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Lawyer for Tsilhqot'in welcomes mine decision

A lawyer who has worked on the Prosperity Mine file with the Tsilqhot'in National Government welcomed today's federal cabinet decision that rejected the mine and prevented the destruction of Teztan Biny, or Fish Lake, in central British Columbia.

The Tsilhqot'in First Nation has opposed Taseko Mines Ltd.'s proposal for a gold and copper mine outside Williams Lake. The mine already had approval from the provincial government.

“Obviously I'm very heartened by the decision and very happy for the Tsilhqot'in people,” said Jay Nelson, a lawyer with Woodward and Company in Victoria.

“It was what we were hoping for,” he said. “Certainly we recognized all along the Tsilhqot'in were fighting against all odds to protect those lands that are important to them.”

The Tyee was not able to immediately reach Marilyn Baptiste, chief of the Xeni Gwet'in, part of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation, and an outspoken critic of Taseko's proposal.

“The federal government has honoured its constitutional duty to protect First Nations rights and its responsibility to protect the environment,” said TNG Tribal Chief Joe Alphonse in a news release. “The government should be commended for recognizing that this project did not represent the best way to create jobs and economic growth.”

“I wouldn't call it embarrassing,” said Randy Hawes, the B.C. minister of state for mining in a conference call with reporters. “I'd just call it disappointing.”

Taseko and the government will continue working with the Tsilqhot'in on the Prosperity Mine proposal, he said. The government is also talking with the mining industry “to make sure the word continues to go out throughout the mining sector that we're open for business, we welcome mines, and frankly we believe the vast majority of people in British Columbia welcome mining as well and the prosperity that brings,” he said.

The Sierra Club of B.C. used the opportunity to highlight the difference between B.C. and Canada's environmental assessment processes. “Today’s decision illustrates why devolving environmental assessment to B.C. to ‘streamline’ the process would be a disaster,” said executive director George Heyman in a press release. “B.C. gave the green light to this project, putting short-term economic interests ahead of species, ecosystems and First Nations rights.”

Premier Gordon Campbell has been pushing to harmonize the provincial and federal processes.

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Reach him here.

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