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On Monday, B.C. Hydro was granted an injunction against Treaty 8 land defenders and Site C opponents in Vancouver's Supreme Court.
The provincial utility company had filed the request against protesters who set up a peaceful camp near the Peace River Valley construction site last December. The camp's placement, however, prevented B.C. Hydro from continuing its area clearing safely.
"It's a really sad thing when it seems that treaty rights are nowhere in our court system," said Ana Simeon, Peace Valley Campaigner at Sierra Club B.C., in a phone interview with rabble. "The valley is being destroyed as we speak and there doesn't seem to be a recourse for established treaty rights to be respected in our legal system."
The $8.8 billion project has faced a lot of criticism from environmental, agricultural and Indigenous groups. Even so, this latest decision by the court allows the RCMP to arrest protesters interfering with the project's construction.
"When you look at Site C you have to look at how much this massive reservoir and all of its related infrastructure is going to further erode the First Nations' treaty rights," said Anna Johnston from West Coast Environmental Law.
Johnston explained to rabble over the phone that the joint panel report released by The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office in 2014 showed that Site C would lead to adverse effects on Indigenous fishing opportunities, hunting opportunities and traditional uses of land.
In spite of these findings, the project continued and, on Monday, the court took the side of B.C. Hydro's right to the land, over the Indigenous right to it.
"It was pretty difficult to sit in that courtroom and hear the judge, when he was offering up his reasons for judgment, say repeatedly that the Treaty 8 stewards of the land had no legal right or standing to be doing what they were doing," said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs to rabble. "We know otherwise -- they were standing on their treaty rights."
When rabble contacted B.C. Hydro about the court hearing, particularly with regards to Indigenous treaty rights, a Site C Project Team representative responded stating that they "respect the right of all individuals to express their opinions about Site C when they do so in a safe and lawful manner" and that they "applied for an injunction because it is unsafe to do clearing work with people in the construction area."
Phillip suggested that this could have been a significant ruling if the judge had ruled in favour of the Treaty 8 land defenders and Site C protestors.
"We're disappointed. This could have been a game-changing judgment. It could have been the beginning of a paradigm shift in the way the courts handle these issues," he said. "It's pretty hard when you can't rely on the courts to deliver a more just decision. It's pretty hard to live in a world when you can't rely on the integrity of the political process. So that leaves one option and that's to occupy the land which is what the Treaty 8 stewards of the land and the land owners have done."
In spite of this ruling, Phillip said the oppositions to Site C will continue.
"I want to be clear. This battle is not over. In many ways, this was a minor legal skirmish," he said. "The war will continue."
To support the Treaty 8 land defenders against Site C, consider attending a rally on March 13 outside the B.C. Hydro corporate office in Vancouver, B.C.
Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen's University and is excited by media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen's News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer. She is now rabble's News Intern.
Photo: flickr/ DeSmogCanada