After day-long court hearing, it’s wait and see for Site C dam opponents

Three-judge federal court panel hears evidence against controversial hydroelectric project

Lawyers for two Northeast B.C. First Nations presented their arguments against the Site C dam in a Montreal courtroom Sept. 12, the latest legal challenge against the controversial $8.8 billion hydroelectric project. 

The dam’s first hearing in federal court came to an end after just one day of presentations from lawyers representing both BC Hydro and the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations. The federal court is expected to make a decision on the case in the coming months.  

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The First Nations, represented by Calgary-based firm Rana Law, argue they were not adequately consulted on Site C, which will flood 83 kilometres of the Peace River valley impact Treaty-protected traditional land uses. BC Hydro, meanwhile, says its consultation of Treaty 8 nations was “in good faith and extensive.”  

Around a dozen people from local First Nations trekked across the country in a tour bus to attend the hearing.

“It felt really good to be present and have the people from the caravan in the courtroom, because those are decisions that will directly affect us,” said Helen Knott, a Prophet River First Nation member who spent weeks camped out at the site of the historic Rocky Mountain Fort in the path of dam construction this winter.  

Four legal challenges against Site C remain from both the First Nations and the Peace Valley Landowner Association. So far, BC Hydro has been successful in all cases that have made it before the courts. 

Monday’s hearing was the first time a court has considered Site C’s implication on treaty rights. Knott said the judges gave no indication of when they would deliver their decision. 

The caravan also raised national awareness about Site C, Knott said, adding that Winnipeg Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette said he would raise the issue with the government. While the dam was approved under the previous Conservative government, the Liberal fisheries ministry issued permits allowing construction to continue this summer

Dam opponents travelled to Ottawa the next day for a rally on parliament hill. 

BC Hydro says Site C is needed to meet its projected demand for electricity. Its scheduled completion date is in 2024. 

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