Aboriginal group says court ruling heavy-handed
The NunatuKavut Community Council says it is not prepared to back down on its protests against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development.
The council is continuing to encourage members to “exercise their aboriginal rights on their traditional lands,” according to a statement issued Monday morning. It is appealing an injunction issued by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Nov. 28, 2012.
That court order stated protest activities were not to come within 50 metres of the Muskrat Falls work site, near Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
It also established a “safety zone” for protesters — an area identified as a safe distance from the worksite where protesters can continue their demonstration in the vicinity without compromising safety.
The NunatuKavut council argues the order was heavy-handed and too broadly worded.
The wording led to questions from senior members of the NunatuKavut Community Council and ultimately, council president Todd Russell told The Telegram, the court amended its ruling just three days after it was issued.
The stipulation that members stay 50 metres from the worksite was to apply to all lands associated with the project, he said, meaning the buffer zone would cross the Trans-Labrador Highway. In consideration of this, it was decided “incidental use” of these highway areas would no longer be covered by the court order.
Yet the permanent order continues to cover too much, Russell argued.
“The action we took (on Oct. 10, 2012 leading to the order) was adjacent to the access road of the (main) worksite,” he said. “The court injunction would now apply or seems to apply to everywhere Nalcor applies for a piece of land in relation to the Muskrat Falls project.”
That will mean, he argued, access is denied to areas used for a broad range of traditional activities, including hunting, trapping, fishing and gathering.
“This is not something that lasts for a month, two months or even two years ... it is in permanent effect,” Russell said.
There has been continuous argument over consultation on Muskrat Falls between the aboriginal group and both the provincial government and project proponent Nalcor Energy. The council has said consultation on the project has not been in good faith or met an acceptable level.
The latest court action comes on the heels of a separate loss for the NunatuKavut council in Federal Court, where the judge tackled the consultation issue.
“The honour of the Crown does not require that the consultation be perfect; it must be conducted in good faith and it must be meaningful. The consultations here have been both,” Justice Robert Stack said.
Meanwhile, Russell said people should expect a combination of further legal action and, on the ground, protests from his membership.
“This is not going to stop because of some so-called sanction decision that was made in mid-December,” he said.
In response to questions, Nalcor Energy provided The Telegram with a statement.
“The injunction allows Nalcor Energy to continue its site construction work at Muskrat Falls without interruption, and enables protesters to continue any demonstration in the vicinity without compromising their safety and the safety of Nalcor’s employees and contractors,” said Lower Churchill project lead Gilbert Bennett.
The statement went on to say the company is aware of the appeal to the November injunction and Nalcor will not comment further as the matter is now before the courts.