An injunction to halt exploratory drilling for a mine in B.C.’s Interior has been granted by the B.C. Supreme Court.
Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, said the injunction filed by the TNG is valid until Sept. 10 and will prevent Taseko Mines Ltd. from doing exploratory drilling for its New Prosperity Mine Project 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
The injunction was heard in B.C. Supreme Court from June 25 to 28, where Alphonse and Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua, as well as a delegation of elders attended.
“We definitely consider that a win and take any little wins wherever we can,” Alphonse told the Tribune. “Even if they do eventually get to do the drilling, it doesn’t guarantee the project is going to go ahead. They have some huge hurdles still ahead of them.”
Alphonse said two independent federal review panels, under the “most pro-industry government,” have confirmed the unique and special significance of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), Yanah Billy (Little Fish Lake) and Nabas (the surrounding area) near the proposed mine site.
“There’s no hope this project will ever move forward,” Alphonse added. “All six Tsilhqot’in communities are united in opposing it, yet we are constantly having to use our time and resources to defend our position.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy and Mines told the Tribune in June under the conditions of its Notice of Work permit which was given in July 2017, Taseko is authorized to collect additional geotechnical and hydrological data under a multi-year area-based approval.
The company proposes to undertake the following a camp of 50 people, 321 trenches/test pits, 110 geotechnical drill holes, 53 km of new exploration trails and 66 km of access modification.
Brian Battison, Taseko’s vice-president of corporate affairs, confirmed the company hopes to drill in an area about two kilometres upstream from Fish Lake where proposed dam structures for the mine would be built.
“We want to gather geotechnical data by drilling some holes and taking soil samples and essentially assess the drainage characteristics of the area,” Battison said. “There was some doubt in the environmental assessment about our ability to manage the water appropriately. This information that we need for the Mines Act permitting process will answer those questions and rest those doubts.”
Battison noted the data will provide reassurances and help inform the final design characteristics and configurations of the key water management structures.
“It’s in everybody’s interest to get this information, including the First Nations, because then they will have the scientific evidence on how this can work and the reassurances that will come with it, yet they may oppose it for their own reasons.”
Earlier in June, the BC Supreme Court ruled against another challenge filed by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency against the drilling permits.
Subsequently, the TNG filed an injunction challenging the Province’s issuing the permits.
Chief Russell Myers Ross, Tsilhqot’in National Government Vice-Chair, said the Tsilhqot’in people are cautiously optimistic as they continue their reactionary fight to protect their sacred sites.
“The Tŝilhqot’in have long had a vision for Teẑtan Biny and surrounding area as outlined in the Dasiqox Tribal Park,” Russell Myers Ross said. “As Canada begins implementing Indigenous Protected Areas, we call on B.C. to take a hard look at where their vision for the future of this province lies.”
Alphonse said major projects in Canada will not go ahead without the support of First Nations.
“That deposit will never be mined without approval from the Tsihlqot’in,” he said.
Battison said presently the law in B.C. and Canada is such that projects can go ahead whether there is First Nations agreement or not.