Ecojustice lawyers appeared in the Federal Court of Appeal on Jan. 14 on behalf of MiningWatch Canada to help protect Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), located in British Columbia, from the proposed New Prosperity mine.

In its 2013 report on the proposed New Prosperity mine, a federal review panel found the project would have several significant environmental effects.

The project, which would be built on the traditional territory of the Tŝilhqot’in, would have “effects on water quality in Fish Lake, on fish and fish habitat in Fish Lake, on current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by certain Aboriginal groups, and on their cultural heritage,” the panel said in its executive summary.

Unfortunately, Taseko Mines Ltd. wouldn’t take no for an answer — perhaps unsurprising, given that before the New Prosperity mine there was the Prosperity mine, a predecessor that was also rejected by a prior federal assessment.

In response to the panel’s findings about the New Prosperity proposal, Taseko launched a legal case asking the Federal Court to review the panel’s assessment and report. When the Federal Court sided with the panel in a  precedent-setting decision, the company went to the Federal Court of Appeal.

This is how I ended up in court on behalf of MiningWatch Canada on Monday (Jan. 14), alongside fellow Ecojustice lawyer Olivia French.

Why Ecojustice is representing MiningWatch in this case

Together with MiningWatch, Ecojustice’s involvement in this project has spanned years, first during the review panel process and then as an intervener in the subsequent court cases.

As a lawyer for Ecojustice, I’ve spent years working on this issue because I want to keep Teztan Biny and the surrounding area safe from a project that has repeatedly been found to pose a serious threat to the environment. Ecojustice and MiningWatch are also committed to supporting the Tŝilhqot’in, who are at the forefront of this fight to protect their traditional territory.

Finally, there is a third reason that we are intervening in this case: To uphold the federal review panel’s precautionary approach.

When the panel first assessed the proposal to build the New Prosperity mine, it asked Taseko how the company planned to address serious impacts on the environment, including impacts on water quality and fish in Teztan Biny. In response, the company essentially said, “You should approve the project first and we’ll worry about those pesky details later.

As we wrote in this blog from 2017, this backwards approach raised serious red flags.

If panels approve projects without knowing how companies plan to address serious environmental risks, those projects can end up proceeding “before anyone knows whether and how those risks can be managed and mitigated.” We’ve seen numerous examples of what happens when precaution is thrown to the wind – governments (and taxpayers) across North America have been left to clean up dozens of un-remediated mine sites and environmental disasters.

Upholding an important precedent

When Ecojustice intervened on behalf of MiningWatch in the 2017 Federal Court case about the panel review for New Prosperity, we argued that Taseko should not be allowed to take that backwards approach. The court agreed, even adopting some of the framing and language that we used in our arguments.

In a precedent-setting decision, the Federal Court found that the company’s “vague assurances” that it would figure out how to address the project’s significant environmental impacts at some later date were not good enough.

Now, we are intervening to encourage the Federal Court of Appeal to uphold this important ruling — and to back the Tŝilhqot’in as they fight to protect Teztan Biny and the surrounding environment for generations to come.

As Canada’s largest environmental law charity, Ecojustice relies on supporters like you to make sure we have the resources we need to take on pressing environmental issues and see them through — from assessments to initial court hearings to appeals. Thank you for helping us build the case for a better earth.