UBCIC Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow, Tl’etinqox-t’in Chief Joe Alphonse, BC-Yukon organizer Harjap Grewal at protest against Taseko, June 2012 in Vancouver. Photo by Brent Patterson.
The Vancouver Sun reports, “The Supreme Court of Canada agreed Thursday to hear a case at the centre of the decades-long legal fight over aboriginal claims to vast parts of British Columbia. It involves the claim by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation to 4,380 square kilometres of territory west of Williams Lake.”
“The case, expected to be heard late this year or early next year, is considered by legal experts to be the most important aboriginal land case put to Canada’s highest court since the 1997 Delgamuukw decision. That decision, involving the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en First Nations in B.C., saw the court recognize that aboriginal ‘title’ to land exists. The judges also set out how governments must consult, perhaps compensate, and even get consent to ‘infringe’ on that title through projects such as mines, tree harvesting, and road construction. But the court stopped short of declaring whether the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en had title to the lands being claimed, saying a new trial would be needed to make that determination.”
“Both the B.C. Supreme Court, in 2007, and the B.C. Court of Appeal, in 2012, accepted the Tsilhqot’in claim that they have traditional rights to the land. However, both courts differed significantly on how far those rights extend. …Regardless of which route the (Supreme Court of Canada) takes, both the 2007 and 2012 decisions recognized aboriginal rights that must be considered before development takes place. That will create new uncertainty for projects like Taseko Mines Ltd’s proposed gold-copper project near Williams Lake that is opposed by the Tsilhqot’in, (says) University of B.C. law professor Gordon Christie, a specialist in aboriginal law.”
“A Taseko spokesman said in an email Thursday that neither the 2007 nor the 2012 rulings suggested there was aboriginal title in the mine property. …Joe Alphonse, a tribal chairman and chief of Tl’etinqox-t’in community, one of the six nations that make up the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, disagreed, saying in a statement that both lower courts recognized aboriginal rights in the area of the mine. He said the federal government acknowledged those rights when it turned down Taseko’s original proposal in 2010. ‘Taseko Mines has a lot to be worried about. This case is about all our ownership of the land, including the area that would be mined,’ he said.”
The Council of Canadians has worked with the Tsilhqot’in National Government in opposition to Taseko’s proposed gold-copper mine. Most recently, Council of Canadians Board member Chief Garry John and the Council of Canadians Williams Lake chapter participated in a protest with Tsilhqot’in Chiefs at Williams Lake City Hall in opposition to the mine, http://canadians.org/blog/?p=18316. For numerous more campaign blogs dating back to November 2009, please go to http://canadians.org/blog/?s=Tsilhqot%E2%80%99in.