Taseko, Wilderness Committee square off in court

Wilderness Committee is in court this week defending itself against a defamation suit over the New Prosperity Mine

An artist's rendering of the New Prosperity mine. | Photo: Taseko website

Taseko Mines Ltd. (TSX:TKO) took to the courts Monday [January 19] seeking damages and an injunction against the Wilderness Committee for a campaign against the New Prosperity mine that the company claims made false allegations about the mine.

Taseko is suing the Winderness Committee for material it published in its Save Fish Lake campaign that stated the mine would destroy Fish Lake. The suit names Wilderness Committee campaigner Sven Biggs, who authored the material Taseko claims to be defamatory.

Taseko spokesman Brian Battison said the Wilderness Committee made patently false statements about the mine proposal and believes those statements may have played a role in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) rejecting the proposed copper mine not once, but twice.

The suit centres on online and print materials – including a Facebook page – that the Wilderness Committee printed about the New Prosperity mine.

Taseko took issue with the Wilderness Committee’s claim that Fish Lake would be used as a tailings pond and Little Fish Lake as “a toxic tailings pond” and that the mine would pollute the headwaters of a river network that supports salmon.

There were two proposals. The first one involved draining Fish Lake, but Battison said the tailings pond would have been above the lake.

When that project got rejected by the CEAA, the company came back with a revised proposal that would have avoided draining Fish Lake.

Battison said the tailings pond, in the original proposal, would have been upstream of Fish Lake, after it was drained.

“Tailings were never to go in Fish Lake,” Battison said.

He said the company asked that the Wilderness Committee remove the comments in question and issue an apology. When it didn’t, the company decided to go to court to seek a permanent injunction against what was published.

The Save Fish Lake campaign provided an online tool for contacting government officials and agencies, including the CEAA, and encouraged the public to write in to voice opposition to the project.

Battison said the company believes the campaign against the mine proposal may have contributed to it being rejected twice by the CEAA. (The BC Environmental Assessment Agency had approved it.)

“They’re effective in creating controversy and creating controversy doesn’t work for resource development projects because politicians are averse to that,” Battison said.

The trial is taking place in BC Supreme Court. Taseko is seeking a permanent injunction against the Wilderness Committee’s statements about the mine proposal. It also seeks general, special and punitive damages.

The company has not put a figure to the damages it seeks, but says it has spent $120 million on the mine proposal to date.

Joe Foy, national campaign director for the Wilderness Committee, was in court on the afternoon of January 19 and could not be reached for comment.

However, in its response to the claim, the Wilderness Committee said the comments it made “are not defamatory and are in any event protected by the defences of truth, fair comment or responsible communications” and that Taseko is “attempting to use the litigation process to silence critics on a matter of fundamental public interest.”

“We say that this court action by Taseko Mines is meant to put a chill on public opposition," Foy said in a written statement posted on the Wilderness Committee’s website. "Like many others, we want to see the Fish Lake area protected and the company’s mine plans abandoned forever.

“Lawsuits like these eat away at the very foundations of democracy and free speech, which form the basis of our society. We intend to stand our ground.”