Taseko Mines Ltd., whose proposal to decimate sacred lands and pristine habitat for a $1.5 billion gold and copper mine in British Columbia has been rejected not once but three times by the Canadian government, is going to court to ram its project through—even though Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself has deemed the latest environmental report “very damning.”
Taseko Mines Ltd. launched its legal challenge on March 26—a judicial review asking a judge to overturn the federal decision and find parts of the country's 2012 environmental assessment law “unconstitutional.” It is the second such challenge from the company in three months, and neither has yet been heard in court.
“That's the only reasonable option open to us at this time to secure the necessary authorization to build the New Prosperity mine,” said Taseko's vice-president of corporate affairs Brian Battison. “The federal review panel failed in their duty to deliver a fair process. The consequence of their failure resulted in the federal Minister of Environment making the wrong decision.”
Battison said the issue all “stems back” to the proposed facility to hold the mine's tailings. After its first government rejection, the company redesigned the project's proposal for storing mine waste. Originally the plan was to completely drain Fish Lake—“the total draining of it,” he said of the initial plan, “so Fish Lake would be no longer.”
The revised proposal was dubbed New Prosperity, and Battison said a pond liner would have prevented leakage from the tailings.
“It was clear that liner was not understood or was ignored by Natural Resources Canada,” he said.
Chief Joe Alphonse of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, which has fought vociferously against the mine proposal in all its incarnations, wished Taseko luck in its legal challenge.
“They don't have an argument,” he said. “They're just going to lose another round—prolonging the agony. The best thing for the company is just to concede defeat and allow the community around Williams Lake to start mending and rebuilding relations.”
In a rare move, even Harper defended his government's decision. Despite the Conservative leader's reputation as a staunch advocate for the resource extraction industry, the Prime Minister called the environmental assessment report “very damning” in finding “no possible mitigation” for destruction of Fish Lake's water system.
“The environmental assessment was extremely negative,” he said in a March 3 speech quoted by the industry news site Mining.com. “It said very clearly as the project was presently and previously conceived would not address the long term destruction of that system ... It was also in an area—to be frank on this also—where there are unresolved land claim issues [from First Nations].”
Chief Alphonse said the Tsilhqot’in people saw “how devastating” both proposals would have been from the onset. The initial proposal for the mine near Williams Lake, British Columbia, was first rejected in 1995, on similar grounds.
“But to have Stephen Harper come out, the head guy—and the most pro-industry government we've ever had in Canada—turn this project down twice says a lot,” Alphonse said. “It takes leadership to acknowledge the right thing to do.”
In an earlier interview, after the company amended its proposal in 2010, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs alleged the revised plan was “far more destructive” and that First Nations would defeat it.
“I know in my heart of hearts we're going to win this fight,” Grand Chief Stewart Phillip told ICTMN at the time. “We were shocked and appalled when we learned the Harper government and his cronies in the mining industry got a second kick at the can.”
Battison took issue with that characterization of his company’s application, saying the New Prosperity proposal differed significantly from the original plan because it would “save Fish Lake” by moving a tailings pond more than a mile upstream and avoid draining the water body altogether, as initially projected.
“It wasn't two kicks at the can,” Battison said, “and certainly not two fair ones. That's what this is all about: If the process was flawed, as we assert it to be, then the decision which relied on the results of that process was flawed, too.”
Asked about why Indigenous People should support the controversial project—despite their Chiefs' and advocates' opposition—Battison said it would provide First Nations residents with “high-salary jobs” at a “very significant wage” and offer work to severely underemployed aboriginal communities “close to where their ancestral home is.”