With workers standing idle and winter closing in, Vancouver-based Taseko Mines argued in court Monday for an injunction that would prevent protesters from blocking a road to the controversial Prosperity mine project.
The company says it has workers and equipment on standby at a cost of about $10,000 a day.
The Tsilhqot'in Nation, meanwhile, is seeking its own injunction – a court order that would prevent the work from going ahead, based on what it says is a lack of consultation by the province when it issued permits to Taseko.
The court wrangle over the injunctions, for which arguments began Monday in B.C. Supreme Court, highlights the long-running tensions over the proposed $1-billion copper-gold mine and the jurisdictional issues it involves.
On Monday, the court watched video in which Chief Marilyn Baptiste said repeatedly that the company did not have the right to proceed with its work despite work permits granted by the provincial government.
"Your permit does not have any authority in our territory; B.C. does not have authority in our territory," Ms. Baptiste said in the video, which was shot by Taseko and played in court.
In the video, a member of a Taseko crew – speaking to Ms. Baptiste on a road on the way to the mine site – says the company has been granted a permit and wants to move on to the site to begin its work, which includes drilling and excavating.
In response, Ms. Baptiste said, "We have not given authority in this process. We have not been consulted."
Asked if equipment would be safe, Ms. Baptiste said it would not.
"It will not be safe," Ms. Baptiste said in the video. "I cannot guarantee your safety or anything's safety or anybody's safety because, as I said, you do not have authority to be in our territory."
The hearing before Supreme Court Justice Christopher Grauer is expected to continue until at least midweek.
Taseko sought an injunction on Nov. 14 after its workers were turned back from an area where the company planned to start work, including drilling and excavating, related to potential future construction of the mine. The Tsilhqot'in Nation filed for its injunction the same day, having previously applied for a judicial review of the permits the province granted to Taseko to carry out the work.
Ms. Baptiste is chief of the Xeni Gwet'in, one of six bands in the Tsilhqot'in Nation, and has led the group's campaign against the project.
In 2010, the federal government nixed the proposed mine, about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, based on an environmental review that found the project – as then designed – would result in significant adverse environmental effects, including draining picturesque Fish Lake and using it to store waste rock.
Taseko then submitted a revised mine proposal that would retain Fish Lake and relocate a tailings dam and mine waste away from the lake. The company said it could afford the redesign – which had been considered but ruled out in earlier reviews – because metal prices had increased enough to compensate for the $300-million the redesign would add to the cost of building the project.
The Tsilhqot'in Nation slammed the revised proposal, saying it had already been considered and found problematic in the federal environmental review process, and argued that it would be a waste of time and money to review it again.
On Nov. 7, however, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency said the revised plan – dubbed New Prosperity – would undergo an environmental assessment by a federal review panel.