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UPDATED: Taseko takes legal action against Western Canada Wilderness Committee for defamation

By MONICA LAMB-YORSKI
March 6, 2012 · Updated 1:00 PM
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Taseko Mines Limited filed a Notice of Civil Claim against the Western Canada Wilderness Committee Thursday in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, accusing it and its outreach director of defamation.

The claim accuses the committee and outreach director Sven Biggs for “a series of false and defamatory statements concerning Taseko and its proposed New Prosperity Gold-Copper Project.”

Taseko’s vice president of corporate affairs, Brian Battison, told the Tribune the company is defending the facts around the project.

“There’s no place for false or misleading information so that’s what we’re standing up for. The WWC is an influential powerful organization. They have 60,000 plus members,” Battison said Monday, adding WWC should be held to the same standards of responsible conduct as Taseko is being held.

Battison said Taseko has gone to great lengths to get the facts out to the people.

“That’s why we created the micro site New Prosperity Mine Project; it’s a place where people can find the facts. We created it for open discussion and if you go to it you will see all sorts of people that are opposed to the project or concerned about this or that and they can ask those questions and get the facts,” Battison said, adding the company is encouraging informed public debate.

The company feels, he added, that actions by WCC are discrediting Taseko’s credibility.

WCC, he alleged, has communicated false and misleading information to its membership and has encouraged the membership to write to the federal government and express concern, based on the false information.

“Many of their members did that and now that false information exists and lives on the Canada Environmental Assessment Agency website. When the public and people that are interested in the project are trying to make their minds up it’s important they get accurate information and the true facts,” Battison said.

Taseko asked WWC to correct the record and set it straight and so far they’ve failed to do so, Battison said.

Russell Hallbauer, CEO of Taseko, issued a statement Thursday stating the company has not taken the course of action lightly.

“We have filed this notice of civil claim only after repeated requests to the Western Canada Wilderness Committee to correct the record were not satisfactorily addressed. Taseko has expended considerable resources and effort to minimize the environmental impact of New Prosperity and we remain committed to developing an efficient, sustainable and responsible mine.”

The Wilderness Committee has also issued a statement following Taseko’s claim.

“We are very disappointed that this mining company has chosen litigation instead of fair and open public debate,” said Joe Foy, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee in a news release.  “We believe this court action stifles fair comment about Taseko’s environmentally risky mine proposal.

“People should be able to enjoy full participation in the Federal Environmental Review process, including the right to comment — without fear of time-consuming and costly litigation.”

Foy told the Tribune Monday that roughly 130 WWC members wrote letters to CEAA opposing the New Prosperity Mine project and the organization will continue to vigorously speak out against the proposed mine.

“We have a responsibility to be reasonable and work within the law, with respect to Taseko Mines, but we also have a responsibility as a B.C. environmental group to stand up for our values and speak truths and we believe this mine should not proceed,” Foy said, adding WWC is “shocked” the various levels of government would allow the project assessment to proceed in the face of such strong opposition from the Tsilhqot’in, in whose territory the proposed mine would be developed.

“The high environmental risk and long-term environmental risks, and impact on human rights in respect to the Tsilhqot’in Nation, we strongly and proudly oppose this mine and will do so with all our abilities.”

When Taseko asked WWC to remove some of the information it posted about the project, Foy said WWC did make some changes to its website.

“We do not think we were ever in a position of libel or defamation or anything like that. We have sent Taseko a letter that outlines the changes we have made. However, since we sent it and made those changes, they have sent us the statement of claim,” Foy said, adding within the week he hopes to post the letters on the WWC website that have gone back and forth between the two parties.

“I understand in their view we haven’t done everything they want,” Foy said.

The full New Prosperity project description has been made available for public review. These and other resources may be found at www.newprosperityproject.ca.

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