In 1974, renowned B.C. geologist and rock hound Stan Leaming pleaded with the provincial and federal governments to open their eyes to the rapid unregulated annual exportation of jade, which happened to be the most precious of stones to the largest, fastest-growing population on the planet. Forty years later, searching for nephrite jade on Industry Canada’s mining statistics database results in ‘No data available.’ This is in stark contrast to Canadian diamonds and the effort that has gone into establishing an industry around them.
Fifteen years ago, the Canadian diamond industry didn’t exist. Today, Canada is a major player. When diamonds were discovered in the Northwest Territories, their value was immediately understood. When gold is found, nobody questions whether to stake a claim. In contrast, most British Columbians—or Canadians across the country, for that matter—have no idea the province is a source of jade. They may even say they thought jade came from China, which is true, in a way. Most of the jade we see in North American shops is sourced as raw material in British Columbia, manufactured in China, and shipped back as finished product.
As a major producer of jade, it’s really important for us to look at how the West’s lack of interest in this gemstone has influenced Industry Canada. In 2002, the Canadian Diamond Code of Conduct was conceived concurrent with the development of diamond exploration and mining in Canada’s far north. Industry Canada and key stakeholders in the diamond and jewellery industry were keen to establish a certificate of origin for Canadian diamonds, along with homegrown authentication of Canadian diamond minerology. By 2009, Canada had become the world’s second-largest producer of diamonds by value, producing about 17 per cent of the global supply, according to Natural Resources Canada figures. In contrast, some estimates put the Canadian jade industry’s profit in 2009 at $75 to $100 million Cdn. This small amount—in comparison to the billions of the Canadian diamond industry—leaves little money across a handful of companies for exploration and development. Compare this to Myanmar’s jade trade, which non-governmental organization (NGO) Global Witness reported to be worth $30 billion U.S. in 2014.