The Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation is going to court over the Casino mega-mine proposal during one of the earliest stages in its assessment.
The First Nation filed a lawsuit in Yukon Supreme Court yesterday, claiming the Yukon Environmental and Socio-Economic Assessment Board can’t even begin to consider the project because the First Nation has not yet been properly consulted.
The lawsuit claims the assessment board broke the law by allowing the mining company to enter the environmental screening process without first complying with legal obligations to consult.
“I am deeply concerned that a company with a $2.6-billion and 30-year mine thinks that they can push through a project on land that we legally own without first complying with legal obligations to us,” said Chief Eric Fairclough in a statement.
“It is totally unfair of YESAB to allow this to continue. We are not against mining, but we are against getting ignored or stepped over by the mining company.”
Casino is a copper, gold, molybdenum and silver deposit, located about 300 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse.
In January, Western Copper and Gold Corp. submitted a proposal to assessors for the Casino mine project through its subsidiary, the Casino Mining Corporation.
The giant open-pit mine is by far the largest project ever considered by the assessment board. The plan is to process 120,000 tonnes of ore per day.
According to the law governing assessments, companies need to consult any First Nation that might be affected before a proposal can be assessed.
When a proposal is submitted, the board first checks that consultation has occurred before looking at the proposal itself.
About three months after the Casino plan was submitted, the assessment board ruled the company had done all the necessary consultations for that early stage of the process. The proposal is now in the adequacy review phase.
The First Nation is asking the court to set aside that decision and stop the proceedings until further consultation takes place.
“The duty to consult with Little Salmon Carmacks before the YESAB process starts is a fundamental legal and treaty obligation,” the chief said.
“This isn’t just lip service – we bargained for these rights in our final agreement, and we can’t allow YESAB and Casino mines to just go through the motions. It must be meaningful, and our community’s rights must be respected.”
Much of the concern surrounds a proposed road. At least 18 to 20 kilometres of it would travel through settlement land, the lawsuit says.
It would start just south of Carmacks and cut through a northwest portion of traditional territory.
The First Nation says many details regarding the road have not been released. It claims traffic volume could exceed 124 vehicles a day.
Ownership and management of the road is not clear, it says. “In the absence of these critical aspects, the LSCFN is currently severely restricted in providing its views on the project,” the lawsuit says.
The First Nation claims the road has many potential impacts, including on wildlife and loss of or damage to settlement land.
The lawsuit also questions whether a mining company should be allowed to enter the assessment and approvals process without securing the land the project sits on.
The statement says the proposed highway will be gated with no public access. “The First Nation rights to fish and hunt and use the lands for traditional purposes should have been respected.”
The law covering assessments says in order to meet that early consultation requirement, there needs to be enough time given, enough detail provided and an opportunity for the First Nation to present a point of view.
Little Salmon/Carmacks says it wasn’t provided with enough detail.
Some critical information was only provided in October and November, the lawsuit says, which was not enough time to gather opinions from First Nation members.
The First Nation says it also didn’t have the time or funding to prepare opinions with the help of a technical expert.
“The lack of access to funding is a factor to be considered in the reasonableness of the time period for a First Nation to respond to complex technical issues and information,” the lawsuit says.
LSCFN asserts that the Selkirk First Nation was given much more time, along with funding help.
And the lawsuit claims the company misinterpreted its requirement to consult by repeatedly suggesting that the First Nation’s concerns would be taken into consideration once the formal review process had begun.
A spokesperson for the assessment board said it couldn’t comment on the case until lawyers had a chance to review the information.
A case management conference is scheduled for May.
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