The federal government is not going to argue against halting construction of the controversial Site C hydroelectric dam in B.C. while a court sorts out if the project violates constitutionally protected treaty rights.
Ottawa’s move comes as a surprise to lawyer Tim Thielmann, who is representing the West Moberly First Nations in the court action against the $10-billion dam, which will flood some of its traditional territory.
The case was filed in January after the new NDP provincial government backed off a campaign promise to reconsider it and said cancelling the dam now that construction had started was going to be too costly to electricity consumers.
A Department of Justice statement filed last week in B.C. court does not concede that treaty rights are being infringed, but Thielmann says he thinks by not opposing the request to halt construction Canada is saying that it is OK with the project being halted until the rights question can be answered by the court.
In 2012, before she was elected as a B.C. Liberal MP, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said she felt Site C “ran roughshod” over Indigenous rights, but she has not commented publicly since the Departments of Fisheries and Transportation began issuing permits for construction in 2016.
Wilson-Raybould does, however, direct the Justice Department, which thus far has not responded to questions asking for an explanation of the decision not to oppose the injunction.
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