The Tsilhqot’in National Government is expressing disappointment after their appeal alleging the B.C Government breached its duty to consult when it approved an exploratory drilling program in their traditional territories was dismissed Friday.
“Although the parties have an honest disagreement over whether the project should proceed, the Senior Inspector’s decision was within the range of reasonable outcomes,” said BC Court of Appeals, Honourable Mr. Justice Goepel.
Subject to 37 mitigation conditions, the drilling program was approved by the Province’s senior inspector of mines on July 17, 2017, when Tsilhqot’in communities were dealing with wildfires.
It authorizes Taseko Mines Limited (TML) to clear 76 kilometers of new or modified road and trail, 122 drill holes, 367 excavated test pits and 20 kilometers of seismic lines near Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) and Nabas, an area of cultural and spiritual significance for the Tŝilhqot’in.
“The Tŝilhqot’in Nation will not stand by as Taseko Mines Ltd. moves forward with a drilling program for a mine that was rejected twice by the Federal Government and, located within an area of proven Aboriginal rights,” said TNG Tribal Chairman, Chief Joe Alphonse in a news release.
“ The fact that this permit could have been approved in the first place is absolutely appalling.”
The Government of Canada rejected TML’s New Prosperity mine proposal in 2014, and the mine cannot legally be built as matters stand.
“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. Actions that we all know to be devastating to future generations and indigenous relations continue to prevail,” said TNG Vice Chair, Chief Russell Myers Ross.
“Given the movement since the Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqot’in decision, and the national understanding of Title along with consent and the implementation of UNDRIP, it’s appalling that a permit of this sort could be approved.”
“To transition from conflict, our communities have provided an alternative in the Dasiqox Tribal Park,” Ross added.
“We no longer want to live with the threat of government and external industries deciding how our land should be managed.”
The Province granted a five-year extension of TML’s environmental assessment certificate on January 14, 2015. The certificate will expire on January 14, 2020, if construction on the New Prosperity mine has not ‘substantially started’ by that date (substantial start deadline).
“I agree with the Tsilhqot’in that in circumstances of this case it was open to the Senior Inspector to reject the 2016 Drilling Program application. The Senior Inspector himself recognized that rejection was one of the options that was open to him. Had he rejected the proposal, such a decision may well have been reasonable,” Mr. Justice Goepel noted.
“That, however, does not mean that the approval of the 2016 Drilling Program was unreasonable. At the time of the application, it was still possible for TML, if federal approvals were forthcoming, to commence construction before the Substantial Start Deadline. While the Senior Inspector knew that the federal authorities may never approve the mine, he was also aware that some $15–20 million that had been expended to date in obtaining the provincial EA Certificate would be lost if the mine was not commenced by January 2020. He also knew that TML’s tenure rights in the Area remained in place until at least 2035, and information gathered in the course of the 2016 Drilling Program could be used to make future applications if the New Prosperity Project did not obtain federal approval.”
The Tsilhqot’in Nation said it is extremely disappointed and concerned by the devastation this permit stands to cause and will be reviewing all options to protect this critical cultural area.
“The approval of this permit by the BC Court of Appeal is not the end,” said Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulula.
“BC and TML need our consent. The drilling program stands to displace our families, threaten our sacred sites, and interrupt our ceremonies and teaching opportunities to our youth.”
“The area around Teẑtan Biny is one of the last ecosystems intact that sustains unique wildlife and one of the strongest sockeye runs in the world,” Lulula continued.
“We must protect this for as long as we can. No amount of money can match the importance of this resource.”