This blog was originally published on miningwatch.ca on May 14, 2020.
In a victory for the Tŝilhqot’in Nation, but also for the integrity of environmental assessment processes, the Supreme Court of Canada today dismissed Taseko Mines Ltd.’s application for leave to appeal last year’s Federal Court of Appeal (FCA) ruling about the federal assessment of Taseko’s proposed New Prosperity copper-gold mine in Tŝilhqot’in territory in central British Columbia.
A federal assessment panel found in 2013 that the mine project would have several significant environmental effects, including “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 FCA found that the federal review panel was well within its authority to make these findings, and that Taseko had not shown any inadequacies in the way the panel had evaluated the information it received. The Supreme Court’s decision today means that the FCA’s ruling stands.
MiningWatch Canada, ably represented by Ecojustice, has intervened in this case from the beginning. As we noted when the appeal went to court in January, 2019, following the Federal Court’s 2017 dismissal of Taseko’s lawsuit,
MiningWatch Canada, represented by Ecojustice lawyer Sean Nixon, intervened in the court case in order to reinforce the integrity of several key aspects of the environmental assessment process, which echoed earlier findings that the project in its original form posed an unacceptable risk to the environment and specifically to Teztan Biny (“Fish Lake”), a site of great importance to the Tŝilhqot’in Nation. When the case originally went to court…we described how Taseko took a backwards approach to the environmental assessment by claiming that it would address any serious environmental problems after the assessment process. We submitted to the Court, and the Court agreed, that one of the core purposes of environmental assessment is precisely to look at a range of scenarios and investigate potential problems – and their solutions – before a project can be approved.
While this case was brought under the old Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012, the principle upheld by both the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal will help guide new federal and provincial environmental assessment processes: namely, that industrial projects should not be allowed to proceed without being assessed as to whether, and how, the serious environmental risks they pose can be managed and mitigated.