By a vote of 39 to 29, the B.C. legislature has this week supported the construction of the Site C dam, despite another rally on the legislative grounds by those opposed to the project.
The vote followed a series of resolutions passed last week at the UBCM convention calling on the government to refer the project to the B.C. Utilities Commission and the Agricultural Land Commission.
However, it also followed a series of B.C. Supreme Court and Federal Court decisions rejecting land owner and First Nations project challenges, and a former Deputy Minister of Energy, Mines, and Petroleum Resources believes those rulings were entirely predictable.
Robin Junger told us last spring, that particularly when it comes to the First Nations opposition, there’s a clear path for the courts to follow, but he also suggested there appears to be a lot of public confusion about what it is.
“The basic principle is this: First Nations groups do not have a veto on project development, but they have constitutionally protected rights. Ever since 1982 when Section 35 was put in our Constitution, Aboriginal rights and treaty rights are given constitutional status and protection. That doesn’t mean they’re inviolable. It just means that they have to be recognized by the legal system and by governments.
In your part of the world you have Treaty 8 that covers much of that part of the province, but Treaty 8 actually allows government to take up lands for necessary development. It says that right in it. At the same time, I’m not saying that any project can always go ahead and people can just pay lip service to the Aboriginal interest. If the court isn’t satisfied that the government has undertaken real meaningful consultations, then the court can stop a project and require more consultation.”
That basic principal he referred to, is also at the core of another legal battle scheduled to extend over a six day period starting yesterday in Federal Court of Appeal in Vancouver.
This one is focussed on the government approval of the Enbridge, Northern Gateway pipeline, which would carry bitumen from Alberta’s oil sands to BC’s coast.
It’s considered the longest hearing in the history of the Court, with eight First Nations, among those presenting arguments against Ottawa’s approval of the pipeline, albeit with more than 200 conditions.