British Columbia

First Nations renew legal fight against Site C dam after talks end with B.C. government

Talks between the West Moberly First Nations and the province over the Site C hydroelectric dam have ended without a resolution. The First Nations are moving forward with legal action aimed at ending construction of the multi-billion dollar project.

Trial scheduled for 2022 and expected to last 120 days as construction continues

Site C protesters gather after delivering a petition to politicians in Victoria in 2017. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

The West Moberly First Nations are moving forward with legal action aimed at stopping the Site C hydroelectric dam project after ending talks with the B.C. government. 

In February, the provincial Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation entered confidential discussions with BC Hydro, West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations.

The talks were aimed at avoiding litigation, said Tim Thielmann, legal counsel for the West Moberly First Nations located in the northeastern corner of B.C.

But now, "discussions have ended with the province and [West Moberly] will be proceeding to trial," he said.

The trial is scheduled to start in March of 2022 and is expected to last 120 days.

Construction on the Site C dam is ongoing west of Fort St. John in northeastern B.C. (Christer Waara/CBC)

Treaty 8 rights

West Moberly, along with the Prophet River First Nation, filed a civil claim against the B.C. government, BC Hydro and the Attorney General of Canada in 2018.

The Nations argue Site C, which will flood 5,500 hectares of the Peace River valley, violates its Treaty 8 rights. (West Moberly is one of the few nations in B.C. that is party to numbered treaties which cover much of the rest of Canada.)

Thielmann said the 1899 agreement contains promises from the Crown to protect the way of life of signatory Nations.

Tim Thielmann of Sage Legal is representing West Moberly First Nations. (Sage Legal)

"West Moberly's position here is the decision to build Site C and destroy the last remaining stretch of the Peace River Valley which runs through the heart of their traditional territory and is integral to their way of life ... clearly violated those promises in the treaty," he said.

The West Moberly have previously warned it believes Site C constitutes a $1-billion treaty violation.

​In 2018, the First Nations lost a bid for an injunction order, meaning construction of the dam that began in 2014 is continuing. The project is expected to be complete by 2024, but the case will be heard in court before the scheduled filling of the reservoir in 2023, according to BC Hydro.

No agreement

In response to West Moberly's renewed commitment to legal action, the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation said it's working collaboratively with both BC Hydro and Treaty 8 First Nations to address concerns about the project.

"It is unfortunate that were not able to reach a successful conclusion to our discussion with West Moberly First Nations, but we recognize it's not always possible to come to agreement," said spokesperson Sarah Plank in an email to CBC.

 

An illustration of BC Hydro's proposed Site C dam project. (BC Hydro)

The Site C hydroelectric dam was first approved in 2014 by B.C.'s then Liberal government. The NDP government decided to continue with the controversial project in late 2017.

The latest figure on the cost of the dam is $10.7 billion. When complete, it would power the equivalent of 450,000 homes a year.