It’s the mine that won’t die.
For twenty years Taseko Mines Limited has tried to get approval for a low-grade, open-pit copper and gold mine at Teztan Biny (Fish Lake.)
The federal government rejected the project twice after independent expert panels delivered two of the most scathing environmental assessment reports in Canadian history – in 2010 and 2014 – describing major cultural and environmental impacts.
Now, Taseko is back in court, attempting to resurrect their twice-rejected New Prosperity Mine.
The proposed mine stands at the headwaters of the Taseko, Chilko, Chilcotin, and Fraser River systems. Teztan Biny is in a beautiful area of profound cultural and spiritual importance to the Tsilhqot’in Nation. The rivers teem with salmon. Critical wetlands and lakes nurture wild rainbow trout, moose, grizzly bear, and many other mammals and migratory birds.
“It is a place of tremendous cultural and spiritual importance for our people – it is a cultural school, a gathering place, burial grounds and home for our members who were born and raised there,” says Chief Roger William of Xeni Gwet’in First Nation. “Our people have stood up – twice. Our voices were heard, and this project was rejected.”
So why is Taseko pressuring the BC government to green-light the project and permit further drilling in the Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) area? The company argues that the federal government has no constitutional jurisdiction to stand in its way.
It’s an audacious challenge to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act by a corporation with pockets deep enough to play the courts like crap tables. Taseko claims the federal government cannot stop a project on the basis of environmental concerns, if the province has approved the project. In essence, the company is attempting to remove the constitutional protections afforded by federal environmental laws.
Taseko Mines Ltd. has filed two separate judicial reviews. The first seeks to set aside the damning report of the independent federal environmental review panel. The second seeks to set aside the federal government’s rejection of the project. The two judicial reviews will be heard October 2016.
There is a lot at stake. “It is critical to demonstrate that environmental assessment can work,” says Susan Smitten, Executive Director of RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values & Environmental Needs). “Companies like Taseko cannot overturn the results of a comprehensive environmental review, and the efforts of First Nations, concerned citizens and environmental organizations, simply by pouring resources into litigation and outspending other parties until they get the result that they want.”
Though the Tsilhqot’in Nation has one of Canada’s only court declarations of proven Aboriginal hunting and trapping rights in the area of the proposed mine, Taseko is forcing them to defend those rights in court. With limited financial resources, but plenty of resolve, the Tsilhqot’in Nation is undertaking intensive preparation for the hearings. That involves consulting with its technical experts, completing written submissions and attendance at the hearings themselves. They estimate it will cost $100,000 to participate at full strength in the two concurrent proceedings.
“It is crucial for environmental protection in this country that we firmly slam the door on Taseko’s developing legal argument,” says J.P. Laplante, Mining, Oil and Gas Manager with the Tsilhqot’in National Government. “We need to prevent the rolling back of protection of federal environmental assessment for major resource development projects.”
While Taseko continues to waste everyone’s time, energy, money, and goodwill – including that of its own shareholders and Canadian taxpayers – the commitment of the Tsilhqot’in is unshakeable. After their historic title victory in the Supreme Court, they will not permit themselves to be nickel-and-dimed out of Teztan Biny, a place of sacred significance and ceremony at the heart of their traditional territory. Tax-deductible contributions are being collected at www.RAVENTrust.com to support the Tsilhqot’in in accessing justice, and pre- venting the erosion of federal jurisdiction over mining and extractive industries.
Andrea Palframan lives on Salt Spring Island. She works with NGOs and communities to develop strategic communications to realize social and environmental justice.