Brian Battison, Taseko Mines Ltd. vice-president of corporate affairs, says the company’s objection to a recent federal environmental review process is “all about fairness.”
The Conservative government’s decision to reject Taseko’s New Prosperity Gold-Copper Project is a “serious situation” with billions of dollars at play, thousands of new jobs at stake, and fairness of government processes in question, he adds.
“The federal review panel failed in its duty to deliver a fair process. The consequences of that failure resulted in the federal Minister of Environment [Leona Aglukkaq] and the cabinet of Canada in making the wrong decision.”
Both are being disputed by Taseko, which has requested the court to review the decisions in two separate judicial reviews and make recommendations to government, Battison notes.
“We have asked for an order to quash the decisions of the minister regarding the significance of [environmental] effects … and to quash the decision of Governor in Council [ruling for cabinet] … that ‘likely environmental effects’ are not justified in the circumstances.”
The company is also asking the court to refer the decision back to the Governor in Council for consideration, along with the court’s direction on where it wants government to go, he adds.
“Then the fourth part is a declaration that sections of CEAA 2012 [Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012] are unconstitutional and thus have no force and effect.”
If the court finds in favour of Taseko to any degree, Battison says it will have to go back to the government of Canada to decide what to do with the matter.
The mining giant is providing “many examples” of that, such as closed-door meetings held with mine opponents after the environmental review process completed, but before government made its decision, Battison notes.
He says First Nations and other opponents met with Aglukkaq and other senior officials at “inappropriate times” and then failed to provide those discussion details to Taseko or provide the company a fair opportunity to respond to any allegations.
The content of meetings federal cabinet ministers held with British Columbia Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett should also have been revealed, since he was acting not on behalf of Taseko, but for the province’s best interests, Battison notes.
Does this set a precedent for the rejection of other mining projects?
Battison says he doesn’t know the answer to that question.
“It is about the process. Proponents entering the environmental review process need to have the confidence that they will be given a fair hearing, and that the process will be fair and conducted in a fair manner.
“These are environmental assessments that assess large projects in Canada, so it has an implication – it casts a shadow, I suppose – over the fairness of [them].
Noting Taseko will now have to await the outcome of the judicial reviews, Battison says it will file arguments to further explain its allegations as that progresses.
“This legal process through the federal court will take many months and there will be several keys steps along the way.”