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Montreal court date set for First Nations' Site C legal challenge

Four challenges against controversial project remain
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Excavation crews dredge the Peace River near Old Fort in April as part of fish enhancement work just downstream of the Site C dam site. A posting at the Peace Island Park boat launch in Taylor advises boaters of the work.

A federal court judge will hear an appeal from two First Nations impacted by the Site C dam in Montreal this September.

After months of waiting for a trial date, the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations will appear in federal court Sept. 14.

The Treaty 8 nations are appealing a federal judge's decision on the project's impact on constitutionally-protected rights to hunt, fish and trap. The challenge was dismissed by a judge in Vancouver last year.

According to a notice of civil claim BC Hydro filed against protesters blocking Site C construction earlier this year, the court found the Crown corporation's consultation of Treaty 8 First Nations "was in good faith and extensive."     

West Moberly Chief Roland Willson disagreed, saying his nation was challenging what it saw as "a failure on (the government's) part" to uphold treaty rights.

"When they're making a decision of this magnitude—it's the largest project in B.C. history, and there are already two existing dams that have previously infringed (on) the treaty—they should have had no other choice than to have (a justification for Treaty infringement)," he said. He said the the Montreal court date was the earliest available.

So far, the courts have come down on the side of BC Hydro. Peace Valley Landowner Association (PVLA) President Ken Boon said there are four remaining legal challenges against the controversial $8.8 billion project, including the PVLA's appeal of a lawsuit dismissed by a B.C. Supreme Court judge in July 2015. West Moberly and Prophet River are plaintiffs in the other three legal challenges, while West Moberly has also filed an injunction against federal water permits on the project.

In its May 2014 report, the Joint Review Panel appointed to review Site C concluded that although the dam would "lock in" low electricity rates for decades, it would inflict "permanent damages" on the interests of First Nations.  

Willson said the federal and provincial governments had not properly weighed those damages in approving Site C.

"They don't care about what their obligations to the First Nations are," he said.  "They're going to run roughshod over us to the point of no return."  On June 22, Willson and Lynette Tsakoza issued a news release saying the BC Hydro was violating environmental laws to "fast-track" Site C construction.
 
The First Nations' court date was confirmed on June 3. Willson said it's not clear when the court will reach a decision.

reporter@dcdn.ca

Notice of Civil Claim against Site C protest camp by Jonny Wakefield