Court challenge over Site C permits begins

Two First Nations were in B.C. Supreme Court Tuesday over permits issued for construction work that has begun on the Site C dam.

Both West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations were set to meet in a Victoria courtroom asking the courts to quash around 30 permits allowing BC Hydro to remove beaver dams, destroy bald eagle nests, and complete other work to prepare the dam site for construction. 

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Questions to BC Hydro and lawyers for the First Nations asking for comment were not returned as of press time Tuesday afternoon.

Last April, West Moberly, Saulteau, and Prophet River signed an agreement with the province to guide negotiations of the consultation process over the individual permits needed for the $8.8-billion project. That consultation process agreement was not finalized, the petition to the court states.

On May 29, Treaty 8 was informed that the B.C. government wanted to conclude consultation on certain high-priority permits by June 5. This raised concerns for the First Nations, as it would conclude consultation before the First Nations had concluded an independent technical review of the permits.

In their petition, the First Nations state that completing an independent technical review as required by the negotiation agreement signed in April “would take at least three months and as long as a year.” But on July 7, the province told the two First Nations that it had approved permits allowing construction on the dam to begin.

The petitions argue that by issuing the permits before consultations were complete, there was not enough time for the First Nation to prepare a complete response regarding the potential adverse effects of the permits on treaty rights.

In a response filed Aug. 5, the Attorney General of B.C. argued the province deferred a final decision on a number of permits to provide more time for First Nations consultation.

The Attorney General also wrote that the timber clearing area proposed represents “a small percentage” of the available forest habitat within West Moberly First Nation's traditional territory, and would have no impact on Prophet River’s traditional territory.

“Development of a culturally significant area does not, in and of itself, constitute irreparable harm to those (treaty) rights,” the Attorney General wrote.             

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