Lawyers for Newfoundland and Labrador's Crown energy corporation have told a court there is no reason to halt environmental hearings into the Lower Churchill hydroelectric project.
The NunatuKavut Community Council, formerly known as the Labrador Métis Nation, wants the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador to impose an injunction on hearings already underway in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, on grounds that members' aboriginal rights have been ignored.
But Mahmud Jamal, a lawyer acting on behalf of Nalcor Energy, said the injunction request is premature, and that the environmental review hearings for the project proposed for Muskrat Falls are simply consultations.
"No shovel will go into the ground as a result of this consultation process," Jamal told the court, noting that the panel holding hearings cannot make the ultimate decision as the whether the Churchill River is dammed and the surrounding land is flooded.
"What's happening here is an attempt to impose a veto at a very early stage," Jamal said.
NunatuKavut president Chris Montague said his members have been virtually ignored as the provincial government and Nalcor have pushed ahead with the $6.2-billion Lower Churchill proposal, which is being developed with Halifax-based Emera Inc. and the co-operation of the Nova Scotia government.
Montague said his group has been denied the same level of accommodation and consultation as the Innu Nation, which has a reached an unratified agreement with the provincial government.
But Jamal said there is no legal requirement to reach that level of accommodation with Montague's people because they have no recognized land claim.
Arguments before the court concluded on Thursday. Justice Garrett Handrigan has reserved his decision.