres across the territory’s various mountain ranges. The Yukon river, third largest in North America, flows through the territory into Alaska. Around 57% of Yukon is covered by boreal forest, with black and white spruce trees common. The territory is home to over 200 species of wildflower. Yukon also houses a diverse collection of wild animals such as wolves, black bears, grizzly bears and caribou.

The territory’s climate is varied, although it does not experience much rain. Yukon’s subarctic climate results in long, cold winters and short warm summers.

Due to Yukon’s small population, the environment is fairly well preserved, with water and air quality above national standards. One of the most significant environmental challenges faced by the territory is that of climate change and the impact it has on Yukon’s land, water and animal life.


Environmental legislation in Canada is primarily the power of the provinces and territories but attracts federal oversight on certain matters. Whilst many of the provinces regulate environmental matters at the provincial level, the primary legislation applicable to environmental assessments in Yukon is federal - the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Act 2003 (YESAA). The YESAA was the result of a collaborative effort between the Council of Yukon First Nations, the Government of Yukon and Government of Canada. The Act establishes a single assessment process for evaluating the potential impacts of a development on the environment, people, communities and economy (Government of Canada). The Assessable Activities, Exceptions and Executive Committee Projects Regulation (Assessable Activities Regulation) and the Decision Body Time Periods and Consultation Regulation supplement the YESAA. Various rules and filing requirements also apply to the environmental assessment process. Other relevant legislation at the territorial level includes: the Quartz Mining Act (QMA); the Quartz Mining Land Use Regulation (QMLUR); the Environment Act (EA), which provides for the promotion of sustainable development and environmental management; the Solid Waste Regulation; the Air Emission Regulation; the Special Waste Regulation; and the Waters Act.

Under YESAA, the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board (YESAB) was established and as the responsible body for administering the environmental assessment process. The YESAB, via an Executive Committee or a Designated Office in the relevant assessment district, is responsible for carrying out the environmental assessment (s.50, YESAA). Yukon currently has six assessment districts, each with a Designated Office (s.20(1), YESAA). Once the environmental assessment has been conducted, the YESAB will make recommendations to the relevant decision body for the project, which shall have the ultimate authority over project approvals (s.2(1), YESAA). In the case of mineral activities this decision body will be the Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR). 

It should be noted that in 2019, a new federal statute, the Impact Assessment Act (IAA) came into effect, replacing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act 2012. The Act is overseen by the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change and the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada. Whilst the IAA will certainly impact mining activities throughout Canada due to federal assessment requirements, the IAA shall not apply to land under the control of the Commissioner of Yukon. As Yukon’s environmental assessment process is already federally regulated and given the exemption under the IAA, it is unlikely that the IAA will have a significant impact on mining projects in Yukon at this stage.


Schedules 1 and 3 of the Assessable Activities Regulation lists the mineral activities that are subject to assessment under YESAA. The majority of exploration activities will require some form of environmental assessment. All applications for a Mining Licence, a prerequisite to carry out exploitation activities, will also require an environmental assessment prior to the granting of the right.  This commentary will focus on the environmental assessment process. The other regulatory requirements for Exploration Programmes and Mining Licence applications are provided under the ‘Mining Overview Commentary’. 


The application of YESAA to exploration activities will depend on the class of Exploration Programme applicable to the project. Under the QMLUR, Exploration Programmes are classed as 1, 2, 3 or 4 - from least intrusive to most intrusive, depending upon the activities involved and the impact upon the land (see Table – ‘Exploration Program Class Criteria’, QMLUR). All mining exploration or production activities above the threshold of a Class 1 Programme will be subject to a YESAA assessment.

Class 2, 3 and 4 Programmes

Class 2, 3 and 4 Programmes require a YESAA assessment. The YESAA evaluation will be conducted by a Designated Office (DO) (see Schedule 1, Assessable Activities Regulations). Project proponents must complete the Project Proposal Form 1. Form 1 will require several pieces of information including:

  • Applicant’s contact information
  • Details of the proposed project and activities
  • Location of the project
  • List of affected First Nations
  • Purpose of the project
  • Description of all phases of the project (including details of planning, construction, operation and reclamation)
  • Details of the existing environmental and socio-economic conditions of the location and communities surrounding the planned project site
  • Identification of potential environmental and socio-economic effects and proposed mitigation measures (including positive and negative effects and the significance of residual effects)


The Project Proposal will require proponents to consider “any appropriate mitigative measures” and some of the following factors (s.42, YESAA):

  • Stages of the project or existing project
  • Significance of any future or present environmental or socio-economic effects of the project
  • Alternatives to the project that would avoid or minimise any significant adverse environmental or socio-economic effects


In carrying out its assessment the DO will consider whether the rules have been followed in completing the Project Proposal and will determine if any First Nations will be affected by the project. If there are no issues, the DO will then consult with First Nations and the public, as required (ss.42, 46 and 55(4), YESAA). Finally, they will evaluate the proposal in its entirety. Once the DO has completed its assessment, it will make a recommendation to the EMR as to whether or not the project should be allowed to proceed (s.56(1), YESAA). If the DO recommends that a project be allowed to proceed, it will do so on the basis that there will either be no “significant adverse environmental or socio-economic effects” or there will likely exist “significant adverse environmental or socio-economic” that can be mitigated by terms and conditions (s.56(1), YESAA). The DO will also have the option to refer the project to the Executive Committee (see below). The proponent will still have to wait on approval of the DO’s recommendations by the EMR before commencing its activities (see Mining Overview Commentary for further details). 



The environmental impact assessment for a Licence application will unfold similarly to the Exploration Programme assessments. Depending on the size of the project, the application will have to be submitted either to the Executive Committee (EC) or a DO. If the intention is to construct “a metal mine, other than a gold mine, with an ore production capacity of 1500 t/day or more” applicants will have to submit their Project Proposal to the EC. If this is the case, the approach will change in one significant aspect from that of the DO process – proponents will be required to consult with affected First Nations before submitting their proposal (see s.50(3), YESAA and government guidance documents). Once a proposal is received, the EC will discuss with regulatory agencies, government agencies and First Nations (s.57(4), YESAA). The EC has a list of “matters to be considered” (s. 42(1)(b),(c),(e),(h), YESAA):

  • all stages of the project or existing project
  • the significance of any environmental or socio- economic effects of the project or existing project that have occurred or might occur in or outside Yukon, including the effects of malfunctions or accidents
  • alternatives to the project or existing project, or alternative ways of undertaking or operating it, that would avoid or minimise any significant adverse environmental or socio-economic effects
  • the interests of residents of Yukon and of Canadian residents outside Yukon


The EC must consider the proposal in conjunction with the list of matters (50(3), YESAA). Following the assessment, the EC will either recommend that the project proceed with or without terms and conditions, that the project be rejected without review or that the project be reviewed. As with Exploration Programmes, the EMR shall have the ultimate authority to approve or reject a project.

Compliance with Environmental Act

Throughout the proposal, exploration and production stages of a project, the programme or plan will have to comply with the Environment Act and its accompanying regulations. Compliance will be a factor in the proposal stage when identifying environmental effects and mitigation measures. Some regulations that will be triggered by mining activities include the Solid Waste Regulations, Special Waste Regulations and the Air Emissions Regulations. Mining projects may require a permit prior to commencing work or, at a minimum, will have to comply with the EA. More importantly, operating plans, part of the licensing application process, will require environmental plans (see Plan Requirement Guidance).

Water Licences

A Water Licence will be necessary for all activities proposing to use more than 300m3 of water per day (Schedule 7 of Waters Regulation). Please note that there are several other criteria that are involved in determining the need for a Water Licence. Class 4 Exploration Programmes and any projects requiring a Mining Licence will largely require a Water Licence.

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