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North Coast First Nation appeals Supreme Court decision on mining permits

The North Coast Nation is appealing part of a ruling that allows existing mineral claims to continue

The Gitxaała First Nation has appealed a B.C. Supreme Court decision after their attempts to quash mining projects on their territory and enforce UN recommendations were rejected on Sept. 26.

While the B.C. Chief Gold Commissioner was ordered to overhaul its online mineral tenure system to ensure consultation with First Nations was mandatory, the decision does not affect several existing projects on Gitxaała territory the Nation was not consulted on.

Supreme Court Justice Alan Ross’s ruling also does not prevent mining prospectors from obtaining permits on Gitxaała territory for the next 18 months while the province changes its permit system, another aspect of the ruling the Nation is appealing.

Though the First Nation lauded the decision to force the province to change its mining permit system, they argue the 18 months the judge gave the province to fix the system leaves them vulnerable to more unconsulted mining projects.

“Our case was an important win that confirmed BC’s automatic mineral claim regime breaches our constitutional rights, but the Court has allowed the harm in our territory to continue,” said Gitxaała Sm’ooygit Nees Hiwaas (Matthew Hill).

“With every passing day, the provincial government is taking advantage of the temporary suspension in the Court’s ruling to grant new unconstitutional mineral claims.”

The duty to consult, which is outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), was argued for by Gitxaała lawyers in the precedent-setting lawsuit.

DRIPA is the legal interpretation of UNDRIP in B.C., though it was only used as an “interpretive aid” by Ross. The Sept. 26 ruling was the first test of DRIPA in action, according to the Gitxaała Nation.

“The provincial government fought us tooth and claw in court to argue that DRIPA – the law B.C. itself enacted to uphold UNDRIP – is not legally enforceable,” said Gitxaała Chief Councillor Linda Innes.

“The Court’s decision is a result of B.C.’s efforts to score political points on DRIPA while avoiding any legal accountability – but DRIPA must be more than an empty political promise.”

While Ross said in his judgement that DRIPA “does not implement UNDRIP into the domestic law of B.C.,” the province’s website claims DRIPA “mandates the government to bring provincial laws into alignment with the UN Declaration.”

According to the judgement, there are seven current claims that the Nation was attempting to quash, all on Banks Island, approximately 120 kilometres south of Prince Rupert.

A recent ruling fined former mining CEO Benjamin Mossman, who operated his Yellow Giant Mine on Banks Island, $30,000 for environmental regulation breaches.

READ MORE: Former B.C. mining mogul fined $30,000 for past environmental infractions

About the Author: Seth Forward, Local Journalism Initiative

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