A law student’s perspective on PDAC

July 18, 2022

By Mitchell Grimmer 

The Prospectors & Developers Association of Canada (PDAC) conference, held in June in Toronto, was my first post-Covid interaction within the mining industry, and far surpassed my expectations. Flying out Sunday morning felt surreal not only due to the online nature of school the last couple of years but the celebrity-level atmosphere that PDAC generates within Toronto. Heading to the event at the Sheraton sponsored by Western Law before the official start of PDAC was a great introduction to the legal side of the conference; being able to represent Western Law as a student Dattels Fellow within the mining space was an honour, and to see first-hand the pedigree of Western Law and the credit given to Professor Elizabeth Steyn's work in the field was thrilling.

Upon arriving, I was immediately introduced to the panel of lawyers across the biggest mining companies in Canada, many of whom went to Western. This event was interactive. Three separate sets of panels were held - discussing the future of mining in Canada and how Canada can not only continue to set the stage for international mining, but also has the potential to set an example for other industries. After the event, I had a chance to converse with lawyers from across the world; hearing firsthand the changes that are happening within the mining industry in Australia, South America, and Europe augmented and reaffirmed the research I have been able to complete throughout my time in law school. Additionally, learning how global and collaborative the mining industry is heightened my interest in the field.

The first official day of PDAC was nothing short of spectacular. Even the line to get my all-access pass was euphoric and, within an hour of being at the convention centre, I was lucky enough to help Professor Steyn in networking on the trade floor. The trade floor was essentially a showcase of technology and innovation with hopes of fostering partnerships and future business development within the industry and I was introduced to numerous provincial bodies and companies that were instrumental in the environmental advancement being pushed within the mining industry.

Our next stop was an interactive workshop, Partnerships, participation, and ESG-I: Canada and the emerging global paradigm for Indigenous communities and the mining industry. This is an area I have been researching throughout law school and my undergraduate studies in environmental science. Seeing some of the cross-sectional relevancy of previous research areas coming into play, coupled with the over-attendance in this first event as people lined up out the door to participate in the action, was a great start to the conference.

I joined several Western students to enjoy a lunch sponsored by Yamana Gold. Western Alumna Andrea Moens, Senior Legal Counsel, and Kathleen Caughey, VP and Assistant General Counsel with Yamana Gold were on hand to engage with us. I had never been exposed to the in-house legal aspect within the mining industry, and I learned a tremendous amount in two hours of a Q and A with our hosts. As someone who will be working in a firm in the near future, I found it invaluable to get a day-in-the-life perspective and comparison of in-house vs firm work from another Western grad. Furthermore, both of our hosts offered their contact info and graciously offered to answer any questions we might have going forward, encouraging us to stay connected as we make important career decisions.

One of the highlights over the next two days included a mining networking session for all students at the conference. There were less than 50 students at the event with over 100 current employees of some of the largest mining companies in the world. Career trajectories within the mining space were discussed in great detail, in and outside the legal space. I met many past lawyers who had moved into other positions within the mining industry after practising for years prior; PDAC showed me the plethora of opportunities for law students that exist.

Characterizing the overall trajectory of improved diversity and inclusion within the mining industry, the Women in Mining event was another standout activity to close the week. Many female lawyers gave their input on how the industry has made great strides toward equality in multiple aspects, progressing from an industry that has been traditionally male-dominant and one that has been negatively stigmatized within the public eye. The Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals were discussed in great detail; they have been the foundations of my research in many of my law courses to date. In the collaborative components, I felt as if I had some noteworthy points to make by bringing in a legal perspective - especially concerning the ESG shift in the industry.

In my recent research, there have been monumental case law and constitutional shifts regarding adherence to the Paris Agreement; a common theme of PDAC was the importance of mining and how the public needs to understand that this is an integral industry that supplies many of our daily amenities and activities. I learned just how committed the industry is to driving the innovation needed to sustain our current activity and societal needs. It was evident at the end of the conference how transferrable the practices that are being showcased by progressive mining leaders are, and how these practices need to be implemented across other industries if the goals of the Paris Agreement are going to be met. I plan on jumping on the opportunity to attend PDAC again and would encourage anyone looking for a perspective on driving world change to do the same. Thank you to PDAC, Western Law, and Stephen Dattels for making such a trip possible!