Canadian Diamonds

By Alyssa on August 24, 2012 at 6:14 pm

Picture Canada. What comes to mind? Perhaps the vast boreal forests, or crystal clear lakes reflecting stars from unpolluted skies, or maybe the herds of caribou leaping across the tundra–not to mention the maple leaves and hockey, of course. Like their country of origin, Canadian diamonds have a pristine image. They are considered one of the most ethical and environmentally conscious choices for diamonds, the truly conflict-free alternative to African diamonds. They are also one of the most expensive diamonds on the market. So, is it worth it? We have written up the main pros and cons below so that you can form your own opinion, and if you are shopping for a diamond, feel more empowered to choose a diamond that’s right for you.

There are six diamond mines in Canada, including the Diavik Mine, Ekati Mine, Snap Lake Mine, and Gahcho Kue Mine Project in the Northwest Territories; the Jericho Mine in Nunavut; and the Victor Mine in Ontario. The three transnational mining companies that run the Canadian diamond industry are Rio Tinto, BHP, and to a smaller degree, De Beers. While these companies have a history associated with exploitation of people and lands, the issues of the diamond industry have since been exposed and today these companies are under a lot of pressure to invest heavily in ethical practices. We offer Canadian diamonds that come from the Diavik, Ekati, Snap Lake, and Victor mines in the Northwest Territories and Ontario. We are only able to source Canadian diamonds that are .50ct and higher, and because of the limited supply we are not necessarily able to guarantee the exact color and clarity requested by a customer, but we’ll do our best!


View of the Diavik Mine

The type of mining that occurs in Canada is open-pit–the safest type of mining for workers in developed countries. The Canadian Diamonds we offer come with a Canadian origin certification, either a Canadian Rocks, CanadaMark™, Arctic Ice, Canadian Origin, or Arctic Fox certification, which not only ensures its Canadian origin, but also that the diamond has been responsibly cut and polished in approved facilities in Canada, India, China, or Belgium. Some of our Canadian diamonds are also Jeweltree Certified, which ensure the most stringent mining, cutting, and polishing standards, and are cut and polished only in Jeweltree-approved facilities in India that offer fair wages and the same standards for working conditions as EU and US facilities. Many of the human rights abuses in the diamond industry happen in the cutting process, involving dangerous working environments, low pay, and more. In facilities where workers are not well trained and appropriate equipment is not available, cutting can be very dangerous, and it is not uncommon for workers to develop silicosis from inhaling diamond dust. [2]

Additionally, there remain some countries where the diamond industry continues to fund wars and terrorism, sometimes through forced payments to the militia (you can read more about conflict and blood diamonds here). [2] This is not something a purchaser of a Canadian diamond would have to worry about.

As with almost everything we consume, there is an environmental cost, and even the most ethical diamonds are no exception. But within that, Canadian diamond mines are required to follow the strict environmental regulations of the Canadian government–the highest environmental standards in the mining world. [2] From their beginnings, the Canadian diamond mining companies were dedicated to maintaining conscientious practices, which is particularly important in this region because the mines exist in very delicate ecosystems. The animals that inhabit those ecosystems include caribou, arctic fox, bald eagles, wolverines, ptarmigans, grizzly and polar bears, and fish, among others, and some of those species are endangered. As is the case in most of the world, the federal and local environmental laws are inadequate to fully protect the environment from long-term and cumulative environmental effects from such activities as mining. [3] [2] But efforts have been made in the Canadian diamond industry to lessen the impact through comprehensive environmental stewardship practices and community involvement. Canadian diamond mining is setting the standard not only for the diamond industry, but for many different sectors of manufacturing and extracting industries. [4] All this is not to say that the environmental impact is not a concern—the mines inevitably have a negative impact on their immediate environments. Kerin Jacobs of The Raw Stone talks openly about these impacts in an interview I did with her a couple of months ago (you can read it here). She says that the beautiful wilderness of northern Canada now has several deep mines that have been found to disrupt the ecosystem. [1] When the ecosystem is affected, local communities are also impacted.

As Jacobs explains in our interview, the origin of Canadian diamond mines was a free-for-all that started in the early 1980’s just after diamonds were discovered in northern Canada. Because the land was unclaimed, companies flew planes low over the land and dropped flags wherever there was promise of diamonds. The government acknowledged the person who dropped the flag as the owner of that land. What these companies and the government didn’t consider was that while the land had been previously unmarked, it had been inhabited for hundreds of years by indigenous people. In the mid to late 1990’s, the companies desiring mining rights promised jobs and income to local communities, hastily having them sign agreements, and excavating the land that people have lived off of for many generations. Overtime, both the benefits and drawbacks of the mines became clearer.

