VANCOUVER - Opponents of a hydroelectric dam in northeastern British Columbia have suffered another setback following a court decision granting a request from BC Hydro to remove protesters camped out illegally near the megaproject's construction site.
Justice G. Bruce Butler of the B.C. Supreme Court ruled Monday that it would be "contrary to the public interest" to allow demonstrators to continue trying to shut down work on the Site C dam. The project has already received regulatory approval from both the provincial and federal governments, and has survived several grassroots legal challenges.
"Protesters have no right to prevent (BC Hydro) from proceeding with the project," Butler said in reading his judgment.
"The rule of law requires that when the processes have been followed and been completed, as they have in this case, those who have been granted the rights must be permitted to proceed."
The Crown corporation applied last month for an injunction to remove members of the Peace Valley Landowners Association and Treaty 8 First Nations who had formed a protest camp in November 2015 on the south bank of the Peace River near Fort St. John.
The $8.8-billion infrastructure project will flood agricultural land and First Nations archeological sites, and destroy fishing and hunting areas.
Butler said he accepted hearsay evidence from BC Hydro of protesters efforts to block crews from undertaking clearing work by approaching machinery and building campfires near tree-felling and excavation operations.
In his ruling, he referenced Facebook postings from a woman who described using a helicopter to fly in supplies and even a cabin to the protest site.
BC Hydro spokesman David Conway said in a statement the Crown utility hoped demonstrators would respect the court decision and leave so that work could proceed safely.
"We are facing scheduling limitations in the area being blocked by the protesters and we need to get on with this work soon."
In his reasoning, the judge also referenced the $700 million already invested in Site C and $2.4 billion in signed contracts, in addition to the cost of a possible one-year delay in construction, estimated at more than $400 million.
There is a case to made against the project, Butler said, but his focus was restricted to whether the injunction should be granted.
First Nations defendants argued BC Hydro violated Treaty 8 Tribal Association's rights. They want the project suspended while appeals make their way through the legal system.
Yvonne Tupper of the Saulteau First Nation, one of the defendants named in the injunction application, said outside court she was disappointed but would honour the injunction.
"We wouldn't be here if ... the consultation they spoke about was done properly," said Tupper, who drove 14 hours from the protest camp to hear the ruling.
"Our people matter, our treaty matters and our aboriginal voices matter too."
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said the fight would continue and described the court decision as "just another day at the office, another battle in this decades-old fight."
Co-defendant Ken Boon, president of the Peace Valley Landowners Association, said he would also respect the injunction.
"We're law-abiding citizens. This isn't the end of the battle, by any means," said Boon, speaking by phone from the protest camp where he's been living off and on for the past two months.