(This story has been updated with a statement from the Tsilhqot'in.)
Taseko Mines (TSX:TKO) has scored a minor victory in an otherwise dismal series of defeats over its New Prosperity mine.
The proposed copper mine has been twice rejected by the federal Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).
The project has been rejected on environmental grounds, but it is opposition by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation that appears to have been the main reason for the mine being rejected.
The mine lies just outside the area in which the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed aboriginal title and rights for the Tsilhqot’in in 2014.
But the Tsilhqot'in insist that an early BC Supreme Court ruling confirmed that their aboriginal rights extends beyond what the Supreme Court of Canada defined, and that therefore the area where the mine would be built is still within their territory, without their consent.
"In the Tsilhqot'in's opinion, this exploration program cannot be reconciled with the honour of the Crown," the Tsihqot'in said in an email to Business in Vancouver.
The company continues to due do battle with the federal government. Meanwhile, the company is obliged to conduct exploration activities, as per a provincial certificate.
The provincial certificate requires that work be substantially started before a 2020 expiration date, which means the company is obliged to carry out some exploratory drilling.
In 2017, the provincial government issued Taseko a permit to conduct exploration work, as per its provincial environmental certificate.
The CEAA responded with what was tantamount to a cease and desist order, and the Tsilhqot’in filed a judicial review of the provincial certificate.
A lower court upheld the permit, however so the Tsilhqot’in appealed.
On Friday, March 1, the Appeal Court of BC rejected the Tsilhqot’in appeal, upholding the lower court ruling. In doing so, the court noted that there were irreconcilable difference between the Tsilhqot’in, the company and provincial government, but that does not mean that efforts to consult the Tsilhqot’in were inadequate.
“In this case, reconciliation cannot be achieved because of an honest disagreement over whether the project should proceed,” the ruling states.
“The process of consultation was adequate and reasonable in the circumstances. The fact that the Tsilhqot’in position was not accepted does not mean the process of consultation was inadequate or that the Crown did not act honourably.”
The permit allows Taseko to clear 76 kilometres of new or modified road and trail, and drill 122 drill holes.
In a news release, the Tsilhqot’in said: “The Nation will be reviewing all options to protect this critical cultural area.”
“The Tŝilhqot’in Nation will not stand by as Taseko Mines Ltd. moves forward with a drilling program for a mine that was rejected twice by the Federal Government and, located within an area of proven Aboriginal rights,” said Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government.”