There was a recent incident at the Victor Mine (owned by DeBeers), where mining sewage was released into the neighboring land of the Cree community. It leaked into the basements of their homes, and polluted their soil and water with heavy metals that are unearthed during the mining process. Not only were their homes damaged, but the Cree rely on fish from the streams and food grown on the land as sustenance, and the fish were now contaminated with heavy metals. [4]


Mackenzie River, Northwest Territories

Marc Choyt of Fair Jewelry Action interviewed Tracey Williams, a trustee for the Canadian National Parks and Wilderness Society, on this issue. Williams explained, “The mines are not directly adjacent to the daily community life, yet the environmental impacts to their traditional lands, in their watersheds, are felt; people still use and eat food harvested from the land. Concern over environmental degradation of their land causes considerable real stress to all members of the community.” Many of the members of these communities work at the mines, so as is often the case, the relationship between the mines and local communities is complicated and messy. Economic dependency has been created between the mines and local communities, which may not benefit them in the ways they need. About this, Williams says that “In most cases, what they are getting now is too little, particularly with BHP–the Ekati Mine.” [5]

At the same time, between 2006 and 2008 the average income in the town of Yellowknife, the closest town to the Ekati and Diavik mines, increased 21%, the unemployment dropped by 4.8%, and the average high school graduation rate increased by 15%. [6]

The mines are committed to their image as socially and environmentally conscious companies. There are two organizations that monitor the impact of the Ekati and Diavik mines in particular–the Independent Environmental Monitoring Agency (Ekati), and the Environmental Monitoring Advisory Board (Diavik). These organizations are independent of the mines, and are partnerships between the local and federal governments, the mine, and the local communities. A majority of the seats on the advisory boards are held by members of the local communities to ensure that they have a voice. Special attention is paid to monitoring the caribou and water quality, as locals continue to rely on both for their survival. Additionally, there is a government bond ensuring that if the mine should cease activity, there will be sufficient funds to remediate the site, and in the meanwhile the mines are continually performing studies and communicating with locals to minimize the amount of remediation as much as possible.

As with anything we consume, there is a cost. The cost to humans for Canadian diamonds is extraordinarily less than that of the blood diamonds of the 1980’s-early 2000’s, and is less than most other open pit and large scale mines in the world. The cost to the environment is unavoidable, but the environmental laws in Canada ensure more regulation than anywhere else in the world where large-scale diamond mining occurs. When purchasing a Canadian Diamond, you can be sure that your diamond has come from a mine with the strict environmental and safety rules and regulations required by the Canadian government, that your diamond has been cut in a facility that meets Canadian certification or Jeweltree standards, and that it is not coming from a country that uses the diamond trade for illicit purposes.


Rough Canadian Diamonds

[1] Interview with Kerin Jacobs of The Raw Stone, 2012

[2] http://gregvalerio1.files.wordpress.com/2011/06/4-diamond_module.pdf

[3]http://thegreenerdiamond.org/pages/about-conflict-diamonds/impact-on-the-environment.php

[3]http://www.greenkarat.com/education/diamond-mining/canadian-diamonds.asp

[4]http://www.fairjewelry.org/canadian-national-news-reports-on-debeers-dumping-sewerage-at-cree-reserve-outside-of-victor-diamond-mine-in-northern-ontario/

[5]http://indigenouspeoplesissues.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=365:diamond-mining-impact-on-indigenous-people-and-wildlife-in-northwest-territories-of-canada&catid=22&Itemid=55

[6]http://www.brilliantearth.com/Canadian-Diamonds-Labor/

[7]http://www.uphere.ca/node/115

Comments (4)

  1. My main concern with Canadian or Australian diamonds are that they are still cut in India under unknown working conditions and possible child labor. Can you speak to where and how your Canadian and Australian diamonds are being cut? Obviously there are no perfect solutions but perhaps recycled or antique diamonds are the way to go.

  2. Hi Jacob,

    Thank you for your comment–the cutting and polishing of our diamonds is of utmost concern to us as well, as this is the step in mine to market when human rights abuses often occur. For this reason, we offer Canadian and Australian diamonds that are completely traceable, including the mine and the cutting and polishing facilities. Many of our Canadian and Australian diamonds are cut in Jeweltree approved facilities, which have rigorous standards for health and safety, as well as worker pay and benefits. Those facilities that are not Jeweltree certified function according to Business Excellence Model standards, and do not employ children, they pay their workers fair wages, and offer a safe working environment. Additionally, we only work with ethical suppliers who visit the facilities where our diamonds are cut and polished at least once a year and confirm that they continue to function with a commitment to worker’s rights and health. We hope this is helpful, but if you have any other questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *