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Legal clash builds between Taseko, first nations over Prosperity mine

Chiefs from the Tsilhqot'in Nation of south-central B.C. continue to fight proposals for Prosperity.

Sibylle Zilker for The Globe and Mail/sibylle zilker The Globe and Mail

The battle between the Tsilhqot'in Nation and Taseko Mines Ltd. has heated up after allegations that three members of the first nations community obstructed workers attempting to access the Prosperity mine site in northern B.C.

"As a result of this interference, we, today, have initiated legal proceedings against these individuals and we'll be seeking an order restraining them from unlawfully interfering with the company's lawfully approved work," said Brian Battison, the company's corporate affairs vice president. Taseko has received government approval to conduct exploratory work.

Mr. Battison alleged that three people, including Chief Marilyn Baptiste, blocked workers from entering the site on Saturday along a public road. The employees turned the equipment convoy around to avoid a confrontation, he said.

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Taseko filed a petition on Monday that would prevent these and other individuals from attempting to block the exploratory work again. The company is also seeking an enforcement order for the RCMP, he said.

The Tsilhqot'in Nation's lawyer, Jay Nelson, declined to comment on the allegations, and Chief Baptiste was not available for comment.

The First Nations community has filed an injunction to stop Taseko from beginning the work until the court hears a petition it filed last week for government approval to be revoked, Mr. Nelson said.

"Taseko's indicated that it's intent on carrying out that work as soon as possible," he said, adding that this insistence, despite the pending court case, forced the injunction request.

In late September, the chief inspector of mines authorized Taseko to conduct exploratory work that includes creating 59 test pits and geotechnical drilling, according to the petition. A separate licence granted on Oct. 31 permits Taseko Mines to clear more than 1,000 cubic meters of timber.

The Crown did not consult or accommodate the Tsilhqot'in Nation, Mr. Nelson said. The first nations' people hunt, fish and perform spiritual and ceremonial activities on the contested land, according to the petition.

But the company needs to complete the work to provide information for the environmental assessment, which will determine the fate of a revised version of the mining proposal, Mr. Battison said. The new proposal eliminates the impact on Fish Lake, a body of water the community wanted to save.

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"We need this information to help save the lake," said Mr. Battison. "So that's what we intend to do."

A federal panel report issued on July 2, 2010, found the revised project would still destroy Little Fish Lake and the surrounding area, Nabas, according to the petition.

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