Opinion: When 'legal' is also 'immoral.'
This morning, I received a message from the BC Government and became nearly incoherent with anger. I sent the following hastily-composed letter to the Premier and the relevant ministers:
Dear BC Government:
Your message about the fifth anniversary of the Tsilhqot'in Decision sparked rage in my aging brain — at the BC government's continued determination to uphold and enforce permits issued by the Liberals for more destructive exploration in the Teztan Biny area, deep in Tsilhqot'in territory, for a potential New Prosperity Mine — which has been proposed and federally rejected twice already.
I am of European ancestry — a "settler" — who wants a government that honours its claims about UNDRIP in fact, not just in empty declarations.
I want the government to reconsider its agreement to name the chiefs elected under the Indian Act as the sole authorized representatives of any First Nation. Those elected officials, if I understand correctly, really have jurisdiction only over Indian Reserves, and are creatures of a federal statute, and some elected officials may be considered as "bought and paid for" by the Canadian government and are not universally recognized by their own people as the proper representatives of the First Nations' long-term best interests.
I am also outraged by the issuance and the upholding by BC of those exploration permits for imminent destructive works in the Teztan Biny area, on my own behalf — a person who is sickened by the continual incremental industrial destruction of habitat for wildlife, when extinctions of plant and animal species are accelerating and when this particular mine poses such an unacceptable risk of permanent harm that it has twice been rejected by the Federal government.
Who am I to care so much?
I have spent many weeks and months of my life exploring BC's mountains and valleys. I have hiked up Mount Vic, not too far south of Teztan Biny, during a two-week muscle-powered exploration of the Dil Dil Plateau and environs with another woman friend (we encountered a grizzly mom with two little cubs! — but it went well), and in 1973 climbed Mount Waddington (and Mount Munday, and the Stanford Claw, and a number of other mountains in the area, before hiking out the Franklin Glacier to tidewater — a 30-day trip in total) with six other friends before it became so popular a climb.
I and three other friends traversed on foot — with heavy packs, over a two-week period — a route that completely encircled the headwaters of the Bridge River, following the high glaciers and climbing several mountains en route.
I have climbed Mount Monmouth, and hiked the length of the Tchaikazan Valley.
And made many other wonderful trips, including two kayak trips with my husband in single boats (entirely self-supported) from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.
I love BC's landscapes, and I love the life they support.
I cannot help but be outraged, furious, and profoundly disappointed by this government's inexplicable determination to allow further pointless damage to the landscape around Teztan Biny and to its life-supporting capacity. It seems especially offensive around this time of the fifth anniversary of the Tsilhqot'in Decision. It shows very clearly the contrast between legality and morality; your government's actions may be legal, but in my opinion and the opinions of many others they are also profoundly immoral.
Can this travesty not be changed before it's too late?
(Former teacher, former wilderness program instructor, retired lawyer, founding member of Mountain Equipment Co-op, and current editor of The Rossland Telegraph)
For readers curious about the message that sparked the response above, here is the entire statement:
Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, has released the following statement in recognition of the fifth anniversary of the landmark Tsilhqot'in Decision:
"On June 26, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized Aboriginal title for the first time in Canadian history. This historic decision set a new and higher standard for the recognition of the rights of Indigenous peoples. Its promise was a new foundation from which we can and must proceed toward more respectful relationships between Indigenous peoples and governments in British Columbia and in Canada.
"The declaration of Aboriginal title on approximately 1,700 square kilometres in the Cariboo-Chilcotin was the culmination of many years of tireless work by the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation and all the Chiefs representing the Tsilhqot'in National Government (TNG) who work on behalf of the Tsilhqot'in peoples.
“When I became minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation in 2017, I was charged with working collaboratively with Indigenous peoples to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Calls to Action, and the principles articulated in the Tsilhqot'in Decision.
"Unprecedented decisions require new and innovative solutions to bring them into action. B.C. has been working in partnership with TNG under the Nenqay Deni Accord to build a path forward. We recognize that there is more work to do in this unprecedented landscape and it won’t always be easy. We acknowledge the challenges as we look for concrete answers to circumstances that are unique in B.C. We continue to learn from this work.
"We are committed to working together in a true government-to-government relationship to make a positive difference in the day-to-day lives of the Tsilhqot'in peoples and citizens of B.C., now and for generations to come."
(end of government statement)
For readers who consider this a rather two-faced message under the circumstances, and share my objection to the pointless destruction of a beautiful and biologically rich part of BC, please feel free to send the government your own message. There’s also an on-line petition about it:
The Tsilhqot’in Nation has been struggling to defend Teztan Biny and the lands around it for a long time. For a description of their legal efforts, and a timeline, go to this West Coast Environmental Law page. (Below: a different view of Teztan Biny)