Tsilhqot'in Nation's court win halts Taseko exploration drilling for Prosperity mine site

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      British Columbia's Tsilhqot'in Nation (TN) is celebrating yet another court victory in its long fight to protect two lakes and their surrounding area from a proposed open-pit copper-gold mine.

      On July 5, the B.C. Supreme Court granted the First Nation government an interlocutory injunction against a B.C. exploration permit that gave Taseko the power to commence a comprehensive drilling program in the area of Fish Lake.

      The drilling was set to start on about the second week in July, according to a July 5 TN news release. The Tsilhqot'in member communities are ʔEsdilagh, Tsi Del Del, Yunesit'in, Tl'etinqox, Xeni Gwet'in, and Tl'esqox.

      In the release, TN tribal chairman and Tl'etinqox chief Joe Alphonse said: "The Tsilhqot'in Nation being granted this interlocutory injunction is one more small victory in the long standing fight to protect Teztan Biny [Fish Lake] and the surrounding area. This permit created a lot of distress for Tsilhqot'in communities directly in the midst of the largest wildfire season [in 2017] that we have ever seen.

      "It's amazing that a company like TML [Taseko Mines Ltd.] continues to try to advance their interests even when there is virtually no chance that the Federal Government will grant a go ahead on this project."

      Activists have protested the proposed Prosperity Mine in downtown Vancouver.
      Matthew Burrows.

      The so-called New Prosperity Mine near Williams Lake—in development by Taseko Mines Ltd. for several years—has twice been rejected by Ottawa, in 2010 and 2014, because of projected impact on wildlife habitat and Aboriginal rights and title. Taseko is in the process of appealing a 2017 Federal Court of Canada ruling that upheld the latest of those two denials.

      Despite the federal rulings, in 2016 the B.C. provincial government, under then-premier Christy Clark, issued Taseko permits to prepare its exploration program. Its environmental-approval process had already green-lighted the mine in January 2010, almost a year before a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency panel first rejected the proposal for its “significant adverse environmental effects”.

      The B.C. government—on July 17, 2017, Clark's last official day in office—amended an earlier permit so Taseko could start drilling, excavating, and building trails and seismic lines. The federal government sought an injunction to this permit in order to halt the drilling and digging but Justice Carla Forth of the B.C. Supreme Court ruled on June 22 that the work could continue.

      As reported by Charlie Smith in the Straight on June 27, the B.C. Liberal Party received more than $135,000 from Taseko Mines since 2008, with Clark being a strong supporter of the mine.

      On its website, Taseko describes the project as follows: "The Prosperity deposit is a gold-copper porphyry with a one billion tonne measured and indicated resource containing 5.3 billion pounds of copper and 13.3 million ounces of gold. At long-term gold and copper prices the project has robust economics."

      This latest injunction, according to the TN bulletin, "prohibits TML from carrying out the drilling program until the B.C. Supreme Court has ruled on the Tsilhqot'in Nation's legal challenge to the drilling permit issued in July of 2017".

      The release goes on to note that TN recently completed arguing that challenge in court, on June 29. The injunction expires on September 10 of this year.

      In 2014, soon after the Supreme Court of Canada issued a historic ruling that the Tsilhqot’in Nation had title to about 1,900 square kilometres of traditional territory, the Tsilhqot’in National Government declared the establishment of the Dasiqox Tribal Park within that title area, which includes the Prosperity site.