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Outgoing B.C. Liberals Issue Mining Permits in Tsilhqot’in Territory During Wildfire Evacuation

The Tsilhqot’in First Nation — currently under an evacuation order due to B.C.’s wildfires — learned Monday that permits have been issued for mining company Taseko to conduct exploration for the New Prosperity mine, an open pit gold and copper mine twice rejected at the federal level.

Monday was the outgoing B.C. Liberal government’s final day in power.

Copies of the documentation obtained by DeSmog Canada show the permit was granted to Taseko on Friday July 14th, as members of the Tsilhqot’in were under evacuation orders due to rampant wildfires in central B.C.

“I appreciate this may come at a difficult time for you given the wildfire situation affecting some of your communities, however I made the permit decision Friday, ” Rick Adams, senior inspector with the B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines, told Tsilhqot’in representatives in an e-mail.

“It’s crazy to see that on their last day, they tell us of this decision,” Chief Roger William of the Gwet’in First Nation, one of six member tribes of the Tsilhqot’in, told DeSmog Canada.

“We’re certainly outraged about it,” he said. “Our people, they found out as we’re dealing with fire and now we’re dealing with a three-year drilling program.”

The permits grant Taseko permission to create 76 kilometres of new or modified trails, 122 exploratory drill holes, 367 excavated test pits and 20 kilometres of seismic lines near Fish Lake, also known as Teztan Biny, an area of cultural and spiritual significance for the Tsilhqot’in.

“Our community has been fighting this for over 30 years,” William, who is also vice-chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, said. “Fish Lake is an aboriginal rights area, a place we have land rights to, to fish, and hunt, to catch and use wild horses.”

Chris Tollefson, lawyer with the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation, said while there is no rule preventing government from issuing permits during final days in power “there is an obligation on the Crown and on government to conduct itself in a manner that upholds the honour of the Crown.”

Provinces will often issue permits or issue approvals in advance of a federal process, which is intended to signal their support of the proponent, Tollefson told DeSmog Canada.

“During the federal review process they’ll often be a cheerleader for the projects. We’ve seen that regularly in B.C.,” he said.

“What’s unusual here is the federal regulators have been pretty clear this project has some fundamental flaws, so in those circumstances you’d expect the province would take a more circumspect approach when there’s a transition of government and when First Nation rights and title issues are clearly at play.”

According to the Elections B.C. website Taseko donated $123,450 to the B.C. Liberals between 2008 and 2014.

Chief Russell Myers Ross of the Yunesit’in and director of the Tsilhqot’in National Government said he is “speechless at the timing of this insulting decision.”

“It defies compassion that while our people are fighting for our homes and lives, B.C. issues permits that will destroy more of our land beyond repair.”

The New Prosperity mine falls within the Tsilhqot’in Dasiqox Tribal Park, a conservation area the nation has constitutionally protected rights to hunt, fish and trap within.

Granting exploratory permits within Dasiqox “demonstrates a serious attack on meaningful reconciliation,” Ross said in a statement.

The Tsilhqot’in have previously vowed to fight any provincial permits granting Taseko exploratory rights for the mine.

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