Clearing along the Peace River in preparation for Site C dam construction, July 12, 2018. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal
West Moberly First Nations will proceed with a Site C dam “megatrial” following six months of confidential talks with the B.C. government and BC Hydro aimed at avoiding litigation, chief Roland Willson announced on Tuesday.
“They’re not going anywhere,” Willson told The Narwhal. “It’s essentially kicking a dead horse. … They wanted to have discussions and now we’re not talking anymore. We’re going to court.”
In January 2018, West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nation filed civil claims alleging that the Site C project and two previous dams on the Peace River unjustifiably infringe on their treaty rights.
West Moberly First Nations subsequently lost an application for an injunction to protect 13 areas of cultural importance for the Dunne-Za nations — including prime moose habitat, a rare old-growth white spruce and trembling aspen forest and two wetlands called Sucker Lake and Trappers Lake — from clear-cut logging for the dam.
But the judge ruled their treaty rights case must be heard by 2023, prior to scheduled flooding of the Peace River Valley the following year.
Tim Thielmann, West Moberly First Nations legal counsel, said the ruling leaves the door open for the court “to impose an eleventh-hour cancellation or injunction onto the project and to prevent the flooding of the Peace River if the First Nations are successful in their treaty infringement claim.”
NDP government’s position a ‘profound conflict’
The Site C dam would flood 128 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, about the equivalent distance of driving from Vancouver to Whistler.
It would destroy First Nations burial grounds and culturally significant areas, some of Canada’s best farmland, habitat for more than 100 species at risk of extinction and the last intact section of the Peace River Valley still available for Treaty 8 members to engage in traditional practices.
At trial, B.C. Premier John Horgan is expected to defend the 2014 decision made by former Liberal Premier Christy Clark to proceed with the Site C project, a decision West Moberly First Nations says infringed Treaty 8, according to a news release the nation issued on Tuesday.
“You have this surprising situation where the provincial government is finding itself on a path to a large trial in which they will be defending the position that they have been fighting,” Thielmann told The Narwhal.