B.C.’s highest court has dismissed an appeal by the Tsilhqot’in Nation alleging the B.C. government breached its duty to consult when it approved an exploratory drilling permit for Taseko’s proposed New Prosperity Mine 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
Court of Appeal Justice Richard Goepel, in a written decision , dated March 1, 2019, dismissed the appeal, noting in “this case, reconciliation cannot be achieved because of an honest disagreement over whether the project should proceed.”
Goepel ruled the “process of consultation was adequate and reasonable in the circumstances.”
“The fact that the Tsilhqot’in position was not accepted does not mean the process of consultation was inadequate or that the Crown did not act honourably.”
Tŝilhqot’in Nation leaders expressed their disappoinment late Friday in a press release.
Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Jimmy Lulua, Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government, said the approval of the permit by the BC Court of Appeal was not the end.
“B.C. and TML need our consent,” Lulua noted. “We’re well past the stage of consultation. Actions like this put a strain on relations with the Province of B.C. in a time when we are supposed to be working together. The drilling program stands to displace our families, threaten our sacred sites, and interrupt our ceremonies and teaching opportunities to our youth.”
Lulua said the area around Teẑtan Biny needs to be protected as it “is one of the last ecosystems intact that sustains unique wildlife and one of the strongest sockeye runs in the world.”
Brian Battison, Taseko Mines Ltd. vice-president of corporate affairs, told Black Press the B.C. Court of Appeal decision is an important one for B.C.
“The TNG appeal was dismissed by the Court and the crux of it is the court concluded that the Crown, the provincial government, had met its duty, Battison said. “The consultation owed to the First Nations was complete, there was no breach of procedural duty, the notice of work that was issued by the province is valid, that is essentially what the highest court has ruled, which was what the lower court ruled.”
Battison said the case is about the “Crown’s ability to issue mining permits in the face of strident First Nations opposition.”
“The province, their authority under the law and their conduct in considering and then issuing the permit was upheld by the court,” Battison said.
Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Russell Myers Ross, vice-chair, TNG, said if ever there were a moment to put words into action – now would be the time.
“A lot is being said about the protection of Indigenous rights and title and our inherent jurisdiction over the land,” Myers-Ross said. “Actions that we all know to be devastating to future generations and Indigenous relations continue to prevail.”
Tribal Chair Nits’il?n (Chief) Joe Alphonse said the TNG will not stand by as the drilling moves forward for a mine that was rejected twice by the federal government and is located within an area of “proven Aboriginal rights.”
“The fact that this permit could have been approved in the first place is absolutely appalling. For decades now we have fought against industry running roughshod over our territory,” Alphonse said. “Doing nothing is not an option at this point.”
Battison said before any exploratory work at the site commences, the company will give “adequate notice” to the TNG and the province.
“The purpose of the work is to gather geotechnical information which will be helpful to the ultimate design which will address concerns about the water management plan in and around the proposed mine site,” he added. “In order to try and alleviate those concerns, or try to, we were trying to undertake this work. The information will confirm that the water management proposal is sound from an engineering perspective.”
Taseko’s application, which was submitted in October 2016, proposed a 50-person camp, 321 trenches or test pits, 110 geotechnical drill holes, 53 kilometres of new exploration trail and 66 kilometres of access modification, the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources noted in a previous response.