In the final days of the federal environmental assessment hearings for the hotly contested “New Prosperity” gold-copper mine project, proponent Taseko Mines attempted to discredit the overwhelming opposition to the project by Tŝilhqot’in and Secwepemc people and by many non-First Nation people from the Cariboo-Chilcotin region. In its final submission (attached here) and since then in the media, the company has made claims about organized “misinformation” campaigns against the project.
Some of the prime suspects in the conspiracy are a number of experts hired to help the communities to review and comment on the project. In its closing statement Taseko stated:
The TNG and other organizations have put in an enormous effort to oppose this Project. The TNG engaged Mr. LaPlante, who is also a director of Raven Trust, where it is stated on its website that his primary duty is to coordinate the Tŝilhqot’in’s engagement and activities aimed at protecting Teztan Biny and the surrounding region from the proposed Prosperity Mine. It has hired experienced legal counsel. It engaged Tony Pearce to assist in planning and coordinating their efforts (read with what I interpreted as a tone of incredulity and disdain at the hearing).
The statement is patently ridiculous given the amount Taseko must have spent on public relations, legal counsel, and its own experts. Perhaps Taseko would like to return to the days when Aboriginal peoples were legally prevented from hiring lawyers under the Indian Act?
Taseko has also tried to portray the staunch and overwhelming opposition to the project as somehow manufactured by the leadership of the communities. While I was only able to attend one of the community sessions, it was clear to me that while Chief Fred Robbins of Esketemc helped coordinate the community response, he certainly didn’t direct it. In fact, at one point, one of the band’s employees (a forester who isn’t from the community) commented on a possible solution to the controversy of routing a power line through Esketemc’s traditional territory. This created a bit of a tense moment, and a flurry of enthusiastic interest from the company, as he had not discussed his view of an alternative with the community. He was, however, allowed to openly speak his mind without being censored.
In another perverse double standard, Taseko tries to support its claim that the opposition was fabricated by observing that many of those who spoke against the project made similar arguments. The funny thing is that there was a remarkable consistency in the submissions in support of the project. Using Taseko’s logic, everyone who spoke in favour of the project – because the jobs were needed to counter an assumed future downturn in the forestry sector, and to help the Williams Lake economy to grow – must have been coached and/or coerced by the company.
Rather than accepting the views of the many, Taseko chose to hone in on the one Tŝilhqot’in person they could find to speak in support of the project, former Chief Ervin Charleyboy. Though he clearly stated he had made up his own mind about the project, Mr. Charleyboy has been in the employ of Taseko for several years.
Taseko also took shots at MiningWatch’s expert reviewer, economist Dr. Marvin Shaffer, suggesting his submission and testimony were politically motivated because he has previously provided advice to the provincial NDP! Egad! Clearly there must be a conspiracy afoot. We’ve posted Dr. Shaffer’s response to this and other specious attacks on another page.
Of course none of the above gets to the substance of what the three-member review panel will have to consider – will the project result in “significant adverse effects,” and has Taseko addressed the suite of unavoidable significant adverse effects identified by an earlier assessment? But distraction may be what Taseko is hoping for because on the substantive issues it is on extremely shaky ground. It wasn’t just the First Nations and public interest groups that panned the project; federal and provincial regulators were also uncharacteristically harsh in their submissions.
So, Taseko, while sticks and stones may break my bones, crazy accusations of conspiracy won’t do much to build your credibility.
Tsilhqot'in Chiefs Roger Williams and Joe Alphonse had their response to Taseko published in the Vancouver Sun as I was working on this entry.