First Nations group wants work on Site C paused until treaty questions resolved in court

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      This week the B.C. Supreme Court will hear a case that could halt work on the Site C dam.

      The West Moberly First Nations is requesting an interlocutory injunction, essentially asking a judge to order work on the megaproject to come to an immediate halt and remain paused until matters can work their way through the courts.

      "First Nations did not enter into treaties with the Crown so they could have compensation once their way of life was destroyed, but to ensure protection of that way of life," reads an application filed by the band.

      Defendants in the case are listed as BC Hydro and Canada's attorney general.

      A notice of claim previously filed by lawyers for the West Moberly First Nations describes them as a successor to the Hudsons' Hope Band of Indians, which, it notes, signed on to Treaty 8 in 1914.

      "The Plaintiffs' ancestors gave this consent in exchange for the solemn promises made by the Crown, including that: a) entrance into Treaty 8 would not lead to forced interference with the Plaintiff's mode of life; b) the same patterns of activity would continue for the Plaintiff's ancestors and their descendents after the Treaty as existed before it; and c) the Plaintiffs would be free to hunt, trap, and fish as they had before entering the treaty."

      The Site C dam is under construction on the Peace River near Fort St. John. In their notice of claim, the West Moberly First Nations note there are already two large dams on the Peace, the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and the Peace Canyon Dam.

      The construction of a third dam, the West Moberly First Nations argues, would "destroy the existing aquatic ecosystem," "prevent West Moberly from harvesting preferred species of fish," and "exclude or undermine West Moberly's ability to hunt and trap preferred species in a unique and centrally significant area, and require members to travel to more distant or less suitable lands and waters to pursue hunting and trapping," among other negative effects.

      Cumulatively, it continues, these impacts of the Site C dam will prevent the West Moberly First Nations from exercising their rights under the treaty that was signed by their predecessors.

      The B.C. Supreme Court should therefore find that the construction of the Site C dam is a failure of the Crown's obligations to the West Moberly as defined in Treat 8, the notice of claim concludes.

      In addition, a judge should grant an interlocutory injunction that would stop work on the Site C dam until those matters are resolved, it adds.

      None of the West Moberly's claims have been proven in court.

      The Site C dam's location on the Peace River has attracted loud opposition from conservations and many First Nations groups. They argue the project’s benefits won’t offset its environmental costs.

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      The project, which is supported by B.C. Hydro and was championed by the previous Liberal government, is an idea that’s attracted controversy for decades. In recent years, many British Columbians increasingly rank environmental considerations higher among voting priorities, and the dam has become a lightning rod for heated political rhetoric.

      The Crown utility estimates the cost of the megaproject at $8.8 billion including a contingency fund, but a recent B.C. Utilities Commission review found that it could surpass $10 billion. So far, a couple of billion dollars has already been sunk into the site.

      After the NDP took power in July 2017, Premier John Horgan said his administration will continue constructing the dam despite concerns.

      "It's clear that Site C should never have been started," Horgan said in December 2017. "But to cancel it would add billions to the Province's debt—putting at risk our ability to deliver housing, child care, schools and hospitals for families across B.C. And that's a price we're not willing to pay."

      On June 11, the provincial government announced it would initiate a two-stage review of BC Hydro operations. Despite the NDP describing the review as "comprehensive" in nature, a terms of reference for phase one of the review only mentions Site C in stating it will specifically exclude an examination of the dam.

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