We received the following as press release this morning. It talks, in the Halalt First Nation's own words, about their court case and why they are pursuing it, and West Coast Environmental Law's support for the case. We decided to post it as a guest post. Links have been added by West Coast Environmental Law staff.
One further note - West Coast Environmental Law is proud to support the Halalt, through our Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund, and appreciate the Halalt acknowledging that support in this post. However, we should be clear that our grant is only covering a portion of the legal fees that the Halalt have and will incur. The Halalt have put a considerable amount of their own resources into fighting this court case.
Halalt's days in court continue
Two interns from West Coast Environmental Law probably said it best:
We were surprised to learn that the Halalt Nation is asked to provide detailed input on similarly complex development proposals every day. This underscored for us the challenge that First Nations face in processing these requests with the limited resources of their small communities, and the scope and complexity of the task of keeping up with proposed developments on and changes to their traditional lands.
Justin Basinger and Dyna Tuytel, legal interns from WCEL wrote the above on their blog after sitting through one day of an extended BC Supreme Court hearing. Halalt is asking for a judicial review of the process that allowed a municipal project to go ahead that has already seen water being pumped from the Chemainus River aquifer.
And now the hearing, that was expected to be wound-up in early July, has been extended for another ten days in mid-November.
Chief James Thomas has already sat through several days of the arguments in the Vancouver courtroom with Court Justice Catherine Wedge presiding. So far the court has heard five days of submissions from Halalt’s lawyer William Andrews of North Vancouver and ten days from Julie Owen who represents the provincial government.
Respondents in the case are BCs Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Community Development and the District of North Cowichan. Halalt is arguing that the province failed in its duty to properly consult and accommodate the Nation whose reserve land is adjacent to the well site and whose traditional territory includes much of the river’s watershed.
The court case was first scheduled to be heard last winter before major works began on the $6 million project. But the project has now been completed.
Part of Halalt’s court costs are being funded by WCEL, but the two interns noted in their blog that:
In this case the Halalt were able to receive a grant from WCEL’s Environmental Dispute Resolution Fund to hire their lawyer, but not every First Nation has this option for every consultation request they receive.
It is unfortunate this dispute has had to go before a court, but the Halalt First Nation is optimistic that the strong legal basis for their concerns will be recognized.
Halalt has received broad support during its six-year campaign against the aquifer wells project. Earlier this year, during a ten-day road blockade, seven Vancouver Island chiefs and the Assembly of First Nations voiced their backing.
And this spring, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs sat in on the first day of what was supposed to be a two-week Supreme Court hearing in Vancouver. A May 31st email read:
At this moment I am sitting in Court Room #33, awaiting the start of your legal action. The UBCIC is strongly committed to your case and cause. This case is of great significance to all First Nations in BC.
For more information, please contact William Andrews at: 604-924-0921 or firstname.lastname@example.org
EAO process began in 2003
Halalt First Nation became involved in BC’s Environmental Assessment Office process when it objected to a 2003 proposal by the District of North Cowichan to pump water from wells in the Chemainus River aquifer.
Halalt draws its own water from the Chemainus River aquifer and supplies a nearby Penelakut First Nation reserve with water.
The Chemainus River flows through Halalt’s main #2 Reserve. The wellhead sites are adjacent to that reserve’s boundaries and the entire project lies within Halalt’s core territory as defined in the BC Treaty process.
Hydrological studies show that the aquifer is connected to the Chemainus River with measurable drops in water levels during test pumping. Halalt fears that the already fragile river and its fish stocks will be adversely affected by continued pumping.
Halalt maintains that North Cowichan has continued with its extensive residential developments in the Chemainus area despite the fact that an adequate and safe water supply is not available.
North Cowichan completed project this spring and, after test-pumping, the wells supplied Chemainus water users briefly until the supply reverted to North Cowichan’s surface water reservoir.
One of the terms of the environmental certificate issued in March 2009 was:
“The project will only operate between Oct. 15 and June 15 each year to avoid impacts to the Chemainus River and fish and fish habitat during the summer months.”
PHOTOS – A variety of photos from Halalt including the blockade, salmon release and Honour Our River Days is available for download. [Note, the above photo is taken from this flickr site].