Gitxaała BC Supreme Court Challenge

Courting change for future generations

In this week’s newsletter, our mining reporter takes you to B.C.’s Supreme Court — where she has been all week, covering a case that could change the future of mining in B.C.
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A procession by the Gitxaala Nation walking to the B.C. Supreme Court.
On Monday, I watched a stream of Gitxaała Nation leaders, members and supporters walk through downtown Vancouver toward the B.C. Supreme Court. They were marking the start of a two-week hearing challenging how the provincial government gives out the right to dig up minerals on their land. 

“The aim is for us to be victorious and make the changes necessary for future generations, for the protection of the land and the resources and the overall creation,” Sm’ooygit Nees Hiwaas (Matthew Hill) told me after the first day of hearings.

I’m Francesca Fionda, The Narwhal’s mining reporter, and I’m taking over the newsletter this week to tell you about the four days I’ve spent in court so far, immersed in this case. 

The courtroom seats have been full of Elders, other lawyers, members of the public and journalists. This case is a big deal. It could be the domino that changes how exploration happens in B.C. It’s also the first time the government is being forced to consider how its laws should align with its commitment to the United Nations Declarations on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Right now anyone with internet access and a few dollars can go online, click a spot on a map where they want to explore and get a claim to the minerals. They can do that even if that spot is on Indigenous land — without asking, consulting or notifying anyone affected.

Gitxaała say this process ignores the nation’s laws and their way of life. 

There’s a lot of formal procedures, reviewing of case law and legalese at the hearings, but one of my favourite moments came just after lunch on Wednesday. 

A member of Gitxaała Nation came into the courtroom and jokingly said “all rise,” gently poking fun at the court process which requires people to stand when a judge enters the room. The joke made me pause. At its core is the inherent contradiction of Gitxaała Nation (which has its own laws) going through B.C.’s colonial court system — and the request to the Crown to acknowledge the province’s actions do not align with its stated commitment to Indigenous Rights.
 
Photo of Sm’ooygit Nees Hiwaas (Matthew Hill)
“The court proceedings are tedious, I guess, to say the least,” Nees Hiwaas told me. “I’m here for the future generation. So I have to dig deep within myself to ensure that I see this to its conclusion.” 

Next week, B.C.’s human rights commissioner, along with six other groups, will make their arguments in support of Gitxaała — and a related legal challenge by Ehattesaht/Chinehkint First Nation. B.C. will present its side, having said in court submissions that the current way of giving out mineral rights doesn’t have enough of an impact to trigger the duty to consult. 

Some from the mining industry are worried. They say any changes to the exploration system could impact companies’ ability to stay competitive. They want to keep the status quo and prefer to collaborate outside the courts to modernize the mineral claims system. 

Hearings are open to the public. If you can’t join, I’ll be there tweeting away and following along.

Take care and let me do the digging,

Francesca Fionda
Mining reporter

 
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Scientists bend over a crack in the ice to examine it in the Arctic.

And the award goes to …


It’s awards season, which means (we hope) you’ll keep hearing about all of the ways our work is being recognized. This week is no exception. Freelance photojournalist Dustin Patar took home the first-ever Canadian Journalism Foundation-Edward Burtynsky award for climate photojournalism for his stunning work tracking the impacts of climate change in the Arctic, published in The Narwhal

And we learned we’re a finalist for the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Jackman award for excellence in journalism. Reporter Emma McIntosh’s collaborative coverage with the Toronto Star — which dug into environmental issues in Ontario, including an investigation into the developers who stand to benefit from Greenbelt cuts — was behind the nomination.

 

This week in The Narwhal

Heavy machinery is photographed in outside of Milton, Ont.
​​Ontario won’t release document that could show how government chose Greenbelt cuts
By Denise Balkissoon
The Narwhal has asked to see an email sent from the premier’s office to the housing ministry just before the Greenbelt announcement. The government’s refusal to release it violates the public’s right to know.

READ MORE
 
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When a former premier joins a coal company: unpacking John Horgan’s jump to Teck’s Elk Valley board
By Carol Linnitt
READ MORE
Aerial shot of Elk Valley
$1.2B later, Teck Resources has barely put a dent in its pollution problems: docs
By Ainslie Cruickshank
READ MORE

 
Tractor on a farm
Ontario is trying to make it easier to convert land into new suburbs — again
By Emma McIntosh, Fatima Syed & Denise Balkissoon
READ MORE
 
Aerial image of Raush Valley
‘It is so beautiful’: rare inland rainforest in B.C. declared Indigenous protected area
By Sarah Cox
READ MORE
 
How we think our readers react to The Narwhal’s small but mighty team for punching above its weight during awards season. Tell your friends to sign up for our newsletter — so they can cheer us on too.
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